On imagining the revolutioni

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at tsoft.com
Mon Feb 1 13:26:19 PST 1999

Hi Marta:

>Point well taken and I agree wholeheartedly. Do you know of any
>books or research done on this aspect of public welfare?

I think I first encountered a systematic analysis of this gap between entitlement and delivery in the implementation of public assistance programs in the following: Piven, Frances Fox and Richard A. Cloward. _Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail_. NY: Vintage books, 1979.

With regard to women and welfare, Linda Gordon, Mimi Abramovitz (_Regulating the Lives of Women, Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present_), Teresa Funiciello (_Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the Welfare System to End Poverty in America_), etc. are useful.

>I've tried to promote the idea of local oversight boards that would
>be composed of those on these programs as well as other members of a
>community to hold government agencies accountable. To my knowledge,
>nothing like this exists, but we do need some watchdogs with the
>power to intervene with unfair bureaucracy practices and to make
>people aware of what their rights are.

Local oversight boards might be useful, especially for those who are already on the recipient lists. But what of people who are entitled to help but have not received it, because they don't know that it exists, or because there are too many obstacles that discourage applications, etc.?


These are both excellent books and highly recommended. I also would recommend Sanford E. Schram's *Words of Welfare: The Poverty of Social Science and the Social Science of Poverty*. Schram's book occasionally lapses into overlong discussions of discourse for my taste but his basic message--that poverty/welfare research result in the wrong public policies because they never get at what poverty is--is dead on. The little 5 page foreward by Frances Fox Piven is well the 50 cents it would take to photocopy it as well.




Saturday afternoon, just before closing the shop, while I was thinking about Hegel, Beethoven, and Butler, guess who rolled in with a bad case of castor wheel flutter? Debbie Kaplan, the current executive director of WID, world institute on disability--looking sheepish and pissed at having to drag her ass in on a Saturday.

But the point. California used to have a State Omnibusman Office that was supposed to monitor use and abuse (abuse by the State) of the state entitlements, particularly with regard to underserved populations--like the aged and disabled. In any event, the other arm of that oversight was supposed to be in local community organizations who were funded to provide benefit and entitlement counselors. All of this was destroyed under the Republican governors we've lived under for the past sixteen years! But hey, it might be coming back.

Back to the shop scene. So Debbie, what's new at WID. Well, we are starting to work with CIL to get back to some connection between policy and service models. They have a new director.

No, shit? Listen, I've got the plan. Emergency services oversight for wheelchair repair and public transportation--nobody can get these services to work. And, second, back to serious advocacy--benefits and entitlements counselors--especially on healthcare. Medical and Medicare have been a nightmare of bullshit. Gotta have it, Deb.

Yeah, Chuck and where's my on-demand, in-home, wheelchair-guy on a lash?

Hey, pay me what you make and I'll be there.

So, we went back and forth like that. The history was that these community organizations used to have a whole section of lawyers and policy people (Debbie was one) who traveled back to DC or Sacramento and were involved up to the point of becoming co-oped--but were also making that incremental headway necessary inside the bowels of the government agencies (those hidden interiors of regulation, field reports, reviews, etc.) The same organizations were also managing a service model to make up for all the missing pieces of State and Federal welfare agencies. This particular combination of service and advocacy started to get into legal trouble because if an organization receives state and federal funds, they are not suppose to lobby for legislation (gee, duh, no, we would never do that).

Anyway these evolving systems were of course casualties of the last twenty years of Republican pig oppression. But I have some hope a different but related system can be re-built locally.

There are more parts in this puzzle that need to be fitted together. The first is to re-connect the various groups across racial and ethnic lines, since there are black, chicano, and indian groups here doing all the same things. And second, as such a street level rainbow coalition, there needs to be a connection to the academic crew, who study and theorize all this at UC, SFSU, Hayward, etc.--the intelligencia who are not all that far removed from their own 'roots'--even if they harbor dreams of bourgeois bliss. And finally, or rather simultaneously, some kind of connection has to be made with formal labor organizing.

I am a little surprised that labor unions haven't seen that this welfare to work crapolla could be an opportunity to exploit an oppressive policy apparatus--that is turn it into an organizing tool--I am not sure how. But perhaps applying for the training grants and taking those out of the hands of the paternalistic little city agencies that rule AFDC.

In any case, some of academic pieces are implied in what Marta and Yoshie note above. The importance of the academic wing is a little difficult to see at first, but you need legislative and policy ammunition--those damned statistics, reports, and other miscellanea--and these need to have that all important stamp of some college or university on the letter head. The private think-tank days are over--in terms of credibility anyway. Not quite so for academically supported studies and reports. And the nice thing about that linkage is that most of the still surviving entitlements have provisions to monitor and study their effectiveness. You just have to go the catalogue of programs for federal domestic assistance to find them. So, the academic departments get their research money by competing for those funds, and then creat graduate student groups devoted to learning about and working with local groups involved at the street level.

Now, all of this was sort of happening in the long-ago (pre-Reagan era), but it was also failing, before it was crushed. The key points of failure were that the people involved were falling into the bourgeois bliss track of professionalism, the linkage across race and ethnicity didn't happen because of turf wars--along with distrust and in-fighting about who was worse off, more needy, etc. And because there is a limit to how effective such efforts can be, if they depend so heavily on the very government systems they are trying to reform.

But this idea of dependence, isn't all that it seems. See, one of the little discoveries made in this dependency relation was that the people on the outside were actually smarter, more committed, more organized and knew the policy arguments, justifications, and understood the system better than the hireling bureaucrats on the inside.

Think about what that means for awhile. If the outside is more coherent than the inside. What is the next step? You just exchange one for the other. See?

Now read this from the exchange between Doug H and Charles Brown(?) and noted by Carrol Cox (On imagining the revolution):

> That's correct, Charles. No offense taken. And as I say whenever
>this subject comes up, if someone can evoke a compelling scenario of
>revolution in the U.S., I'll happily shed my skepticism and sign
>on. I'm not happy about the absence of revolutionary potential in the

So, return to the example of sewing up all the little linkages between community organizations, their relationships with their state and federal funding agencies and the academic institutions that supply both the policy and credentialed personnel and combined all that with labor organizing and unions--well, see? It isn't too big a leap to think that if that kind of linkage can be forged, sustained, and then evolved, pretty soon we start looking like a popular front. Ah, but there is more. Remember this is just the lower depths of a class hierarchy. Before moving up, there also needs to be more horizontal linkages to the police apparatus and the prisons--those revolving doors that move between community and incarceration. Who runs the half way houses and were are these men and women supposed to work? Were do they go for assistance, besides their criminal buddies and their drug dealers? The obvious option outside the institutions are the community groups who are organized around providing the same kinds of services and support for their respective communities, that these guys need.

There are several potential liaisons between prisons and the rest of the community group organizations that were never developed and one of them is through disability. (the other is through family support services, since most people in prison have family out there somewhere).

There was for awhile a disabled prisoner group, but most of its efforts were devoted to making prison something that could be survived--literally. A lot of people have been disabled in the street crime scene here and judging from those I've met, many were not exactly innocent by-standers. One day in the shop, I had two people in chairs, both black, both gunshots, but one a crime victim and the other a criminal. They discovered their respective positions while sharing stories about their disability. And, then, they began chatting away like old friends over the crappy healthcare system!

Anyway, the road to revolution starts at the bottom of the hill and builds outward first, then upward. At some point, that loosely glued together thing is more substantial that what it opposes.

I've seen it or felt it once or maybe twice just in a quick glimpse--that magic thing whatever it is, when the outside is suddenly more substantial, more coherent than the inside. So, that forms a model in my mind for how it is done. And, even if it never happens, the process of building it, improves the lives of the people it effects--which is something positive to do in the meantime.

Chuck Grimes

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