The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) has long run on the motto "Leave No Child Behind." But that phrase was given much higher visibility as the slogan of the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, who as governor left more than a few children behind in Texas. CDF was not pleased with the appropriation of these words by candidate Bush. Its attorneys had more than a few words with Bush's campaign lawyers. But to no avail.
Now Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the CDF, is set to mount a massive coalition of organizations with millions of members to enact an "Act to Leave No Child Behind." This movement will wrap the "Leave No Child Behind" phrase squarely around George W. Bush's shoulders, and my guess is that he is not going to like it.
Most politicians want their lofty campaign slogans forgotten by the time they take their oath of office. Turning slogans into realities is going a bit too far. When the realities include prodding President Bush to protect children from the toxic chemicals of the companies that have funded his campaign, or to provide all children and their parents with health care coverage, or increase the supply of affordable housing units, Mr. Bush is likely to punt.
But Ms. Edelman and the large, resolute staff at CDF are nothing but determined. You take our slogan, then you better mean it. Starting on May 23 right through June 1, which is Stand for Children Day, a barrage of initial publicity, including events in 50 states, will be deployed to raise "public awareness of children's needs." In CDF's words, this includes a multi-million dollar "TV, radio, and print media campaign; town meetings, prayer vigils, and study circles; and house parties. Coalition building, nonviolence, and media-skills training to build a critical mass of effective spokespeople and advocates will be an ongoing and integral part of our movement building."
Children do not come in pieces, says CDF, so the "Act to Leave No Child Behind" (this time a registered trademark) is comprehensive. It includes health care, not just health insurance. It embraces needed federal standards that take into account small children's vulnerability to environmental hazards and toxins, to environmental racism, and such hazards in the schools. It pays fuller attention to helping hard-pressed working parents and the destitute to care for, nurture, and protect their children. Early childhood development and education receive high priority, along with insuring quality education in well-kept schools. A major poverty reduction program taking into account tax laws, raising the minimum wage and broader usage of existing programs unknown to the poor is detailed.
Housing and nutritional deficiencies, child abuse, after-school programs, juvenile justice, and gun safety are confronted with the carefully thought out programs that CDF has been well-known for throughout the years. This nearly 30-year-old organization is a wellspring of field experience, hard data, and creative thinking that show how more justice can replace more charity. It is beginning to turn more attention to corporate exploitation of children and teenagers in the marketing excesses and outrages that are alarming both conservatives and liberals.
That latter point is one George W. Bush and his strategists should take note of in coming months. They won't be able to ideologically or politically bait the large CDF-led coalition. Marian Wright Edelman and associates are far too smart to let them do that. The wave of righteous but not dogmatic people she is banding together will come at the White House and Congress from all parts of the political spectrum. It is a wave that must overcome.
Interested readers can reach CDF at 25 E Street, N.W., Washington D.C., 20001. 800-CDF-1200, www.childrensdefense.org.
Copyright © 2001 San Francisco Bay Guardian