Scratching By

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Look around any government agency and you’ll never fail to find some know-it-all with a suit and a nameplate on his desk who has just the right government program to eliminate or ameliorate, or at least contain, the worst aspects of grinding poverty in American cities . . . . But the one thing that the government and its managerial aid workers will never do is just get out of the way and let poor people do the things that poor people naturally do, and always have done, to scratch by. . . . Urban poverty as we know it is, in fact, exclusively a creature of state intervention in consensual economic dealings. . . .

Scratching By draws its analysis of urban poverty from the day-to-day strategies adopted by poor people themselves, as seen in direct action projects like the South Central Farm and the Umoja Village housing project—creative hustling, urban homesteading, and other alternatives to corporate capitalism—alternatives systematically suppressed by state privilege. Radical solidarity demands, then, neither jails nor charity nor government social workers—it demands getting the state’s boots from off of poor people’s necks.

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