Modern-day Hoovervilles !! A great subject for a

During the Great Depression, shantytowns sprang up on the outskirts of
American cities. Popcpulated by those who had lost jobs and been turned
out of their homes, these "Hoovervilles" became an indelible symbol of
the human suffering wrought by the Depression. They were named in
spiteful mockery of the president during the Depression's first four
years, Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), who was fond of telling Americans
that "prosperity is just around the corner," while offering virtually no
government assistance to the unemployed and homeless.

American high school and college students learn of the Hoovervilles in
their history textbooks, which treat the shantytowns as an example of
American poverty vanquished by the New Deal of President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, never to return.

But the Hoovervilles are back.


A front-page article in Thursday's New York Times ("Cities Deal With a
Surge in Shantytowns") describes the reemergence of itinerant
encampments on the American cityscape. The most widely reported of these
lies near Sacramento, California. About 125 people now reside in this
Hooverville, in the capital city of America's richest and most populous state.

The LA TIMES reported thusly:

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said a
make-shift tent city for the homeless that sprang up in the capital city
of Sacramento will be shut down and its residents allowed to stay at the
state fairgrounds.

Schwarzenegger said he ordered the state facility known as Cal-Expo to
be used for three months to serve the 125 tent city residents, some of
them displaced by the economic recession. The encampment may be shut
down within a month, said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The move comes
after the Sacramento City Council last night agreed to spend $880,000 to
expand homeless programs.

“Together with the local government and volunteers, we are taking a
first step to ensure the people living in tent city have a safe place to
stay, with fresh water, healthy conditions and access to the services
they need,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “And I am committed to
working with Mayor Johnson to find a permanent solution for those living
in tent city.”

California, home to one of every eight Americans, has been particularly
hard hit by the housing market collapse after many residents turned to
exotic mortgages to afford homes. The tent city, which has long existed
along the banks of the America River, gained national attention last
month when some of its recently homeless residents were featured on the
Oprah Winfrey Show.

The state has one of the highest rates of foreclosure, according to
RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based seller of real estate data.
California home prices dropped 41 percent last month from a year
earlier, more than double the U.S. decline, as surging foreclosures
drove down values, the state Association of Realtors said today.

State Unemployment

The state’s unemployment rate rose to 10.5 percent in February, as
construction, financial and manufacturing companies eliminated jobs,
leaving the most-populous U.S. state with one of the nation’s worst job

The shelter at Cal-Exp currently houses about 150 people. It will be
expanded by another 50 beds, and will include facilities for families
with children.

The Hooverville Syndrome is far more widespread than the media attention on
the tent city near Sacramento implies. It has reemerged in Phoenix,
Arizona; Olympia and Seattle, Washington; Reno, Nevada; Portland,
Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Fresno,
California; among others. So get busy shooting HOOVERVILLE in Calif
as that's your movie's subject.

Families in these encampments live in tents, or else shacks built of old
wood, scrap metal, cardboard and other waste. They live without running
water, electricity, plumbing, or garbage removal.

The Times focuses on Fresno, a city of 500,000. There are now five
shantytowns around Fresno. Michael Stoops, the executive director of the
National Coalition for the Homeless, described the encampments'
residents as "able-bodied folks that did day labor, at minimum wage or
better, who were previously able to house themselves based on their

The population of these Hoovervilles represents only a small portion of
those who find themselves without a home. According to the National
Alliance to End Homelessness, 3.4 million Americans are likely to
experience homelessness this year”a 35 percent increase from 2007.
This figure is equivalent to the entire population of Berlin; it is
larger than the population of Chicago and the state of Iowa.

Driving the growth in homelessness is the foreclosure crisis. However,
the ranks of the homeless are also filling up with former renters.
Ironically, the surge in home foreclosures is forcing up rental prices
nationwide as the total housing supply contracts. In addition, apartment
units are being foreclosed upon, throwing out even renters who have not
fallen behind on their payments.

Before the onset of the economic crisis, a majority of the homeless
population held jobs, and about 41 percent were families with children.
Experts believe that the portion among the homeless of working poor and
families with children has risen sharply.

The rising tide of homelessness has been met with indifference by the
Obama administration.

The massive social crisis that is sweeping the United States was almost
completely ignored during President Barack Obama's nationally televised
news conference on Tuesday evening. The only question that hinted at the
dimensions of the social crisis engulfing the US pertained to the new
tent cities. A reporter from Ebony magazine asked Obama "what he would
say to the families, especially children, who are sleeping under bridges
and in tents across the country."

Obama's response amounted to: Nothing. He assured the questioner that he
was in fact "heartbroken that any child in America is homeless," a
declaration that sounded about as sincere as his "anger" over bonuses at
AIG. Obama made no proposals, referring vaguely to "a range of programs
[that] do deal with homelessness."

"The most important thing that I can do on their behalf is to make sure
their parents have a job," he said. In other words, his administration
has no plan to address the homeless crisis. His proposals on jobs amount
to little next to the extraordinary growth of unemployment. On Thursday,
the Labor Department reported that continuing claims for jobless
benefits rose to 5.56 million, a number that in fact significantly
underestimates the jobs crisis in the US.

This is an administration, it must be recalled, that one day earlier had
unveiled a new trillion-dollar "public-private" bailout for the largest
banks. This was not the first bailout of Wall Street, nor will it be the
last. All told, between loans, direct cash infusions, government
takeovers, and guarantees on debts, taxpayers have extended Wall Street
in the range of $8 to $10 trillion. In comparison, Obama's stimulus
package includes $1.5 billion for building emergency homeless shelters.

Obama has included no provisions in either his budget proposal or his
stimulus package to assist low-income families with their rent payments.
And his plan to resuscitate the housing market will not lessen the
overpriced mortgages of millions of American households who have gone
"underwater," owing more on their homes than their market value. It is
thus assured the ranks of the homeless will continue to swell.

Obama's liberal defenders, such as The Nation magazine, have spilled
plenty of ink attempting to compare Obama to Roosevelt. They promote the
illusion that the New Deal ended the Great Depression. In fact, it was
World War Two and its destruction of much of the world's economy—and
at least 60 million lives”that ended the economic crisis. The real
changes in social structure, moreover, came not from the political
establishment, but through the mass actions of working class.

Even so, what is most remarkable about Obama's first months in office is
the complete absence of any serious program of social reform.

In his first 100 days, Roosevelt”a representative of the bourgeoisie
who saw social reforms as a necessary means of preserving
capitalism ”launched an "alphabet soup" of programs such as the Farm
Security Administration (FSA), the Resettlement Administration (RA),
Rural Electrification Administration (REA), the Tennessee Valley
Authority (TVA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that aimed to
put hundreds of thousands to work, bring electricity to vast areas
without it, and improve conditions of the large rural and farming

Obama's administration, just two months old, has been characterized by a
single-minded drive to appropriate vast public wealth to the financial
elite through massive bank bailouts.

To capitalize on the class anger felt by millions of Americans,
Roosevelt issued regular bromides against the "moneychangers" on Wall
Street. Obama, on the other hand, has gone out of his way to pander to
the same financial elite primarily responsible for the economic misery
confronting millions.

In a speech that turned reality completely on its head, Obama told a
recent gathering of top CEOs, "Your companies have fueled the prosperity
of communities across the country and the success stories of countless
individuals. They've enriched our nation; they've served as a tribute to
the enduring spirit of American capitalism."

Far from implementing a new reform agenda, Obama made clear on Tuesday
that a massive attack on social programs was being readied, to be
implemented as soon as the bank bailouts are complete. He referred
repeatedly to the high cost of healthcare and the need for "Entitlement
reform"”i.e., the debts building up from the Wall Street handouts will
be paid for through cuts in Medicare, Social Security, and other

The contrast with Roosevelt is telling. As Trotsky put it, "America's
wealth permits Roosevelt his experiments." The vast industrial resources
of American capitalism formed the objective foundation for a policy of
social reform aimed at containing class antagonisms.

The position of the United States today is much different. The vast
enrichment of the financial oligarchy which maintains an iron grip on
the entire political and media establishment—has developed in
conjunction with the decline of American capitalism and the erosion of
its industrial foundations. As made clear by the actions of the Obama
administration, there exists no constituency within the ruling class for
social reform.

The last Great Depression led not only to Hoovervilles—a symbol of
economic collapse but also to enormous social upheavals. As class
struggles develop inexorably out of the present crisis, they will
provide the objective basis for a powerful resurgence of revolutionary