Fifty years ago this month, Michael Harrington’s The Other America shook the nation’s conscience. It shined a light on our society’s gross economic inequalities, fueling the Johnson administration’s war on poverty. Let’s not allow Harrington’s legacy to become a historical footnote. We are long overdue for a renewed wake-up call about the urgency of addressing the poverty in our midst.
Of course, a lot has changed in half a century. Nowadays, the government is unlikely again to take up comprehensive poverty reform. There are, after all, enormous budgetary pressures as well as incendiary political divisions. But, that doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and begrudgingly accept that America’s opportunity divide must go unchecked. We can indeed make headway on this issue and each of us has an important role to play.
“Today we have more power as private citizens to do public good, both at home and around the world, than citizens in all of human history have ever had,” commented Bill Clinton back in 2006. Clinton is certainly one who knows; he has devoted his years since leaving the Oval Office to many charitable causes.
These words underscore the incredible potential charity has to support and sustain nonprofits that are successfully offering low-income people greater access to opportunity. It’s hard to imagine a more powerful a way to honor Michael Harrington’s legacy than to tap this charitable potential.