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Children's Rally Spurs Plans for Action, Draws Partisan Attacks

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Many of the people who marched at the recent Stand for Children rally in Washington say they've returned home with plans to mobilize support for children in their local communities.

And children's advocacy groups said last week that the rally, which drew more than 200,000 participants, will help publicize their efforts to provide child care, immunizations, early-childhood education, and services for abused and neglected children and youths.

Meanwhile, critics have dismissed the June 1 rally as a partisan event intended to support "big government" programs.

"For the Children's Defense Fund, the organizer of the event, the best advocate for a child is a government bureaucrat," said Gary L. Bauer, the president of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based family-issues think tank.

Mr. Bauer pointed out that Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the CDF, is a longtime friend of President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And Mrs. Clinton is a former chairwoman of the Washington-based advocacy group.

But Jetta Bernier, the executive director of Massachusetts Committee for Children, a Boston-based child-advocacy group, said adults must fight political battles for children.

"If the political system does not respond to its nonvoting constituency of children, then we must build an army of caring adults to serve as their proxies," Ms. Bernier said.

March leaders have said that while the rally was intended to drum up political support for children's issues, it was never intended to be a partisan event.

"We want to create a very big nonpartisan tent to create a children's movement," Ms. Bernier said.

She said she will send letters to march participants from her state this week seeking "citizens advocates" for children. Those who respond, Ms. Bernier said, will receive a kit that includes statistics on children's health and welfare, documents outlining the impact of federal welfare-reform proposals, and information about upcoming action on state and local legislation dealing with children.

The Massachusetts committee also has set up a toll-free telephone line for people who have questions about how to lobby on children's issues.

Voter Education

Jack Levine, the executive director of the Florida Center for Children and Youth in Tallahassee, said he hopes to use momentum from the march to jump-start local voter-education drives. Children's advocates across the state plan to campaign door to door this summer before the state primary elections in September.

In Arizona, child-care and child-welfare groups are also gearing up for the campaign season. Next month, activists plan to distribute voter guides, including fact sheets on children's health and welfare, to residents and elected officials.

Carol Kamin, the executive director of the Children's Alliance of Arizona, a private, nonprofit organization, said her group is planning a series of community forums on child care in the fall.

Among the postmarch efforts in other states:

  • Child advocates in San Francisco plan to publish a volunteer guide to urge people in the Bay Area to support children's rights.
  • Leaders of the Montgomery County, Md., Head Start program will invite local politicians to an annual picnic to talk about the need to offer high-quality preschool to low-income children.
  • Child-care workers in Maine are staging a rally next week to develop strategies to push for child-friendly policies in the home, the workplace, and the legislature.

Web Site Planned

Jonah Edelman, the associate director of the Stand for Children march and the son of the CDF president, said last week that some of the event's organizers plan to run an information headquarters for people interested in networking and creating programs to serve children and youths across the country. The group's office, which is based at the CDF, is setting up a site on the World Wide Web to post related activities and publicize upcoming events on-line.

"The march has taught us that nothing is inevitable," Mr. Edelman said. "Human action created these problems, and human beings can solve them."

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