WASHINGTON -- Drawing on public outrage over the Rodney King verdict and the race riots that followed, minority leaders from around the country pledged yesterday to take to the streets in a campaign for racial equality and increased social spending.
"As the fires of Los Angeles are being put out, we must reignite the fire for justice," said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the civil rights leader, who served as host to a meeting of several dozen black, Hispanic and Asian activists, mayors, congressmen and churchmen at a Washington, D.C. church.
The campaign is scheduled to begin with a "Save our Cities, Save our Children" mass march in Washington May 16. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has been planning the march for months, to draw attention to its detailed demands for federal emergency funds totaling about $35 billion for low-income housing, education, police, public works and social services.
Meanwhile, a "National Day of Protest and Healing and Voter Registration" is being planned for June 19 -- barely four weeks before the Democratic National Convention opens -- to keep the issue simmering in the presidential electoral arena.
"We hope to relieve [Congress] of President Bush in November. We want to veto his re-election," declared Mr. Jackson, in response to a question about Mr. Bush's ongoing veto battle with Congress over social spending issues.
Mr. Bush, meanwhile, flew to Los Angeles for his first visit to the scorched city since the riots last week, saying the country "can do better" than the Democratic social programs enacted in the 1960s and '70s.
The president's remarks, and those of his chief White House spokesman, drew stinging rebukes from several people at yesterday's meeting.
Mr. Bush's approach to urban problems "comes straight from the country club locker room," said another civil rights leader, Roger Wilkins. And Mr. Jackson called the president "disconnected" and "shielded" from the needs of the urban poor.
Congress, too, came in for some criticism over its refusal to abandon the 1990 budget agreement that prevents money cut from national defense from being used to fund social programs.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, support appeared to be growing yesterday for emergency aid to Los Angeles and for investment in big cities.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, a Washington Democrat, said he hoped Congress would be able to devise an urban aid package within a month.