More than a prayer: activists take on corruption and poverty today

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 1:05 AM EDT

Progressive activists are launching new initiatives today that take on, in different ways, our distorted government priorities fueled by crony capitalism and a corrupted Congress. Hundreds of faith-based leaders, led by the Rev. Jim Wallis and his Sojurners-affiliated groups, will be marching to Capitol Hill before noon and lobbying members of Congress about specific goals to end poverty here and abroad.

Meanwhile, at hundreds of homes around the country tonight, activists led by Public Citizen and other clean government groups, will be screening a riveting new film, "The Big Buy," about how Tom DeLay helped sell off and gerrymander Congress to benefit special interests and Republican donors. (There's still time to join up and learn about both actions. Read more below.)
One goal of that "Clean Money Day" is to promote a new "Voters First" pledge by candidates to commit to public financing of federal campaigns and lobbying reform.

Even though the activists may be different, their reform efforts reflect a battle against an underlying wrong: a federal government and budget rigged on behalf of the rich at the expense of the poor and middle-class. The slashed funding for social needs that the progressive Christians are protesting was shaped by a Congress and federal government that was turned into a Republican money-making machine for special interests with earmarks, tax breaks and lucrative contracts from Iraq to Katrina.

But Wallis, though, is shrewdly seeking to make the ending of poverty a bipartisan moral crusade, so Republican Senator Sam Brownback and Senator Barack Obama will be addressing the faithful. Wallis and his allies are calling their effort a solutions-oriented Covenant for a New America, declaring that "poverty is not a family value."

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Part of the covenant's launch is the "March to Overcome Poverty" that assembles at 10:45 a.m. at National City Christian Church at Thomas Circle in Washington, D.C. , then marches to a kickoff rally to promote the anti-poverty covenant about noon at the Upper Senate Park at the intersection of New Jersey Ave. NW and Delaware Ave. NE. At a church meeting Monday night, Wallis outlined his goal of drawing a broad-based faith community and its allies into a moral crusade that puts poverty at the top of the political agenda. A short, gray-haired dynamo, he told the crowd, amid the echoes of a huge church, "The days when you could win the religious community speaking about life and family values while ignoring the desperate plight of poor people in this abundant nation -- those days are over." And taking inspiration from an earlier generation of abolitionist preachers, he proclaimed, "Poverty is the new slavery!" As the covenant report released today declares, "We now insist that widespread povery in the midst of plenty is a moral wrong we refuse to accept any longer."

Yet a key feature of Wallis' political genius is his effort to transcend conventional left and right arguments about the causes of poverty, with conservatives blaming family disintegration and lack of personal responsiblity, while liberals focus on the need for more government spending. He argues, "It takes both personal and social responsibility." The cornerstones of the Covenant for a New America are these:

Work must work and provide for family economic success and security. Those who work responsibly should have a living family income in which a combination of a family's earnings, and supports for transportation, health care, nutrition, child care, education, housing, and other basic needs provide a decent standard of living. T hose unable to work should be supported with dignity.

Children should not be poor. We also need specific and concrete commitments to brighter futures for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. We will never end the cycle of poverty if we continue to allow lack of opportunity to be the formative aspect of a child's life. Our nation should develop and commit to a plan that reduces child poverty by half over 10 years.

Extreme global poverty must end.. The U.S. should support effective aid, good governance, just trade policies, and debt cancellation in order to lift billions of people out of extreme poverty. U.S. international development assistance should be increased by an additional one percent of the federal budget to honor our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, designed to cut global poverty in half by the year 2015.

We commit to recognize the valid concerns of both sides in the political debate, and then move to higher ground by working together to make overcoming poverty a moral priority.

Unfortunately, there won't be much money for such lofty goals as long as Congress keeps turning into a cash spigot for corporate interests and wealthy families, while slashing billions from social programs. So that's why the "Clean Money" candidate pledge is just as important as a potential weapon in a new war on poverty. As Public Citizen explains:

The "Voters First" Candidate Pledge Campaign – To kick off the candidate accountability campaign leading to the mid-term elections, we just released the "Voters First" Candidate Pledge. We are approaching all members of Congress and the 1,700 candidates running for Congress this year and asking them to sign this three-part pledge:

1) Make Elections Fair - Establish a system of public financing for all federal candidates, and enforce strict spending limits for those who won't accept it.

2) Restore Accountability - Pass and enforce tough restrictions on gifts and travel from lobbyists and other powerful interests for members of Congress.

3) Protect Voters' Right-To-Know - Require full public disclosure of all lobbyist contributions to, and fundraising help, for members of Congress.

We will keep a running tally of which candidates sign the pledge to Clean Up Washington – and which refuse – and publish it on our Web site and in downloadable voter guides for distribution in your district.

Let us pray that both of these worthy intitiatives find success -- and the political savvy to win the attention of the public, the media and government officials.

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