Oct 18

Being Sensitive "to the Human Problems the Poor Confront Every Day"

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 10/18/2021 3:35PM | Quote of the Week | War on Poverty


Our Quote of the Week marks the 57th anniversary of the beginning of Sargent Shriver's tenure as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the agency created to wage the War on Poverty. President Lyndon Johnson swore in Sargent Shriver as Director of the OEO on October 16, 1964. 

This week's quote comes from the Address to The Yale Law School Association. Shriver's words highlight the importance of understanding how our systems create economic distress and injustice for our most vulnerable communities. They also remind us of the need to have compassion for individuals dealing with poverty.

Because his audience was made up mainly of attorneys, Shriver focused on the importance and impact of one program in particular, Legal Services. He emphasized that we can alleviate poverty with Justice, "with a capital J". He says:

Yes, I do believe that I, as a professional lawyer, have the obligation to join with other professionals and fellow citizens to struggle against poverty caused by unconscionable laws, or even by legalized greed; against pollution of the physical and mental environment; against inequalities in education, health and housing, against all those and other evils of our society. I must serve, not I should serve, free-of-charge, if necessary, with groups organized to attack community problems: the homelessness, hunger, teenage pregnancy; dissolute conditions; joblessness; loneliness, especially of the old and forgotten population."

One of the innovations of the War on Poverty was to address the needs of those living in poverty in more comprehensive ways than had previously been done. The inclusion of Legal Services among the programs was an example of how Sargent Shriver's vision expanded people's conception of poverty, and rightfully so, as poverty leaves people defenseless in any dealing with the law. Defending oneself from an unethical landlord, renegotiating unfair or punitive bank fees  -- protecting oneself from any corrupt practice designed to prey on the poor -- is one way to empower people while relieving their economic pressures. As Shriver points out, there is a strong link between fighting poverty and upholding justice, and it is crucial for those in the legal profession to engage in the effort to eradicate poverty.

Let's remember Shriver's simple message: that when we live in comfort and privilege, we tend to forget the human struggles that the poor face every day. And let's work in our communities and in our systems to alleviate those struggles.

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