Antioch Law Journal

Article Title

Poverty Law in the 1980s


It is self-interest and not justice that propels most people to act. If we intend to help the poor we will need to build coalitions with a range of others in society. When I came out of Mississippi, I thought that people were good if they were for everything I was for, and they were bad if they were not. I learned through the course of trying to protect Head Start that one could bring a whole range of groups together who had a self-interest in child care who would not speak to each other on welfare reform. Our work at the Children's Defense Fund is premised on the understanding that there is a no single constituency for children. People who have a handicapped child will work with you on that issue, but may not lift a hand to help you on juvenile justice issues, unless they are directly impacted. Parents who lack access to health care may work with you on that issue, but will not respond to concerns of runaway children. For this reason we have delineated very specific program areas and identified the specific constituencies and coalition building potential of each issue. Sometimes a common constituent issue may force people together, and help them to understand that they are all fingers that belong to the same hand. President Reagan's massive across-the-board cuts over the last two years have helped this occur. Head Start and other child care advocates can finally feel that there is a relationship between what happens in health, in child care, in food programs and in CETA. Cuts in these areas affect them directly.