urban riots 40 years later

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sat Jul 28 13:21:25 CDT 2007

[ed:  Apologies for the delays in list messages this week--a couple of 
intense deadlines had to take precedence.  Thanks to Dan for continuing 
this thread.]

From: tutormentor1 at earthlink.net

I'm leading a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program, connecting inner city
kids in Chicago with adult mentors, tutors and learning experiences, as a
direct result of the riots of the mid 1960s.  I'm surprised you did not
mention the riots in Chicago which burned down many neighborhoods of the
West side of the city.

As a result of the Chicago riots the Chicago Housing Authority issued a
call to action to churches and businesses, to develop outreach programs
that would keep kids off the street and to provide non school tutoring and
mentoring. Employees of the Montgomery Ward corporation in Chicago
responded by launching a small tutoring program, in which employee
volunteers went to one of the Cabrini Green buildings every Tuesday after
work to read to kids and provide home work help. By 1970 the program had
grown and Wards let it use space in the Wards complex as a meeting place.
By 1973 when I joined Wards as an advertising copywriter, the program was
recruiting 100 employees and college students and matching them at the
beginning of the school year with 100 2nd to 6th grade kids.

I was recruited as a volunteer that fall and matched with a 4th grade boy
named Leo. We meet each week, and while I had no idea what I was doing, his
mother kept telling me that I was doing a great job, and I always felt
energized after a session with Leo. After one  year I was recruited to be
one of the volunteers leading the program and at the end of the second
year, I was recruited to be the leader.

Over the next 15 years I had two careers. One as a corporate advertising
manager where I was responsible for creative development of national
advertising, which distributed 20 million ads 3 times a week to people in
40 states, to tell them to shop at our stores. The other job was recruiting
volunteers and kids in August/September, then supporting them weekly so
that most of them attended regularly and were still with the program the
following spring. By 1990 that program had more than 300 pairs of kids and
volunteers. The downsizing of Wards which started in 1980, resulted in many
volunteers moving to different companies, then recruiting new volunteers
from those companies. Thus while in 1975 90% of our volunteers were Ward
employees, in 1990 only 10% of 300 volunteers came from Wards.

I left Wards in 1990 and converted the company program to a non profit. In
1992 I left that to form an older-youth version, helping 7th graders
continue through school and to careers. I also formed a leadership
organization intended to help such programs operate in every poverty
neighborhood of Chicago. In 1997 I began to use the Internet to collect and
share information, which is how I'm talking to all of you.

I'm now in my 34th year and on the http://www.tutormentorconnection.org web
site you use resources that I've created to find and support existing
tutor/mentor programs or help new programs start. You can also find links
to articles about poverty and poor schools that provide reasons for why
such programs are needed.

At http://tinyurl.com/2q7uoy you can view a timeline of what I've describe.

I don't know how many other organizations have been so continuously
involved in trying to help end poverty, but I've learned a lot over these
years and to me we're at the threshold of terrible things happening in
America if we don't provide more hope and opportunity to kids living in our
urban gettos.

None of us can solve this problem alone. Government won't do it for us. We
can connect with each other via the Internet and do more than we could ever

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection
Cabrini Connections
800 W. Huron
Chicago, Il. 60622

Discussion list for COMM-ORG wrote:
> --------
> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> --------
> [ed: Peters message also provides the context to mention the recent 
> P.O.V. documentary on PBS that presented some of the community 
> organizing context around the Newark riots.]
> From: "Peter Dreier" <dreier at oxy.edu>
> Friends and Colleagues:
> This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the "long hot summer" of 1967, 
> which experienced urban riots in 163 cities, most famously Detroit and 
> Newark. One of those riots occurred in my hometown, Plainfield, New 
> Jersey, about which I've written an essay, "Riot and Reunion," that 
> appears this week in The Nation: 
> http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070730/dreier.
> What lessons have we learned in the past 40 years? Historian Michael 
> Katz has a very provocative article, "Why Aren't US Cities Burning?", in 
> the current (Summer 2007) issue of Dissent magazine. He concludes: "The 
> nation's avoidance of civil violence in its segregated ghettos has one 
> other lesson for Europeans concerned about urban unrest. It is that in 
> modern techniques for managing marginalization -- for keeping the peace 
> in the face of persistent, and growing, inequality -- the United States 
> is a world leader." His article will be available next week on the 
> Dissent website: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/issue/?issue=65. 
> Historian Thomas Sugrue's article, "Burn Bebe Burn" in an earlier issue 
> of Dissent (Winter 2006), also compares the urban riots in the US and 
> France, http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=150.
> Since the 1960s, only two major explosions of urban rioting-- in Miami 
> and Los Angeles -- have occurred. But this is hardly the same as 
> "keeping the peace." What Wilson has called "quiet riots" -- crime, 
> violence, suicide, drug abuse, etc -- have persisted. As I wrote in an 
> essay about the 10th anniversary of the LA unrest 
> http://www.ncl.org/publications/ncr/92-1/ncr92104.pdf, riots are 
> expressions of outrage about social conditions, but they are not truly 
> political protests. They do not have a clear objective, a policy agenda, 
> or a target for bringing about change. At most, riots are a wake-up 
> call—to political and business leaders in particular, as well as to the 
> media—that things are seething below the surface. What brings about 
> positive change—especially for the poor and working class—is the slow, 
> gradual, difficult work of union organizing,community organizing, and 
> participation in electoral politics. To the extent that Los Angeles is a 
> better city today than it was ten years ago,it is due to the grassroots 
> activists—and their allies among foundations,media,clergy,and public 
> officials—who have worked in the trenches pushing for change against 
> difficult obstacles.
> The 1960s riots triggered a great deal of national soul-searching about 
> America's history of violence. President Johnson created a blue-ribbon 
> task force to examine the causes of urban unrest and make 
> recommendations. The Kerner Commission's report, released in 1968, is 
> still worth reading for its indictment of racism and its ambitious 
> goals, none of which were fully implemented by the federal government, 
> which by then had diverted the nation's attention and resources to 
> fighting the war in VietNam.
> Much has been written about poverty since the 1960's. But among the most 
> profound statements were those by Walter Reuther, the president of the 
> United Auto Workers union, about the limitations of the nation's "war on 
> poverty" in the 1960s, before the urban riots occurred. Representing the 
> left wing of the Democratic Party, Reuther had been making proposals 
> since World War 2 to renew the New Deal and engage in national economic 
> planning.He advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to champion a bold 
> federal program for full employment that would include government-funded 
> public works and the conversion of the nation’s defense industry to 
> production for civilian needs. This, he argued, would dramatically 
> address the nation’s poverty population, create job opportunities for 
> the poor and the near-poor (including blacks living in America's 
> ghettos), and rebuild the nation’s troubled cities without being as 
> politically divisive as a federal program identified primarily as 
> serving poor blacks. Both presidents rejected Reuther’s advice. 
> Johnson’s announcement of an ‘‘unconditional war on poverty’’ in his 
> 1964 State of the Union Address pleased Reuther, but the details of the 
> plan revealed its limitations. The War on Poverty was a patchwork of 
> small initiatives that did not address the nation’s basic inequalities. 
> Testifying before Congress in April 1964, Reuther said that ‘‘while [the 
> proposals] are good, [they] are not adequate, nor will they be 
> successful in achieving their purposes, except as we begin to look at 
> the broader problems [of the American economy].’’ He added that 
> ‘‘poverty is a reflection of our failure to achieve a more rational, 
> more responsible, more equitable distribution of the abundance that is 
> within our grasp.’’
> Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign was the last time a major 
> candidate focused on the problem of poverty. His impromtu remarks about 
> poverty, racism, and violence in America, triggered by the murder of 
> Martin Luther King in April 1968, are still very moving: 
> http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/rfk.htm.
> John Edwards' current presidential campaign is the first since Kennedy's 
> 1968 crusade to seriously focus on poverty. Many cynical pundits are 
> mocking Edwards' current 8-state anti-poverty tour as a political non 
> -starter. A reporter on CNN two days ago claimed that Edwards' effort to 
> focus national attention on poverty won't help him get elected President 
> because poverty was a "sixties" issue, because Americans don't care 
> about poverty, and because the poor don't vote. In fact, a quick Google 
> search shows that Edwards' anti-poverty tour, in both rural and urban 
> areas, is generating a lot of media attention. It is no accident that 
> the New York Times magazine recently devoted an entire issue (June 10) 
> to America's widening inequality and persistent poverty, including a 
> powerful article on an SEIU organizing campaign and a cover story on 
> Edwards' anti-poverty campaign: 
> http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/10/magazine/10edwards-t.html?ex=1184904000&en=c5179a4d94a9dc77&ei=5070. 
> Edwards should applauded for showing leadership, for framing poverty as 
> a "moral" issue, and for linking the issue of poverty to the widen 
> issues of growing inequality and economic insecurity among the middle 
> class. Today, 37 million Americans live below the official federal 
> poverty line, but there are many more Americans who can barely make ends 
> meet. For the first time in more than a generation, poverty is back on 
> the national agenda. A new report by the Pew Research Center shows that 
> public support for rising the minimum wage, for labor unions, and for 
> federal government action to address poverty are higher now than at any 
> time in 20 year:. 
> http://pewresearch.org/pubs/434/trends-in-political-values-and-core-attitudes-1987-2007 
> In the past few years, voters in many states have overwhelmingly 
> supported initiatives to raise their state's minimum wage. The 
> popularity of Barbara Ehrenreich’s best-selling book, Nickel and Dimed, 
> about America’s working poor, and the growing protests against 
> Wal-Mart’s low pay, indicate that concerns about inequality and poverty 
> are moving from the margin to the mainstream of American politics.
> The urban riots unleashed a great deal of academic research about 
> poverty, racism, and violence, much of it funded by the federal 
> government and major foundations. Jerome Skolnick's The Politics of 
> Protest (1969) was an early look at these issues. Alice O'Connor's book, 
> Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the POor in 20th 
> Century US History (2001) recounts much of the debate over the impact of 
> social research on poverty during that period. Another wave of research 
> on poverty, cities, and race was triggered by William Julius Wilson's 
> book, The Truly Disadvantaged (1987). This explosion of academic 
> research has focused on the concentration of poverty, the role of racism 
> in exacerbating poverty, and the influence of "social capital" - assets 
> and networks -- among the poor. What's missing is a comparable amount of 
> research about the rich and the impact of the social networks (including 
> corporate boards and other elite institutions, and corporate PACs) among 
> the powerful in exacerbating inequality and poverty.
> Much has changed since the urban unrest of the 1960s, including the 
> globalization of the economy, the export of US manufacturing jobs, the 
> influx of new immigrants, the decline of union membership, the widening 
> gap between the rich and everyone else, the deepening fiscal crisis of 
> our cities, the slashing of federal funding for affordable housing and 
> rebuilding urban neighborhoods, the accelerating of suburbanization 
> (initially among the white middle class), and the growing 
> suburbanization of poverty (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070423/press,
> http://www.thenation.com/doc/20040920/dreier
> http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16960673/site/newsweek/;
> http://www.brookings.edu/dybdocroot/metro/pubs/20041018_econsegregation.pdf
> http://www.brook.edu/metro/pubs/20061205_citysuburban.htm
> http://www.secondharvest.org/learn_about_hunger/fact_sheet/hunger_in_the_suburbs.html
> http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-10-18-suburbs-poverty_x.htm
> Given these trends, we need a new policy agenda to address the problems 
> of poverty and inequality. The bold 1968 recommendations of the Kerner 
> Report have been updated by a recent report by the Center for American 
> Progress, From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty 
> in Half. 
> http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/04/poverty_report.html. 
> These recommendations should be the blueprint for the next war-on-poverty.
> _____________________________________
> Peter Dreier
> Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
> Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
> Occidental College
> 1600 Campus Road
> Los Angeles, CA 90041
> Phone: (323) 259-2913
> FAX: (323) 259-2734
> "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great 
> moral crises maintain their neutrality" - Dante
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