:: to the teeth ::    thoughts on social justice, medicine, race, hope and beats

"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." :: Arundhati Roy ::

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." :: Alice Walker ::
Monday, December 13, 2004  

The psychic energy of the poor, and organizing communities

David Glenn has a fascinating piece in Dissent Magazine, reviewing Jason De Parle's book "An American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare". Supposedly, in the book (which I haven't read yet), De Parle focuses much more on the personal, intimate stories of these women and their kids than the broader issues of economic justice and labor laws and how they affect these families. David Glenn embraces this personal approach and enters an analysis of how leftists should reflect more on the social crisis, as this book shows that the crisis is in many ways "independent of the immediate economic environment".

And for those of us leftists interested in organizing communities, this paragraph from Glenn's piece is good take-home advice:
The second reason why leftists should reflect on the social crisis is that it occupies so much of the psychic energy of the poor themselves. When I reported on a campaign to unionize home-health-care workers in Milwaukee in 2001, accompanying workers as they knocked on one another's doors, I noticed how quickly conversations would move from anxiety about wages to anxiety about crime. One woman spent several minutes pointing out a hole in her back door; burglars had bashed through it a few days earlier and menaced her elderly grandmother. Another woman, one of the lead organizers, heard the gunshot when a man sitting in a car next door to her was murdered that summer. In earlier reporting among ex-welfare recipients in Milwaukee, I often heard it said that political activism is a good way to get yourself killed: look at what happened to Harold Washington. (There is a widespread belief that Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, who died of a heart attack in 1987, was somehow murdered by Chicago's white establishment.) Organizing campaigns among the urban poor today have to fight uphill against a tremendous amount of alienation, isolation, and fear. (By contrast, most of the great upsurges of the American left, from Flint to Montgomery, grew from communities in which there were denser social networks and higher levels of everyday trust.)

posted by Anjali Taneja | 12/13/2004 07:21:00 PM | |


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