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War on Poverty Veteran Praises Community Action Agencies: Urges Renewed National Commitment

From The Chronicle of Philanthropy, April 17, 2015

Video: a War on Poverty Veteran
Seeks Renewed Attention to the Plight of the Poor

“Fifty years ago, Pablo Eisenberg was helping to set up the programs that put President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty into effect. Now 82 and a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, he worries that the benefits of the antipoverty crusade, both to nonprofits and the country at large, have not been fully appreciated….”

Johnson’s War on Poverty
by Pablo Eisenberg, February 2015
McCourt School of Public Policy
Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership, Georgetown University


The premise of community action was that local residents, especially the poor and other disadvantaged people, had to have the tools and power to play an active role in shaping and administering the programs and services in their own communities.

In a little over a year, the Office of Economic Opportunity established well over 1200 community action agencies, hired tens of thousands of people and created a huge number of programs to help poor and minority residents who had been ignored by the authorities and society in general. In many, if not most, jurisdictions, CAAs became either the lone or strongest advocate for poor people.

That our President and federal government were actually calling on poor citizens to organize and speak out to help themselves legitimated the notion of community organizing and the sharing of power. The concept of citizen participation, now commonly accepted, was cradled in community action and the advocacy of the White House, for which neither has received sufficient credit.

Community action, more than any other stimulus in the 1960s and 1970s, or since, can take credit for creating tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations—community organizing groups, social service institutions, economic development organizations and advocacy coalitions—to service new programs and projects. These groups placed low-income people on their boards, as well as hiring many employees previously ignored by conventional employers.

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