Standing for children March on the Mall: Gathering shows dTC difficulty of separating children's needs from politics.

June 04, 1996

WHY IS IT that a call to "Stand for Children" on the Mall in Washington, D.C. gets tangled up in politics? The gathering of some 200,000 people in the nation's capital this past weekend was denounced in advance by some conservative groups as nothing more than a march in support of the welfare state.

Children's issues inevitably become political because children don't exist alone, but as part of families. Despite the American penchant for celebrating "family values," the fact is that from health care to schools to balancing the federal budget, policies that affect families and shape the lives of children are inherently political.

But children's issues carry an added burden. Children don't vote and, too often, neither do their busy parents. So politicians have no reason to fear a "children's lobby" at the polls. Meanwhile, they must pay close attention to the concerns of the elderly, who are avid voters. No wonder it is hard to right the imbalance between the vast resources going to older Americans and the comparatively small investments being made in future generations.

Marian Wright Edelman, the head of Children's Defense Fund and the organizer of "Stand for Children," had good reason to bring children's causes to the forefront of the nation's consciousness. As a long-time mentor to Hillary Clinton -- Mrs. Clinton chaired the board of her organization until 1992 -- she has seen that not even a White House friendly to the concerns of children can guarantee that child-friendly issues get a prominent place on the national agenda. In that sense, the rally was a protest not just against Newt Gingrich's war on social spending, but also against President Clinton.

For a prosperous country, hunger, homelessness and the problems associated with poverty afflict a shamefully high percentage of children. But the problems of childhood are not confined to the poor. Plenty of middle class and affluent children lack the nurture and attention they need from busy or absent parents.

Whatever political ramifications observers saw in Saturday's gathering, one message should remain above the fray: The call to all Americans to do whatever they can to improve the life of a child.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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