On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave the State of the Union address and launched what he called the War on Poverty, stating:
Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.
“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. 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.”
This historic call to action led to the Economic Opportunity Act, the Food Stamp Act and the Voting Rights Act. Additionally, it led to the creation of an array of federally funded programs targeting various aspects of poverty, including Community Action Programs, Head Start, Medicare and Medicaid, Community Health Centers, Pell Grants, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Job Corps, Legal Services and the Federal Work-Study Program.
Solid Ground and our forebears – the Fremont Public Association and the North Seattle Community Service Center – were formed out of the Community Action movement. We are one of 30 Community Action Agencies (CAA) in Washington State and more than 1,100 across our country, serving people living on low incomes in every state as well as Puerto Rico and the Trust Territories.
Fifty years later, we know that poverty and social and economic inequities remain an unresolved and unacceptable reality in our country – a chronic and severe problem that disproportionately impacts people of color. I recognize this reality and I also reject the claim that the war to end poverty was a failure. In the ensuing five decades, our societal problems have become much more complex and our country’s economic growth continues to benefit an increasingly smaller portion of our nation’s population.
Through the past 40 years, Solid Ground and our Washington State Community Action Partnership have helped hundreds of thousands of people living on low-incomes change their lives for the better. Once, we focused on passing out food and clothes and finding people day jobs. As the causes and attributes of poverty have become more complex, so have our services. Now we address the multiple intersections of homelessness, domestic violence, mental health, mobility, education achievement, financial literacy and asset building, access to affordable health care, food and nutrition, and institutional racism.
Through 40+ years of innovation, partnership and action, we have accomplished much, and there is obviously much more to do. Among Solid Ground’s priorities in the coming year are:
- Representing the nonprofit community on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, which is charged with delivering an actionable set of recommendations for increasing the minimum wage within the City of Seattle.
- Continuing our leadership on the Equity in Education Coalition to address the achievement gap and deliver on the promise of a quality education for all Washingtonians.
- Work with the national learning cluster to further Financial Empowerment and Asset Building efforts for our constituents.
- Implement Rapid Re-Housing, Trauma-Informed Care and other pilot programs as we continually seek out best practices and more successful interventions.
- Through direct services, and in collaboration with our education and community partners, ensure that all youth served by Solid Ground are on a stable path toward post-secondary education and career success.
- Leverage the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid, in partnership with King County, to ensure that all of our residents have equitable access to quality affordable medical and dental coverage.
- Increase and improve the ways we engage with our community, especially by involving the voices and real-life experiences of people living on low incomes in the political process and in shaping our work.
2014 is both the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty and the 40th Anniversary of Solid Ground! In 1964, President Johnson ended his State of the Union Address by saying, “I ask you now in the Congress and in the country to join with me in expressing and fulfilling that faith in working for a nation, a nation that is free from want and a world that is free from hate – a world of peace and justice, and freedom and abundance, for our time and for all time to come.” In 2014, that statement is my commitment and my ask of each of you.
Editors note: One of the ways we will be recognizing this milestone is by providing platforms to lift up voices and stories from the struggle to overcome poverty and thrive. Soon, we will recast the Solid Ground Blog as the Story Ground, to host our stories and yours. Sign up here to have posts emailed to you, or contact Communications Director Mike Buchman to learn more about sharing your story.