[Company Logo Image]  Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

Linking up the struggles!                Home Up Feedback Contents                        

                                       "You get what you are organized to take!"


Venezuela and Detroit
MWRO Attends WSF

Venezuela Addresses Poverty

Maureen Taylor presents NWRU/MWRO appreciation award for President Chavez to Ambassador Alvarez Herrera.


On 6/14/06, MWRO hosted a People's Meet and Greet Celebration for the Ambassador of Venezuela, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, and his delegation. Click here for more information about this historic event!





By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to The Michigan Citizen

“If you want to eliminate poverty, you have to empower the poor, not treat them as beggars.”

This advice from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, offered during a sit-down interview with Democracy Now while he was in New York for the UN opening, is as timely as the oil that Venezuela will soon start delivering at below market prices to poor communities and schools in the U.S.

Unlike liberal Democrats and most U.S. radicals, Chavez views the elimination of poverty not as something that governments or politicians do or promise to do for people but as a participatory process through which people transform themselves and their reality simultaneously. That is also how MLK, after being confronted with the urban rebellions in the last three years of his life, began viewing the struggle against poverty.

Chavez described the process by which Venezuelans are currently struggling to eliminate poverty.

In poor neighborhoods all over the country thousands of people join Urban Land Committees. These committees draft a map of their neighborhood then go house by house, family by family, assessing the problems, e.g. lack of running water, the condition of the houses, number of children, health care. Using financial and technical resources and equipment provided by the government, they interact with the technical commissions on water, energy and electrical supplies, etc.

It is a “beautiful task we are conducting,” Chavez said, “because we are trying to create a new model of democracy which is not only representative but participatory, a government that, as Abraham Lincoln already said, is of the people, for the people and by the people.” It is a government that “transfers power to the people, especially the poorest of the poor.”

Why can’t those Americans who really want to eliminate poverty and not just talk about it embark on this “beautiful” process? Everything else we have tried has failed.

We could start by setting up neighborhood committees made up of community residents and middle and high school students. After drafting a map of the neighborhood, these intergenerational committees could also go house to house assessing problems, involving residents and working with technical commissions.

Imagine how much both adults and young people would be empowered through this process, intergenerational activity, how much they would learn about their reality from each other, how many new and imaginative ideas and how much hope and self-confidence would be generated as they began to get their arms around seemingly insurmountable problems and were transformed from beggars and victims into self-governing citizens!

A few days after listening to the Chavez interview I watched the telecast of the Town Meeting convened by the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the poverty exposed by Hurricane Katrina. The meeting consisted mainly of Black politicians rising either to be applauded or to appeal to their constituents to march and mobilize in order to empower these politicians in Washington.

It all seemed very progressive, but I couldn’t help thinking that as the number of Black representatives has increased in the last forty years, so has the poverty rate.

That is because we are still stuck in the same old “for the people” representative democracy and have not accepted the challenge to create the “for the people, by the people, of the people” participatory democracy envisioned by Abraham Lincoln nearly 150 years ago and by Martin Luther King Jr. forty years ago.

Chavez’s advice, coming at this time when Hurricane Katrina is forcing even George W. Bush to talk about eliminating poverty, provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to make this leap in our thinking and practice.


Home ] Up ] Venezuela and Detroit ] MWRO Attends WSF ]