The Children's Crusade

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: In what they hope will be a massive end-run around politicians, thousands of children's advocates will march on Washington this weekend to plead for a renewed national commitment to meet the varied needs of children. The "Stand for Children" march, organized by Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund (CDF), comes at a time when federal programs for children are targets of a budget-cutting Congress and of a White House that has proved willing to experiment with the social safety net. Conservative groups such as the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition this week dismissed the event as a ruse by left-leaning activists to use children's issues to keep "big government" alive. Edelman, a longtime friend of Hillary Clinton with deep Democratic roots, fired back: "Too many of them . . . don't seem to be worried about big government when it comes to the Pentagon." TIME senior writer Elizabeth Gleick reports: "The political goals of the march are very vague. Organizers want to generate the same kind of exhilaration that the Million Man March generated and raise the focus on children's issues. But children's issues encompass so much, that the goals depend on who you are and what you think the government's role should be in raising children."

Although the event will likely draw many thousands of people to the capital, the CDF's agenda in part, to save and expand programs like Head Start is foundering on Capitol Hill. And despite the fact that Hillary Clinton is a past CDF chairman and children's advocate, the organizers have also stopped counting on support from a mercurial White House. When President Clinton voiced his support last year for a Senate bill that would transform federal welfare spending into a system of smaller, block grants to the states which would eliminate the safety net of protections for children Edelman responded with an "Open Letter to the President" in the Washington Post, complete with the barb: "This is a defining moral litmus test for your presidency." Clinton eventually withdrew his support for the bill. Meanwhile, the percentage of children living in "extreme poverty" (with a family income level less than half the official poverty level) has doubled to 10 percent since 1975. And the public seems to favor increased spending on children: according to a TIME/CNN poll conducted in early May, 73 percent of people surveyed were in favor, while only 22 percent were firmly opposed. Neither Clinton nor other politicians were invited to speak at the march.-->