Next year will be my 40th in Community Action and one of the most satisfying outcomes of all that time has been the hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve met and been fortunate to build working relationships with – people whose passion and dedication for social justice is great and continually growing.
I mention this because, as we leave the old year behind and move into the new one, those hundreds of people – magnified by thousands and thousands across the state – will be more precious than ever as our state and nation navigate the unknown and potentially dangerous shoals of continued service to low-income households and communities.
While every transition into a new year foreshadows uncertainty, there are more than the usual amount of questions this year, due in great part to last month’s elections. What will the Trump administration look like? What will be their view on low-income policy and operational issues? What will potential changes mean for our Community Action network and the multitude of other agencies serving low-income individuals?
Most importantly, what will these potential changes mean to low-income households and their efforts to escape poverty? Will we see more attention paid and support provided to those in the shadows? More creativity and opportunity for low-income individuals to achieve economic self-sufficiency? Or will we see a growth in – and hardening of – the mean-spirited policies that were all too prevalent in 2016?
On the state level, the last two years saw an unprecedented level of attention paid to existing low-income programs, policies and services; almost all of this attention based on the belief that the best way to help someone is with ‘sticks’, not ‘carrots’. With current legislative control more firmly esconsed after the November elections, will we see a continuation and/or expansion of this attitude? Or a more humanistic, cooperative, enabling approach to attacking poverty, one that treats low-income families as equal partners in their attempts to achieve economic self-sufficiency?
Many of us are familiar with the phrase the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (and many others) used that “the arc of justice bends toward justice.” A slightly lengthier reference to this same concept, written anonymously in the last 1800s, expands on the phrase:
“We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.”
It is easy to look over the political and policy landscape going into 2017 and “crouch down in despair.” But Community Action is not made that way. Our state and our country are not made that way. The truth is that tens of thousands of low-income families escape poverty every year and that Community Action Agencies are, across the state, doing marvelous, innovative work with limited resources. The truth is that the vast majority of our fellow citizens want to help their neighbors; they want to help low-income households achieve economic self-sufficiency; they realize we are all in this together.
The truth is that the difference is in methods, not goals. And, as long as that remains the case, we will continue to be optimistic about the future, continue to be engaged in serving our communities, continue to believe the future will be a bright one and that our network’s efforts to work towards social justice are important and worthwhile. We will continue to believe that the ‘arc of the moral Universe’ bends toward justice … that justice will not fail … and that the ‘real law of justice continually endures.’
Happy Holidays to all of you and yours … and WISCAP’s best wishes for a healthy, happy and productive 2017!