What am I missing here? The Oct. 7 New York Times ran a front-page article that said a majority of Americans believe President Bush and congressional leaders are spending too much time studying war while neglecting problems at home. A second front-page article in the same edition reported that Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, visiting an eight-person company in Duluth to help draw attention to the spiraling cost of health care for small companies, had to ask a local television reporter for the favor of mentioning in her news report why he was there. She was only interested in a sound bite about Wellstone’s opposition to unilateral action against Iraq.

Yet the Census Bureau has just reported that for the first time in eight years, the number of children living in poverty has gone up. There are still more than nine million children in America without health care coverage. And a new survey shows that low-income working families with children are bearing the brunt of state budget crises as states are forced to cut back on the child care services parents need to go to work and children need to be safe and enter school ready to learn.

These are not acts of God over which elected officials have no control. They are the consequences of actions taken – or not taken – by our elected officials, the same officials who are now campaigning all across the country for election or re-election to public office. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable for our nation’s neglect of our children, and it’s time for all of us who sincerely care about our children to cast our votes on their behalf.

Women and African Americans fought long and hard for the right to vote. Many put their lives on the line. Some died. Yet, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, only 51 percent of all eligible voters cast votes in the 2000 election. If the right to vote is worth dying for, how can we take that right so lightly in 2002 when too many of the officials elected are neglecting the interests of our children with impunity? They lavish tax cuts on millionaires and billionaires, while freezing funds for child care and Head Start. They vow to reform the nation’s educational system and then withhold funds needed to do so. How in good conscience can we continue to re-elect them?

When elected officials come to our neighborhoods, churches, organizations or community groups seeking our votes, we need to ask them when they are going to re-authorize welfare and child care legislation, and whether or not they are willing to increase childcare funding to the $11.25 billion that is needed to provide safe and reliable child care for children whose families cannot otherwise afford it. We need to ask them if they plan to vote to re-authorize and expand Head Start in 2003, and what their plans are for making sure that all children have what they need: a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life, and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. If we can’t afford to invest in our children, knowing that the options for their future and the future of the country are bleak if we don’t, how can we afford to invest billions in a war, knowing that all of the options for a more peaceful process have not yet been exhausted?

It is time for new choices. I urge everyone who cares about our nation’s children to cast their votes in November. Our children can’t vote, but you can.

Marian Wright Edelman is president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.