In the week before the Democratic convention’s opening sessions, a group of children, age 8 to 13, came to San Francisco to hold platform hearings on neglect and abuse of children. These youngsters were prepared, serious and diligent. They questioned experts in the fields of hunger, child abuse, health, nuclear arms, education, juvenile justice, employment and day care. Promptly, they prepared a set of findings and recommendations, which they presented through their convention newspaper — Children’s Express — to the assembled Democrats.
Steve Naplan, 13, phrased their hope: “Considering that the Democrats and Republicans address so many issues, I think they should at least mention, at least begin to mention, a youth panel or a youth plank. Even if there’s just a tiny little plank — something a nail, a wedge, a splinter — but something that is youth.”
Many of the Democrats listened and the youthful reporters secured their share of interviews, including exchanges with Coretta King, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward Kennedy. Everywhere, at the convention, over at the bustling hotels where stated delegations met and in front of the numerous demonstrations, the Children’s Express reporters were roving, probing and showing once again how pertinent are the questions asked famous people by 10 year olds.
What impressed me about the children’s initiative was the contrast they made with the grown-ups at the convention. Ronald Reagan’s policies have harmed children in very concrete ways. His reduction of infant nutrition programs and school lunch availability has increased hunger and malnutrition in America. One of the witnesses, Dr. Larry Brown of Harvard University, spoke graphically of the rising hunger among the poor throughout the nation.
In other areas of federal responsibility — product safety, asbestos exposure in schools, education for disadvantaged children, health programs — Mr. Reagan and his associates have displayed an indifference bordering on contempt for the well-being of young Americans.
Yet the Democrats, while rightly decrying each callous performance, have not linked them all under a “children’s defense” policy. The same inability to develop connecting themes was evident in other sectors. Reagan has not enforced the drinking water law, the food additive standards, the Super Fund law for cleaning up toxic wastes, the workers’ health law, the air and water pollution laws and the pesticide protection law. What do these laws have in common as a primary objective? The prevention of cancer. That is the connecting theme that reaches a very legitimate and widespread concern of millions of citizens. Reagan is literally not committed to preventing cancer when the sources of that dreaded disease come from the corporate pollution in the work place, the environment and the marketplace.
A similar point can be made about consumer rip-offs. Democrats recognize the parts — utilities, oil, gas, health costs and others. They have failed to provide the connecting theme — excessive business power and monopolies. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman generated great popular support when they took on the “malefactors of great wealth” and made such a campaign relevant to peoples’ pocketbooks, lunch pails and sense of justice.
Children, being children, are attracted to the connecting themes of a just politics. They are attracted to basic principles of justice. The Democrats could learn much from the youngsters at Children’s Express. They could well discover the clarity of purpose they need to retire Ronald Reagan.
(For a free copy of their July 16th issue covering their children’s hearings, send a large, self-addressed, stamped envelope to Children’s Express, 20 Charles St., New York, N.Y. 10014).