Address to The Yale Law School Association

"But we -- the professional people -- have set the terms ourselves on which our services are provided. And under those terms, the poor do not get equal justice, minimal health services, adequate education, or even proper attention to their religious needs. Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week."
New Haven, CT • April 29, 1966

Since the beginning of the Anti-Poverty Program, one syllogism has been in vogue among the experts. It goes this way:

An effective War on Poverty must be a revolution by the poor.

The Government cannot finance revolution.

Therefore, the Government cannot finance a genuine War on Poverty! And, so, the experts then claim that they have proven conclusively that the War on Poverty is a sham -- an attempt to administer palliatives to profound social problems!

Well, if you, define the War on Poverty as revolution, and if you define revolution as something Government cannot finance, then those statements are true. But they are also meaningless.

Here at a law school guided by Deans like Robert Hutchins, Ashbel Gulliver, Wes Sturges, Harry Shulman, Gene Rostow and now, Lou Pollak -- here at this law school second to none, -- we have never equated words with reality. We have never been tricked by syllogisms.

That kind of intellectual gamesmanship is a luxury -- worse, it is a deceit. It implies that Government cannot stimulate and finance genuine social change -- it purports to prove that Government must default on any promise it holds forth.

And that isn’t true!

General, undifferentiated and unplanned revolution -- whatever that means -- is not the strategy of the Poverty Program.

But we do have strategies for the elimination of poverty – strategies which can be pursued with integrity!

Two of those strategies have already received much attention.

One is “intervention theory” -- intervention means simply this: If we intervene in the life cycle of an individual at an important period in his life, we can make some significant, permanent alteration in his future.

“Head Start,” “Job Corps,” “Upward Bound” and “Neighborhood Youth Corps”, are four of the most notable applications of this approach.

A second strategy is coordination.

When a poor man is in trouble, he is usually in many kinds of trouble and he usually is not the only one in trouble -- his wife and his children usually are in trouble, too.

Coordination takes the form of devising institutions capable of responding to the totality of an individual’s or a community’s needs!

Thus, Community Action Agencies capable of mobilizing the total resources of a community are one example of coordination. In Detroit, Cincinnati, in Atlanta, Miami, in Pittsburgh or St. Louis, Community Action Agencies operate programs with 15, 20 or even 30 separate components. These new agencies have drawn into a cooperative effort the Community Chest, the YWCA, the Boys Clubs, the Public Schools, the U.S. Employment Service, the Welfare Department, Civil Rights Groups, Labor Leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and other elements in the community in order to pool their resources and their leadership.

Similarly, coordination underlies the approach utilized “in many cities to establish Neighborhood Service Centers. These Centers are “Supermarkets for Social Services” where --under one roof --the person in trouble can obtain job counseling, budget guidance, medical attention, legal advice and other kinds of assistance.

Both the over all Community Action Agency -- and the multi-service center are embodiments of the strategy of coordination.

But we have three other principal approaches or strategies. They are less talked about -- but they are at least as important as coordination and intervention. They deal with three major obstacles to the elimination of poverty.

The first of these three strategies is competition; We are in favor of it -- and not just for big business and private enterprise.

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was this nation’s response to the evils of monopoly in business. Philosophically, it was based on the premise that a monopolistic enterprise will tend to offer less than the best product for the least money. We know that without competition, industry tends to stagnate. Today we are finding that’s true in the public, sector.

Look, for instance at the school system.

We know with certainty that 30 percent of those now in school will never finish high school! Heretofore we have assumed that the system was correct. The students were at fault. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that both these assumptions were false.

Look, too, at the private sector, the philanthropic sector.

Do we have any solid evidence that we are getting our money’s worth for our charitable contributions -- except of course as a tax deduction? Should we ask or should we know -- what has been happening to our private charitable money when year in and year out welfare rolls go up, crime rates go up, illegitimacy goes up and the number of youth out of school and out of work goes up! Have any of you made a study to see if any of the agencies with which you are connected are actually reaching the poor, the consumer, who needs these services most? The poor who produce most of the delinquency, most of the drop-outs?

I ask this because in one city, the Mayor did ask that question. He hired a management consultant firm, Greenleigh Associates, to find out whether the poor were in fact being reached by the private philanthropic efforts. The management consultants reported to the Mayor:

“There are many voluntary agencies in the group services and recreation field in Detroit, but with a few exceptions, they serve relatively few from low-income families...”

And it went on, those few agencies which did actually reach the poor achieved a total impact which is still negligible with respect to the total needs of the poor.

Professional people have been missing the mark, too. Lawyers, doctors, social workers, priests, ministers and rabbis, government officials -- all our services are desperately needed by the poor. But we -- the professional people -- have set the terms ourselves on which our services are provided. And under those terms, the poor do not get equal justice, minimal health services, adequate education, or even proper attention to their religious needs. Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.

The medical statistics on Job Corps volunteers illustrate the point.

  • 79% of the young men and women entering centers have never seen a doctor
  • 85%, have never seen a dentist.

These conditions exist and persist because the public institutions, the private agencies, and, the professions, all enjoy virtual monopolies within their spheres of influence. Consequently, it has been virtually impossible to prove, or even to test, whether the same job might be done better for less by others using different methods.

In the Poverty Program we have sought to prod each of these monopolies to do more, to do it better, to do it differently and to do it cheaper. Our strategy has been the same one tried and tested in the market place. It’s the classical antidote to monopoly: Competition. And that competition has caused the monopolies to respond with more strenuous efforts -- and with greater concern for the poor.

Let me give you two examples.

Teachers aides, caseworker aides, hospital aides are all proving that it doesn’t take advanced degrees -- or even a college degree to do many of the jobs previously done by professionals.

In fact, the use of teacher aides on a massive scale in Head Start was so successful last summer that new applications now coming in, to the Office of Education in Washington from local school boards and school superintendents are asking more for teacher aides than for teachers!

Competition from non-professionals is proving that the services and products marketed by professionals have been over-priced and unnecessarily scarce.

The paper back edition will serve the needs of a wider market at least as well as the hard bound copy.

Competition is at work in education too. Job Corps is competing with the public school system. One superintendent of schools harangued his principals by referring to this new competitor. He said. “Job Corps has fewer drop outs than we do. And they start with 100 percent drop outs.”

The former Secretary of HEW, Arthur Flemming, President of the University of Oregon, is running a Job Corps Center at Tongue Point, Oregon. His new counselling system, teaching machines, and curriculum are so successful that the Portland City School System has decided to send teachers there for a sabbatical to learn these new ways of dealing with potential and actual drop outs in the city schools.

Ten years ago, Khrushchev came to Iowa to see Mr. Garst. He wanted to learn how to improve Russia’s agricultural production. Today our foreign competitors are not just looking at our farms and factories. Five thousand visitors per month inspect the Job Corps Center at Camp Parks in California. And the State Department now schedules the Job Corps Centers as regular stops for foreign visitors. And they do this in response to foreign requests.

But our new programs are not established only to compete with programs managed by other agencies or private welfare groups. Some of our own programs compete with each other.

Each has to justify its own costs comparatively.

In our own operations, Job Corps -- the residential program for out-of school youth -- has to compete with Neighborhood Youth Corps – the live-at-home work program for roughly the same target population. We fund both programs.

VISTA Volunteers -- members of the domestic Peace Corps as it’s often referred to -- have to prove that they are more effective than workers paid by Community Action Programs. We fund both.

Head Start competes with the work of the famed child psychologist, Martin Deutsch! He believes it’s necessary to work with even younger children -- two, three, and four-year-olds -- and that you have to work with them for two or three years to achieve results. We finance Deutsch as well as Head Start.

Some critics look at that and call it duplication or waste. We call it competition. And we’re for it. Buick competes with Pontiac and Oldsmobile even though one company produces them all. And General Motors is doing okay despite Abe Fortas.

What is the result of all this? One result is that, for the first time, the poor will have a choice of where to go for services -- where to obtain a redress of grievance. And ultimately, the poor will have a choice of routes leading from poverty to opportunity. That is why competition is one of our most important strategies.

The second strategy is confrontation. By confrontation we mean that we purposely seek to enlist the American business man, the professional man (lawyer, doctor, minister, or labor union leader), the middle class housewife in the War on Poverty. Ours is not a war to be fought by proxy-simply by hiring other people to do the so-called dirty work.

We have enlisted American Business to run Job Corps Centers -- G.E., IBM, Xerox, IT&T, RCA, U.S. Industries, Burroughs. And these industrial giants are running excellent Job Corps Centers. American industry is changing when the President of General Electric --can be photographed proudly in a Job Corps Center in Iowa, surrounded by 300 giggling teenage girls.

We have enlisted the middle class housewife through a new organization called “Women in Community Service.” That organization relies principally on volunteer womanpower both in screening all applicants for Women’s Job Corps Centers and for participation in tutorial programs, Head Start, charm courses, and a variety of other local community projects. Only one year old, WICS has over 28,000 members -- and it is the first time that four national women’s organizations --National Council of Catholic Women, United Church Women, National Council of Negro Women and National Council of Jewish Women -have all joined together to carry out any program. And they are an effective team.

The results of this confrontation are becoming clear. Two years ago, many Congressmen and other citizens said there was no need for a War on Poverty because there were no “honest poor” in America. They argued -- there are plenty of jobs -- no one who is willing to work needs to be poor today. And they concluded that the poor are all shiftless, lazy, wastrels, loafers, dope addicts or drunks. Now, these same men are criticizing us for not reaching enough of the poor. At least they have discovered that the poor exist. And that these poor cannot pull themselves out of poverty, unaided.

Two years ago even many of those who admitted the existence of the poor believed all the poor lived in Harlem and Appalachia (if they lived on the West Coast).

Or that all the poor lived in migrant camps or in Watts (if they lived on the East Coast).

Or that all the poor were on Indian Reservations (if they lived someplace in between).

But today because of confrontation on a dozen fronts the great mass of Americans recognize that the poor are very much with us -- with each one of us in our own communities.

Yet, there still remain a great many people who are afraid of the poor physically afraid of the poor as people, and of the neighborhood where the poor live. Goldwater struck .a pressure point, an open nerve ending, when he talked about “terror in the streets.”

This fear stands in the way of eradicating poverty. And so long as fear and ignorance undermine our commitment to eliminate poverty, the national effort is in jeopardy.

That’s why confrontation -- personal confrontation and personal experience -is a necessary strategy for victory in the War Against Poverty.

The third -- and last strategy -- is’ democratic participation. It is both a means and an end. It is the heart of the program.

America has begun to listen to the voices of the poor but listening is only a beginning. It is not a solution -- but it is not to be underestimated either.

My learned colleagues and friends tell me that there is an important distinction to be drawn between making a cause of action judicially cognizable, and deciding the case itself on the merits. I bow to their wisdom. But no one can say after Brown Versus Board of Education -- and Baker Versus Carr -- that acknowledging a grievance and making that grievance judicially cognizable is not a major step toward a solution, toward a just and final disposition.

In the Poverty Program that’s what we have done: We have made issues like “Minority group representation” and “representation of the poor” cognizable for the first time -- socially, politically, and ethically cognizable. As you all know, that doesn’t take one off the hot seat. Yale alumni appear to have a penchant for rejecting Justice Frankfurter’s warning not to enter “the political thicket.”

But in keeping with -the Yale tradition, I hold it an achievement, in and of itself, to get these issues up before the Great Court of Social Justice for review. That’s what involvement of the poor is doing!

And that’s an important purpose underlying legal service programs – to provide representation for the poor -- to give them a voice.

Last Monday we announced $6 million in grants to support 35 legal service projects. This fiscal year, we will spend $25 million on legal services. That’s five times the amount spent on legal aid nationally in any preceding year.

This revolution in the legal world started right here -- at this law school with an article in the Yale Law Journal. Two Yale law school graduates argued that the poor needed skilled advocates devoted to their cause... And they persuaded the House of Delegates American Bar Association to endorse, our legal services program twice -- in successive years -- unanimously.

Yesterday, the Director of our Legal Service Program, Clinton Bamberger - who was voted outstanding young lawyer in Maryland two years ago – told me of a conversation he had had recently with one State Bar Association.

This Association objected violently to a legal service program that would provide lawyers for migrant farm workers. Bamberger said to them, “We would be glad to stipulate that the legal service programs in your state will not provide attorneys for farm workers, if the state Bar would similarly stipulate that no law firm in the state would provide presentation for growers”...

That’s why the poor need legal services: Economic Opportunity without full recourse to the law can easily become nothing more than serfdom with better rations.

America cannot accept that kind of serfdom. That is why legal services are essential. That is why democratic participation is a central strategy in the War Against Poverty.

Some commentators have said that the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 is for the poor what the National Labor Relations Act was for unions. The Act recognizes the principle of representation, of full participation, of fair bargaining -- it establishes new grievances procedures between the poor and the rest of the society.

It rules out certain practices as unfair and undemocratic. And it establishes a forum. Now we are going through a period of social and economic unrest not unlike that in the late thirties. Consequently, there will be explosions. Some people may even be booed!

Like members of a union, the poor will never get all they want as fast as they want. But like Labor Union members, the poor will settle for the best they can get at any one moment in time if they feel properly and fairly represented -- if they feel they got the best deal they could.

That’s why the strategy of participation -- of representation – is so central.

America -- as is always true-of a dynamic living democracy -- is involved in renegotiating the terms of the social contract -- under which the pox as well as the rich must live -- terms which go way beyond wages and hours, and working conditions.

At stake now is that domestic tranquility which the framers of the Constitution envisioned. Our total American society can’t afford wildcat strikes in the industrial area. Even less can it afford a wildcat strike on the entire social order -- and that’s what Watts was!

These new social contracts must be negotiated fairly if we are going to avoid wildcat strikes. And if we do avoid such strikes, it will be because the poor have incentives to act with the same self-restraint as we expect of union members.

These, then are the strategies that we are employing in the War against Poverty:


What does it all add up to? Significant change in Government, in business, in medicine, in social work, in the law, in the quality and extent of democratic participation.

Does it add up to a revolution -- A Government-financed revolution? I don’t know. It depends on your definition. I hope it adds up to an effective War Against Poverty. But I must admit -- talking in these terms -- in terms of abstract logic, of syllogism and strategies – makes me somewhat uncomfortable.

This audience -- the alumni of Yale Law School -- probably has an average annual income of over $20,000.

The last group I spoke to had an average annual income of less than $1,500 a year.

The people with whom we are trying to work have less than 23 cents a meal ... less than $1.40 a day for everything else -- shelter, clothing, transportation, medical supplies and care, amusements, furniture.,

In other words, our clients are rich if they have as much as 25 cents to spend on breakfast or lunch or dinner, plus $1.50 a day for everything else.

These facts were not a reality to me when I took this job. Every day I’m shocked by some new discovery that takes poverty out of the realm of words and abstractions and syllogisms.

That’s what happened when I met with the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Prevention of Blindness two weeks ago. She told me about the eye examinations she gave to children in Head Start last summer. Eye examinations for children utilize pictures, not letters. Slides with pictures of animals and toys are projected on a screen. One of the pictures projected is a teddy bear. Last summer, some 40 percent of the children in Project Head Start identified that teddy bear as a rat.

When we lawyers are all through talking about competition and confrontation, about strategies and syllogisms, we still haven’t really said what the War On Poverty is all about. But here’s one way we might sum it up:

We’re working for the day when no four-year-old or five-year-old American girl or boy -- black, yellow, white -- speaking Spanish, English, or Hawaiian -- will look at the picture of a teddy bear and say: That’s a rat.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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