Community Action @50

LBJ signs the EOA.

LBJ signs the EOA.

As Roger Simon has observed, the events playing out in Ferguson, Missouri right now are a distinct echo of the failures of the Great Society of the 1960s, and today happens to be the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s signing of the Economic Opportunity Act, which set in motion the infamous Community Action Program and was the cornerstone of much subsequent Great Society legislation.  The idea of “maximum feasible participation” was at the heart of the whole scheme.

For the genius planners behind Community Action, “maximum feasible participation,” as Pat Moynihan observed, “was taken to sanction a specific theory of social change.”  “The apparent function of many of these programs as they actually came into being,” Moynihan reflected later, “was to raise the level of perceived and validated discontent among poor persons with the social system about them, without improving the conditions of life of the poor in any comparable degree.  Can it be that this had nothing to do with the onset of urban violence?”  Poverty activists saw “community action” as an opportunity to organize poor people to challenge and transform local political authority—the city “machines” that were the backbone of the Democratic party in many urban areas.  Sargent Shriver even described it at one point as “the business corporation of the new social revolution.”  Indeed, it was the Community Action Program that provided government funds for some of Saul Alinsky’s antics.

Well, looks like we have plenty of “maximum feasible participation” in Ferguson right now.  And by some odd coincidence, some liberals are suggesting that we need to try the Great Society all over again, because the first one worked out so well. . .

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