What really happened when citizens were asked to participate in their community’s poverty programs? In this revealing new book, the authors provide an answer to this question through a systematic empirical analysis of a single public policy issue—citizen participation in the Community Action Program of the Johnson Administration’s “War on Poverty.” Beginning with a brief case study description and analysis of the politics of community action in each of America’s five largest cities—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Philadelphia—the authors move on to a fascinating examination of race and authority structures in our urban life.
In a series of lively chapters, Professors Greenstone and Peterson show how the coalitions that formed around the community action question developed not out of electoral or organizational interests alone, but were strongly influenced by our conceptions of the nature of authority in America. They discuss the factors that affected the development of the action program and they note that democratic elections of low-income representatives, however much preferred by democratic reformers, were an ineffective way of representing the interests of the poor.
The book stresses the way in which both machine and reform structures affected the ability of minority groups to organize effectively and to form alliances in urban politics. It considers the wide-ranging critiques made of the Community Action Program by conservative, liberal, and radical analysts and finds that all of them fail to appreciate the significance and intensity of the racial cleavage in American politics.