This is an open letter to President Bill Clinton.
Dear President Clinton:
In choosing which groups to speak before, and which individuals to meet with in the White House, Presidents send compelling signals about their character and their agendas. You have been President for almost six months and your meetings and audiences in Washington, D.C., apart from some photo opportunities, have been heavily inclined toward politicians and business executives. The powerful and the wealthy have had frequent and serious access to you. But Washington, D.C. also is the home for over one thousand national citizen groups and organizations. Some of them are small, working on mistreatment of migrant labor or government giveaways of mining resources on federal lands. Others are large associations with memberships in the hundreds of thousands or millions. All are non-profit entities. Many fought hard for progressive values during the Reagan-Bush years, when government was of the Exxons, by the General Motors and for the DuPonts. These Americans have not had access to you.
Late last summer I sent you a letter inviting you, on behalf of numerous citizen groups,to address them in Washington, D.C. during your Presidential campaign. Weeks went by without any response. After the election I repeated the invitation in a November 10, 1992 missive and communicated by proxy the wishes of these citizen organizations to hear your views and exchange ideas to Vernon Jordan, Vice President-elect Albert Gore and you in personal conversations. Still no response.
On June 30th the Washington Post reported your weekly lunches at the White House with about 10 business executives. Reporter Jerry Knight wrote: “The president also has made business executives regular guests at a series of private dinners in the family quarters of the White House, reaching out to Corporate America much more aggressively than either President George Bush or President Ronald Reagan ever did.”
Well, what about Citizen America? You have spoken to the auto industry executives at the Economic Club in Detroit and have met privately with the chiefs of the Big Three auto companies. Since you have not announced your consumer policy nor have nominated the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at this late date, don’t you think it a good idea to meet with consumer advocacy groups and representatives of the auto safety advocacy organizations in Washington?
It is not simply a matter of proper and symmetrical form or of paying your respects to Americans who sustain our democracy against corporate recidivists and the craven influences of marketplace abuses and campaign finance corruption. It is a way of becoming more informed and more urgent about these important causes that have been so neglected or battered by the previous two Administrations.
For example, in your lengthy June 9th address to the Business Roundtable, composed of CEOs of companies which have been major corporate welfare recipients and which have opposed so many of the governmental reforms and worker/consumer/environmental duties of the federal government’s health and safety programs, you called them “among the most enlightened leaders of our nation, in any walk of life.” Later in your remarks, you repeated your desire to get an agreement on labor standards and the environment with the Mexican and Canadian governments. . ” The recurrent omission of provisions protecting consumers to correct major gaps in the proposed trade agreement reflects your isolation from consumer groups.
Also disquieting are news reports about large campaign contributors being regularly invited to White House dinners and no reports that hardworking citizen activists, such as Lois Gibbs or Al Fritsch or Michael Jacobson, or labor organizer, Tony Mazzocchi, who have devoted years of proven, selfless service to a better America, have shared time with you.
I believe that many Americans, who see you on television grasping the outstretched hands of people at rallies or public gatherings, think you would like to do right by them. But liking to do right and having the political fortitude to speak truth to power and lock arms with justice-seekers, who do every day what your general speeches say should be done, are two very different qualities of leadership.
Open the doors of the White House to the people who are laboring to protect and expand our democracy . Speak to their conferences and assemblages. Learn from their experience and resolve. Become a President who spends his time building democracy so that politics and economics can generate prosperity and justice.