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A man who was central to the welfare rights movement

August 31, 2001 | Page 4

Dear Socialist Worker,

I was saddened to read about the death of Richard Cloward on August 23. Cloward, along with his wife, Francis Fox Piven, not only wrote some excellent books about poor peoples' struggles, but they were instrumental in helping to build the welfare rights movement in the 1960s.

When the Clinton administration began its assault on America's poor and called it "welfare reform," I turned to Cloward and Piven's Regulating the Poor and Poor Peoples' Movements to read about how people fought to win welfare rights in the first place.

When rats and trash overran Lower East Side tenements in New York City, the developing movement brought its outrage to City Hall and dumped the filth and rodents right there on the steps.

When the government concluded that people on welfare were too lazy to work, Cloward and Piven used their research to show that racist and stupid policies were the real obstacles to poor peoples' ability to find work.

I called Professor Cloward when friends and I were organizing protests against the welfare cuts a few years ago in New York City. He was frustrated about the destruction of programs that he and thousands had fought for--but he wasn't defeated.

When asked to speak at teach-ins and rallies, he and Professor Piven always made themselves available and encouraged a new generation of activists to join the fight.

Now that the five-year deadline on welfare recipients has arrived and the recession is plunging more into poverty, I hope that more than a few new activists spend time reading some of his books.

Sherry Wolf, Chicago

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