Battling “the conditions which create poverty”

“A nation which has wiped out the great epidemic diseases of malaria and typhoid fever and polio -- which has penetrated the heart of the atom and the planets of the heavens -- that nation can also do battle against the conditions which create poverty.”
Sargent Shriver | St Paul, MN | March 16, 1964

Our Quote of the Week frames the potential and “greatness” of the United States in its ability to benefit humankind. As we continue to mark the milestones of the 60th anniversary of the War on Poverty, we’re reflecting on Sargent Shriver’s belief that we do have the tools to abolish poverty.

This week’s quote is from the Address to the National Farmers’ Union, an early speech during Sargent Shriver’s time working on the War on Poverty. President Johnson had asked Shriver to lead the poverty effort only six weeks earlier, and during this time, Shriver was heading an anti-poverty task force, which would eventually develop the programs managed by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the office of the War on Poverty.

In the speech, Shriver makes what would become a central point for the OEO: that for the anti-poverty programs to succeed, they must have the support and active participation of the community members in which they operate. He stresses, in fact, that the efforts would not succeed if they were managed solely by a distant bureaucracy:

"[T]he war on poverty is not going to be won from an office building in Washington, nor by a bureaucracy in any far-off city. It will not make progress under a narrow-minded strategy drafted in a distant headquarters and imposed upon hundreds of varied communities and rural areas. It cannot depend upon the resources of the federal government alone. If it is to succeed, it will demand the energy, the ideas, the resources, and the assistance of dedicated men and dedicated groups throughout this country.”

60 years later, we celebrate Shriver’s vision of a nation whose greatness comes from its ability to include and empower every individual so that we may come together to tackle and overcome our biggest challenges.

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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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