Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty: Tom Zolot – Latino Farmers Cooperative

Tom Zolot - Tulane Americorps VISTA

Tom Zolot – Tulane Americorps VISTA

I like the name “AmeriCorps”. When I took the job I was, at least in part, drawn to the fantasy of a corps (a traditionally military term) of peoples united against, well, struggle. On January 8th of this year we marked the 50th year of America’s war on poverty.

I am opposed to war, generally, I am opposed to most violence and can pretty much say I even dislike the war metaphor our people use all the time: war on drugs, war on terror. Both political parties employ this metaphor. Even my young nephew pretends acorns are grenades as we hike through the hills. Now, I think this mostly harmless, he is seven, but our people have this fascination that I am often trying to reshape in my work with American struggles.

Despite this I am glad to be a part of America’s anti-poverty “corps.” We all gather together, sacrifice and suffer, gain little thanks – and even less wealth – to get up early and stay up late.

I have always wished oppression was a monster that lived in my backyard. I wish I could work a normal day as a welder or deep sea oyster diver and come home, have a beer and then put on a suit of plate mail, walk into my backyard and just whoop on oppression’s ugly face. I wish I could take the bruises and punishment for my fellow Americans, throw on an ice pack and turn in early.

But I can’t do that.

Struggle doesn’t work that way. Redistribution is so complicated. Class struggle and the violences that occur every day are so embedded and so strong because we are taught not to see them. They live mostly because they are phantoms to our eyes and you have to be directly under their thumbs to reckon with them.

President LBJ called on the congress of ’64 to be “the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined.” He was calling for a transformation in liberty. He was calling for humanization of all our peoples in action and programs. He said, “It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.” Damn LBJ! Call it!

LBJ telling it how it should be

LBJ telling it how it should be

Many people are looking at our history and seeing only failure, which is not wholly incorrect. They see so much federal spending to help the poor and a poverty level that stayed fairly consistent. However, their reasoning, that we should abandon our programs is false in assumption. They are going to say that these programs, rather than saving so much heartache, were just a waste, or ineffective.

I am so drawn to this fantasy of being able to see poverty, being able to call it out and wrestle with it – but, oppression isn’t a wrestling match. It’s not a chess game. It’s not a war of any kind. It’s just hard times for people who don’t deserve it. Our people deserve better schools and more justice and less war and less punishment. We deserve better and we can do better than this.

Rather than backing out now – abandoning programs like WIC and AmeriCorps, and dispensing minimum wages – we need to double down. We need to really prioritize our people and love them like they deserve to be loved because all of us were created equal, endowed by creation with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need to prioritize these and even greater programs because this union was supposedly formed to establish justice, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty.

Let’s establish some justice then! Let’s promote some general welfare! We can only truly be blessed with liberty by coming together and deciding that we all deserve better. For this reason, I am glad to serve.

Tulane VISTA team 9/1/13

Tulane VISTA team 9/1/13

One comment on “50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty: Tom Zolot – Latino Farmers Cooperative

  1. Steve Burns
    January 31, 2014

    Thoughtful comments, Tom.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on January 30, 2014 by in VISTA Field Reports.


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