Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Bend Community Action Team...terminated?

Our area—central Oregon—got picked, a few years back, for a grant from a major foundation that would determine ways to reduce poverty. The foundation is the Northwest Area Foundation, a descendent of the Great Northern Railroad. It was a big grant: over $10 million.

A number of local "Community Action teams"—"CATs"— were founded, in Madras, Sisters, up on the Warm Springs Reservation, Bend, and elsewhere. They were under the shade of an umbrella organization, the Central Oregon Partnership. Grass roots groups fighting poverty. Rah. Working within their communities, they were going to identify, develop strategies, and work to reduce local poverty. Sort of semi-autonomous, as I understood it... Perhaps I was mis-informed. I serve on the board of directors for the CAT here in Bend; we were just notified we were terminated because the Partnership wants to renegotiate the structure of the organization.

Bureaucracies are strange entities, though—they grow and grow...and become sort of self-perpetuating, almost for their own sake alone. Bureaucracies may start to serve a community but eventually the community comes to serve the bureaucracy. So it would seem.

Down the road came something about regional solutions to poverty. Well, yes, a lot of our poverty is regional. The declines of ranching, farming, and the timber industry affect all of central Oregon, from the Columbia River to the California border. Most of the state's economic history is powered by extractive industries. Boom-and-bust cycles are indigenous to our history—to all of the western states, really. Many causes of poverty are beyond either local or regional. They are part and parcel of a national economic attitude that finds cheap labor necessary to high profits. Thanks to the globalization of capitalism, this attitude is becoming world-wide.

The Central Oregon Partnership has gained a great deal of control over the various CATs, because regional issues are seen as the most expedient ways to reduce poverty.

Actually, poverty is caused by the lack of money, when you get right down to it. Almost all of the foundation money goes to salaries, wages and not into the poorer segment of the population. This is part of Long Term Solutions. Most of the money that is not spent on employees of our regional organizations, will find it's way into the hands of employers.

The idea of a group of grass roots organizations fighting poverty has slipped off into the ether. Now it's a centralized organization run by professionals, it would seem.

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