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!
ELIMINATE POVERTY, EMPOWER
Special to The Michigan Citizen
“If you want to eliminate poverty, you have to empower the poor, not treat them
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
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
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
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
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.