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Politics and the Million Moppet March

June 05, 1996|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Ordinarily, I am a sap for rallies and marches. Wanna see a grown woman shiver with goose bumps, swallow a lump of emotion, blink back tears? Plop me into a crowd gathered for a common purpose (of which I approve) and watch me melt. I don't even need to be present to be moved. Last year's Million Man March, controversial as it was, filled me with an emotion I choose to call hope.

As a patriotic American, I believe in the power of mass demonstration, in the possibility of nonviolent social change, in the notion that large-scale displays of popular conviction can translate into political momentum.

In our era, we have witnessed the phenomenon too often to deny its power: the outcry against the war in Vietnam that led to an American withdrawal, the boycotts and demonstrations of the civil rights movement that led to the end of legalized racial discrimination.

But there was something about last Saturday's Stand for Children, which drew an estimated 200,000 to Washington, D.C., that made me wince.

It wasn't the conservative carping that the event was a call for bigger government and a shameless display of self-interest on the part of the 100-plus sponsoring groups that receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants every year. (If they work for kids, why not march for the little tykes?)

And it wasn't remotely that rallying on behalf of children, demonstrably the biggest losers in the derby to end welfare-as-we-know-it, is inappropriate or wrong.

What turned me off was a slight disingenuousness on the part of organizers--primarily Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund--that children's welfare can somehow be sold as a nonpartisan political issue.

For all the protestations, for all lip service paid to bipartisanship, the Million Moppet March was about nothing if not partisan politics and the Republican-driven restructuring of welfare and the Democrats' complicity. You'd have to be hopelessly naive to believe anything else.

If I am lying, may the Easter Bunny strike me dead.


It is wearying, morally and spiritually, to face the reality of how this nation allows its children to live. Big fat reports and white papers and studies on America's most precious blah, blah, blah land regularly on my desk.

Thud. The "Kids Count Data Book" by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which profiles the well-being, or lack thereof, of children state by state.

Thud. "Past Due: Child Support Collection in California" by the National Center for Youth Law.

Thud. "California: The State of Our Children," an annual assessment issued each year by Children Now.

Thud. "Speaking of Kids" by the National Commission on Children.

Thud. "Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children" by the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Eyes glazing over yet?

The reports, not surprisingly, are grim. A quarter of American children younger than 6 live below the poverty level. More than one-fifth, or 15.3 million, of all American children live in poverty. More than 5 million of the impoverished live in families where one or both parents work.

All the reports call for more commitment, more creativity, more cash--corporate cash, private cash, public cash. Spend it on day care, health care, parent education, child-support collection, they urge. Some endorse what is perhaps the most political issue of all, gun control.

I give Edelman credit for recognizing this unpleasant truth: When a drumbeat is steady enough, it disappears from consciousness, becomes white noise, something to go to sleep by. What better way to cut through the white noise than to commandeer the nation's capital, to summon thousands on behalf of children?

And then, how better to squander the moment than to pretend the way we treat children is not deeply, fundamentally, unequivocally tied to partisan politics and presidential elections?


No one is going to admit being against children. Instead, they will vote for politicians who vote for "reforms" that result in a higher childhood poverty level.

"Today is about America's principles of justice and compassion and not about partisan politics," Edelman told those who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday. "We do not stand here advocating big government. We stand here advocating just government. . . . And we question the family values of anybody that is willing to spend $20,000 to lock our children up but is unwilling to spend $3,500 to give them a head start."


Wonder if she's talking about anybody in particular.

* Robin Abcarian's column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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