WASHINGTON – More than 2,500 Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) delegates gathered here April 8-11 to fight Bush administration cutbacks in food stamps, Medicaid, and education and to demand that Congress enact the Dodd-Miller “Leave No Child Behind Act.”
“This is the most dangerous time our children have faced since the Children’s Defense Fund Action Council began 30 years ago,” said CDF President Marian Wright Edelman. “As our nation wages a war against Iraq and is anxiously preoccupied with terrorism in our post Sept. 11 nation and world, the Bush administration is waging a radical budget war on children at home.”
She blasted Bush’s proposals to dismantle Head Start and turn Medicaid, foster care and Section 8 low-income housing into block grant programs. She also assailed administration plans to cut 570,000 children from after school programs and 500,000 from child care assistance over five years “while requiring more mothers to leave welfare and to work more hours.”
Edelman assailed Bush schemes to substitute faith-based charity for federal safety net programs that benefit poor children. “Charity is not a substitute for justice,” she said. “Charity can be taken away at any time by the giver.” Introducing a panel of experts on the global crisis facing the millions of children in poverty, she declared, “We must develop a world perspective. No person can live alone. No nation can live alone. The more we try, the more wars we will have. We will all perish as fools. … We are a superpower with millionaires and billionaires. We must become the moral superpower. … We have squandered $12 trillion on weapons of death. If we had invested that money in our children what a world we would have!”
She urged the crowd to demand that lawmakers “vote yes to investing in children and vote no to huge, irresponsible tax cuts for millionaires.”
She urged a grassroots effort to enlist co-sponsors for the “Leave No Child Behind Act” not to be confused, she said, with Bush’s under-funded “No Child Left Behind” Act. Authored by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) “Leave No Child Behind” would lift all children out of poverty by 2010, ensure every child and their parents health protection under Medicare and decent affordable housing, while expanding food stamps to eliminate child hunger. It would increase federal aid to education to insure that every child can read by fourth grade.
Olara Otunnu, a UN representative for “Children and Armed Conflict,” told the conference that Iraqi children are now at grave risk. “It is a war crime to attack a school or a hospital,” he said, as the crowd erupted in applause, clearly an allusion to the bombing in Baghdad of a maternity ward by U.S. missiles “After the guns fall silent, war is not over for children,” he continued. “Therefore insuring healing, reconstruction, should be central. It could not be more true than in Iraq.” He decried the “deliberate targeting of civilian populations.”
Sandra Thurman, International AIDS Trust president, said children are among the hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic. With much fanfare, Bush announced he would seek $15 billion over ten years to fight the disease that has already killed more than 25 million, she noted. “But so far, it is only a promise. Bush just asked Congress for $75 billion for the war in Iraq. Surely with tens of millions of lives in the balance, the battle against AIDS deserves no less.”
Cindy Stovall, director of the Family Support Program in Springfield, Mass., told the World, “The people I work with are directly affected by these cuts. Children are falling through the cracks. The school breakfast program has been cut so our children come to school hungry and we can’t feed them.”
Veronica Morgan-Price, a retired juvenile court judge in Houston, assailed the disproportionate numbers of young African-American men imprisoned across the nation. “There is inequality in incarcerations, inequality in sentencing, inequality in legal representation,” she said. The struggle, she said, begins with childhood, preventing youth from falling into the criminal justice system.
Andrew Betita, a student at California Institute of Polytechnics in Pomona, told the World, “Our tax dollars are being funneled into the military. That money is being taken away from children. In any war, the biggest victims are innocent women and children.”
UCLA student Kelly Wynn added, “Children all over the world are suffering. Right here in D.C. we have homeless children. So many domestic problems are being ignored while this war is raging.”
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