Just two weeks ago Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, rose on the floor of the Senate and said, in effect--this nation was faced with the choice between guns and butter - that we couldn't fight both the war in Viet Nam and the War on Poverty because we could not afford to divide our strength and resources.
Others have echoed him: Republicans Jerry Ford, Melvin Laird, and Democratic Senator Richard Russell.
Well--speaking from this lowly Sargent's point of view--these are not two wars. There is only one war--The same war--A war for the self-determination of peoples, and of individuals. A war that has erupted in brush fire after brush fire--in the African Congo - in Panama - in the Dominican Republic – in Los Angeles --this summer - and New York, Philadelphia, Rochester and other cities last summer.
All of these riots and wars are related--not because there are communists ready to exploit every disturbance, but because of hunger, ignorance, disease, and because many people have been denied political freedom and political rights.
People who say we must choose butter or guns misunderstand the modern world. They are fighting the wrong war, in the wrong place, with the wrong weapons against the wrong enemy. They have erected their own Maginot Line—like the French did before World War II--only to find the enemy has attacked in a different place with a different strategy.
A few months ago, President Orlich of Costa Rico pointed out--our obsession with communism has produced a kind of hemispheric (and, I would add, global) paranoia. Instead of being a dynamic, revolutionary force democracy has been put on the defensive. Orlich is right now--but he doesn't have to be right--tomorrow.
This war--this single war--is not a war against communism--or against anything. It is a war for self-determination--for the liberation of all men from all forms of colonialism- -and it is all around us! Political, social, economic--and yes, professional, too! Our Revolution--the American Revolution--started with the cry: “Taxation without representation is tyranny."
Today, we could expand that slogan--
"Welfare without, representation is tyranny. Education, housing, counseling, handouts, without representation, without a chance to be heard and represented--that is tyranny."
And "foreign aid without self-determination" is tyranny, too.
That's the lesson that the Peace Corps has taught us. The Peace Corps Volunteers have learned to say, "maybe our way isn't best for everyone. We're here to help you on your terms--not to make you do things the way we want you to."
Tom Carter, a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Chimbote, Peru wrote--"Our school has no roof. It would be a $l0 project and about one day's labor for two or three Peace Corps men to build that roof. Yet, we don't do it. If we gave my school a roof it would always be that, a gift, the “Gringos" roof. When it needed fixing, no, one could fix it. If it takes me a year to talk my neighbors into putting on that roof, it will be worth it. Because then it will be their roof, on their school. It would be a small start, but in the right direction. Maybe then we would take on a little harder project, and step by step build up a powerful organization interested in progress and strong enough to do something about it. It has to be an organization that does not need me, otherwise it would collapse when I leave."
No less a commitment underlies the War vs. Poverty. In the domestic Peace Corps -- VISTA - the similarity is obvious. But it's this war we are fighting, this single war for the self-determination of men and nations enjoins all of us to honor one essential and sacrosanct principle: not to dictate to, others the nature or road to self-determination-- as if there were some blueprint for action--or some preference for a certain kind of society. We cannot--consistent with our own cause--engage in unilateral, dictation--or even convert manipulation of peoples and states!
Poverty in every part of this nation has its unique characteristic, its special topography. And because of the attention and headlines which the programs in major cities have received, I grow fearful lest we in this War on Poverty be viewed as engaging in a kind of urban imperialism.
Just this past Monday, to make explicit this very point, with regard to rural poverty, I called a press conference at which the floor was turned over to representatives of rural areas in -- Clarksdale, and Coahoma County, Mississippi, in Craven County, North Carolina, and in sparsely-populated expanses of territory in New Mexico.
Rural poverty is different. Poverty in Cleveland is different. Today, it was my pleasure to approve another project -- one right here in Cleveland -- that will represent another breakthrough. It is an adult education center, providing special education and guidance for out of school youths and adults from 16 to 25. It will serve Cleveland day and night -- week days and Saturdays -- providing basic education, vocational instruction and specialized highly individualized training. The student body will include Neighborhood Youth Corps members, indigent college students, public relief recipients and the poor, regardless of the door through which they seek entry.
Today -- that 500 thousand-dollar program has now been funded. Tomorrow - will turn those paper plans into concrete results as they have elsewhere.
Take for instance the grant we issued several months ago to Syracuse University to demonstrate that the poor can organize to improve conditions such as unemployment and poor housing. We said then -- using the jargon that this grant would be used to train poverty victims to build effective democratic organization, to establish neighborhood, social, church and area wide groups to demonstrate the capacity of the poor to define and solve their own problems. Now, months later, we can talk about that education grant in another way. We can cite 500 refrigerators, 350 stoves and new linoleum installed in a public housing project as a result of the increased capacity of these "pupils” to assess their own needs and work constructively with city officials toward their fulfillment. We can cite new channels of communications between people who earlier felt they could never gain access or get a fair hearing from elected or appointed officials. And we can cite grassroots democracy in organizations that before long will number 10,000 strong,
Or take a grant to New York University which once we described in terms of a 314 thousand-dollar grant to select 60 slum boys to begin a five year college program leading to teaching careers -- boys who would not qualify for scholarships or even admission under prevailing criteria. Today – Project Apex can be described differently. Those youngsters we thought it would take five years to get through college -- one year to catch up -- and four to go through college. They said: "We'll show you, -- we can make it in four." And two weeks ago, the director of that program told me that the average reading gain in the six weeks of the program has been a three-year jump in reading level.
Or again, back in May, we made a grant to Tuskegee Institute for a summer education program. The design: To use college students to teach high school students. By late June, the reports were coming in that nearly 2,000 impoverished youths had registered -- that eight participants had walked twelve miles to enroll in that program, and that this was merely illustrative of similar incidents throughout eleven counties in Alabama. Amongst those was the report of two girls, aged 12 and 14 who moved from Clio, Alabama, to Eufaula to live with an aunt in order to participate. Now, with the summer over, we have to revise all over again our way of talking about that program. We have to talk about classes conducted in the open fields under a blazing sun in 90-degree-and-above temperature for six weeks -- without any dropouts. We have to talk about a college freshman who taught a class of 63 teenage students, single-handed, without any dropouts. Do you know what she was teaching them -- what held them spellbound? It was parts of speech: Nouns, Verbs, and Pronouns. But she made it come alive -- by her own intensity -- by drawing illustrations from TV programs they had seen, by compositions written about hikes the entire group had gone on. This was no track system -- and the age range varied from 12 to 18 -- everything else varied, too, except the lure of education. That remained constant while several hundred volunteers gave us their summer to live in strange homes, in isolated rural areas, in city slums in order to teach many whom the school system had rejected as unteachables. Catholic schools and universities have not hung back. They have participated: they have pioneered -- and they have proven the experts wrong who said that the whole War on Poverty program would founder on the church-state issue. The experts were wrong for one reason -- because religious groups involved in the War on Poverty were ready to put aside denominational differences in order to concentrate on one job and one job only -- eradicating poverty! In the first 10 months of the War on Poverty, the Catholic Church -- Archdioceses, individual churches, parochial schools affiliated private agencies, priests and laity alike have demonstrated that the fears and distrusts of the experts were unfounded.
In community after community --
-- The church has had a voice without seeking a proprietary interest
-- The church has shown leadership without exclusiveness
-- It has shown a sense of mission devoid of ulterior motives
-- It has run programs both separately and cooperatively -- programs which have shown no taint of proselytizing.
Here are some of the examples:
-- In Walla Walla, Washington, St. Vincent de Paul workers, the Catholic Family and Child Services, The United Church Women and Unitarians received $167,000 in anti-poverty funds to run day care centers together for children of migratory workers.
-- In St. Louis, the archdiocese, using both laymen and nuns staffed twenty Head Start centers for four and five year olds of all, creeds and races. .
-- In Chicago, the archdiocese received 2.9 million dollars for Head Start programs which reached over 5 thousand children, children who have a better chance this week in kindergarten and first grade because of those efforts this summer. And across the country, catholic-sponsored and administered Head Start programs handled over 34 thousand children.
-- In Newark, New Jersey, 345 thousand dollars went to Mt. Carmel Guild (that's The Newark Archdiocesan Welfare, Agency) -- to provide 210 high school students of all faiths with part-time jobs working with the blind, deaf and disabled.
-- In Michigan aryl South Carolina, catholic and protestant groups joined forces in programs to aid migrants. And when the New Mexico State Council of Churches received 1.3 million dollars to establish education centers throughout the State to improve the educational level of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers.
Two weeks ago, President Johnson announced a national program to employ 17,600 elderly, impoverished Americans. Part of it is known as our "Foster Grandparents" program. The Catholic Charities Bureau of Cleveland, the St. Cloud Children's Home in Minnesota, The Catholic Charities Counseling Service of New York are participants in that program. For instance, the Cleveland Catholic Charities will provide individualized attention, affection and concern for little babies, toddlers and young children living in orphanages and other institutions. That program – and those children -- need affection and attention. They need you and your fathers and mothers and elder relatives. Without love and care and concern, those little children stagnate. They turn into vegetables. They don't stand a chance. That's just how important it is to put aside denominational issues. And that's just what we're proving can be done by Americans of every faith.
Two other brand new grants deserve special mention. Each is being carried out by a religious institution.
Just the past Tuesday, September 14, the Center for the Study of Man at Notre Dame University, received $287,000 to learn precisely the different ways, poor people react to their problems, the ways in which they view poverty, and the ways in which they contend with it. Too often, we talk about the poor, as the culturally deprived, as failures. In fact, the poor have their own culture -- many different cultures -- each built on survival, each built on seeking some kind of dignity, some kind of recognition, some kind of minimal security in a seemingly hostile and complex world.
The Center for the Study of Man is going to take a long hard look at that culture of poverty. It's not going to do it from an ivory tower! Specialists, will accompany poor people as they go from agency to agency, as they deal with local merchants, police, welfare workers, social workers, to see what happens to the poor and how it affects their hopes and attitudes. Another new part of this study is the development of a concept called: “The Social Block!" It is not a geographic unit. It is a unit based on the human relationships which poor people have with each other. It will not cover a census tract, or a geographical block -- but will include, for instance, the two sides of a street which face each other -- streets spanned by far closer and more intimate relationships between families than geographic units, by fights, by parties, by gangs, by borrowing, by shared troubles and shared joys which have been studied in the past.
Another major new project is called "Project Star." This project is going to reach o tit statewide to deal with the kind of twentieth century poverty that is self-perpetuating. Project Star was the dream of two priests in Mississippi. They created a new corporation and named it "Star."
Its purpose is to: --
-- Seek out the unemployed poor.
-- To provide basic literacy education to adults.
-- To offer training in basic skills needed by Mississippi's growing industries.
-- To-develop job opportunities by assisting areas in creating industry.
-- To provide job counseling, guidance and testing services.
-- To place the poor in jobs.
-- To encourage communities to initiate similar programs and other War on Poverty projects and provide personnel to assist in organizing these. The overall estimate of persons benefitting from the program is 100,000. 25,600 are expected to be placed in jobs as a direct result.
That was a $7,250,000 grant to the Catholic Diocese of Natchez and Jackson, Mississippi -- in a state where less than 5% of the population is Catholic. Once again the experts will have been proven wrong. Not because the "wall between church and state" has been breached. Not because our lawyers -- have found some secret opening through that wall.
The experts are wrong because they underestimated the willingness, daring and boldness of the Catholic Church to seek new ways, as it has always done, in order to be reborn for each generation in order to speak with relevance and mission to every age.
And today, even in a government agency like ours, we have a singular example of the sacrifice, the daring and the humility which has come to characterize the church. Several months ago, I got a call from Senator Symington. He told me about a fabulous woman, Sister Francetta, President of Webster College. She had decided, at 65 years of age to retire. But she had a strange notion of what retiring meant.
She went to her religious superiors to submit her resignation and they asked her:
“Well, what are you going to do? -- we need you -- your vitality, your vision, your experience and wisdom."
And she said to them: "I would like to apply for a, job -- on the outside." "If I can find someone who will employ me, some work which I can do, no matter how small or insignificant to better this world -- I am willing to shed this religious garb -- I'll give up our habit if I can get a job where I can take my work closer to the needs of the people." So she applied for a job. And she was interviewed and interviewed; and we hired her.
One of her first assignments was to visit the St. Petersburg's Women's Job Corps Center. Some of the local people resented that Center. Some charged it was a country club. Others that it was a house of ill-repute.
And when Sister Francetta went down to investigate, she came, back to me saying this: "You know, Mr. Shriver -- none of those stories are true. And the girls, the enrollees, they are some of the most wonderful people in the world. . . .”
She said: "One night after I had been in St. Petersburg a couple of days, I was walking around the grounds and I saw a little old man stooping and peering into the bushes -- and prodding with his cane at the bushes that surround the center."
I introduced myself -- but he didn't hear me say the word, "Sister." And I asked him -- "What are you doing?" And he said to me: "Sh-h-h -- you know that this is a house of ill-repute -- of prostitutes and wicked women."
And I said to him. "No it isn`t! Some of the most wonderful girls in the world live there -- some of the most courageous and sweetest young women I have ever met." And he said: "Oh, no', Just last night, I was walking along and three of those girls who were standing outside the center accosted me."
And I said to him: "Well, I'm accosting you tonight -- and I am a nun – a Sister!" And he said: "A Sister -- how can you be a sister? You are not wearing Nun's clothes." And she told him: “I am still a sister -- but I have been given permission to shed my nun's clothes because I think so much of those girls that I want to walk with them and be with them -- not separated from them by anything external."
And so, shaking his head, he bid goodnight with the words: "I will say a rosary for you, tonight, Sister."
That's why we are winning the War vs. Poverty. It Is because of women like Sister Francetta, who are willing to forsake externals because "they are about their father's work." It is because church after church, and Catholic agency after agency has put aside denomination differences.
It is because priests like Father Barone in Washington have set about organizing Credit Unions for the poor.
It is because priests like Father Vizzard dwell with migrants when others treated them like the untouchables of India.
And, it is because of men and women like you -- and this entire society -- that we are going to win the War on Poverty. The church, collectively, and individually, is dropping what some have jokingly called its "edifice complex" -- and has set about -- "To walk with the poor."
Among the most moving statements I have ever read came from a Jesuit, Father Berrigan. About two months ago, he wrote:
"I am a member of a deprived and even impoverished church. A church which is too poor in virtue to become poor in fact; too unsure and unconvinced to preach the gospel with clarity and vision, childishly attached to the bric-a-brac of honors, the double talk of diplomacy, the degrading favors of the rich, the idolatry of structures, the pride of place.
"I am a member of deprived Nation. I speak here of a moral poverty of the most frightful and pervasive kind. It is a poverty which clings to its static goods, and fears mightily the winds of revolution. It clings to its white supremacy, in the face of black excellence, black need, black beauty! It puts off needful revolution, though it was born in revolution, and can only hope to exist if the revolution continues.
"I am finally a member of a deprived race. Our white poverty is measured by the yardstick of our obsessions, of our fears, the choices we make, and the choices we put off, and the choices we refuse."
When a man can say that, he is no longer poor!
When a church can say that, it is in no peril of dying.
And when a nation can say that, it does not have to choose between guns or butter, Viet Nam or poverty because both are the same War. And we will have won it on both fronts.