Child Poverty

September 26, 2001

Report given to the National Committee

George Bush showed he was a thief and a liar long before the Florida vote
scandal. From the start of his campaign he claimed he would ‘leave no child
behind’. He stole the slogan from the progressive Children’s Defense Fund
headed by Marion Wright Edleman to cover up his anti-people policies.

As Communists, we are charged with building unity of the whole working
class. In the aftermath of welfare reform and with continued corporate
downsizing, poverty is deep in times of plenty. Wages are stagnant despite
record economic expansion. This is a challenge to the labor and people’s
movements and to ourselves.

When it became known in 1999 that Connecticut was the wealthiest state
and had the fastest growing child poverty, we knew we had to act. Yes,
there were more jobs. But they were minimum wage jobs offering short hours
and no benefits. It isn’t possible to survive without holding down a few
at a time.

The Martinez Public Works Jobs Bill had not been reintroduced to Congress.
We decided to take a state-wide initiative. The State Committee developed
a program that called for redistribution of wealth in the interests of
the children through a 2 percent tax on the portion of income above 0,000.
This would raise 0 million a year from the richest 3%, enough to make
a significant impact.

Of course, child poverty is also family poverty. Children have been
highlighted because poverty among children is more concentrated, and because
lost nutrition or health or learning in the early years can never be made
up. In addition, it’s pretty hard for a politician to get away with telling
a child to ‘go to work’.

This proposal was embraced by two labor councils and the teachers’ union
right away because it placed the labor movement in the community and among
workers who needed unions. It takes on the Republican program of ‘smaller
government’ and no government responsibility for the welfare of the people
by projecting an emergency state government End Child Poverty Social Investment

As we discussed the ‘Children before Profits’ program with several community
and union leaders, excitement grew. They had no idea there was so much
wealth concentrated in a few hands in their state. There was outrage at
the condition of families struggling to survive, especially in the cities.

That was our Party’s 80th Anniversary year. We did something unusual
to celebrate and held a Concert to End Child Poverty with three wonderful
groups. The call to the conference was signed by many labor and community
leaders. Before the concert we held a rally, where Jarvis Tyner spoke,
and the groups present agreed to meet on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
At that meeting, held at the state teacher’s union office, the Coalition
to End Child Poverty in Connecticut was born.

The first year has been packed with activity, first at the State Legislature
and then as part of the election strategy to get out the largest vote
in the cities and defeat the right wing nationally.

Today over 30 organizations make up the coalition including the Connecticut
AFL-CIO, welfare rights, clergy and community organizations. The spokespersons
are George Springer, president of the CT Federation of Educational and
Professional Employees, Luz Santana, organizer of Vecinos Unidos an economic
justice organization, and myself, chair of the Connecticut Communist Party
and a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission.

The coalition initiated a Day of Conscience to Challenge the Wealthiest
State that No Child Should Live in Poverty, held three weeks before election
day. Organizing for this rally with end child poverty petitions and voter
registration cards inspired youth organizations to get involved. They
filled the petitions, and brought family and friends to watch them break
dance, speak and read poetry at the rally.

This campaign was a big part of the Party’s voter registration and get
out the vote strategy. We went door-to-door in nine housing developments
and neighborhoods. We started two new People’s
Weekly World
routes and formed two new neighborhood clubs in the
process. People want to be a part of an organization taking leadership
to fightback on issues of economic rights.

One of these neighborhoods is located in the district of the state senator
who led the committee that heard our bill in the last session. She was
under a big attack from her Republican opponent. Rides were organized
on election day, and 20 people from this small development were taken
down to vote. The senator won re-election by a good margin. It was the
election campaign and the End Child Poverty campaign, that allowed this
recruitment and expansion of the Party to take hold.

Another is located in the 5th Congressional District where we helped
bring voters to the polls that the Democrats didn’t even bother to flyer,
because of low turnout in that area. In addition, several labor and community
leaders have decided to join our ranks after working together on this

It was tremendous at our State Committee meeting last Sunday to hear
a report of the new clubs and members, which expands our Party organization
into two new towns, with a third on the way. If our Party in Connecticut
had no ability to pull out members and friends from club concentration
areas, the Coalition to End Child Poverty would have been an empty shell.
While other organizations took petitions to their members, our work reached
out to families in poverty and has helped activate some of them.

At the same time, if our Party was not engaged around a basic economic
issue and moving with others, we may not have the new clubs today.

When the coalition was born, the first hurdle was to overcome the idea
placed by lobbyists and advocates that this proposal could never be won.
In fact, we were advised that we could never even get the bill introduced.
Within two months we got the bill written and introduced. In the next
three months, before the session ended, the bill was raised and a public
hearing took place.

Now, as the next session of the legislature looms on the horizon, the
state’s three major cities have embraced the End Child Poverty Social
Investment Fund bill.

The second hurdle the coalition had to overcome was winning the support
of social service agencies that traditionally fight for a few dollars
more for this or that program, all important, but pretty small bandaids
for big problems. A new coalition of such organizations came together
and welcomed the Coalition to End Child Poverty in. This enabled the Coalition
to end Child Poverty to put forward an advanced demand in the context
of many smaller legislative proposals. The economic security coalition
was initiated by Miles Rapoport, the former Secretary of State, who, in
October, co-chaired the Day of Conscience Rally at the capitol along with
George Springer and Evelyn Mantilla, a Hartford State Representative whose
district includes three of our neighborhood concentration areas, and who
has walked those People’s Weekly World
routes with Brian to talk issues and ask for votes.

There is interest in this campaign beyond Connecticut. Welfare Reform
will come up for renewal next year, and this program is being looked to
as a possible mobilizing issue nationally.

This experience in Connecticut leads to several conclusions:

One, our Party must be an initiator around key issues with the most
exploited members of our class in alliance with the organized labor movement.

Two, our Party has an important contribution in building unity of Black,
Brown and white as well as unity of organized and unorganized workers.

Three, our Party belongs in the mix of legislative and electoral struggle
much more than we have been in recent years, as it connects to neighborhood
and workplace organizing.

Four, more advanced demands play an important role in moving the whole
forward. They can expand the limits of debate, and help create the climate
for smaller bills to get passed.

Five, the People’s Weekly World
is our most valuable tool. It enables us to place local struggles into
a bigger context, and to attract people to join the Communist Party when
it is used in door-to-door routes.

Six, The labor movement is looking to become involved in community alliances,
and is the key to building any working class movement.

In this post-election period, the combination of building at the grass
roots and building labor-led coalitions can give the election victories
won around the country the ability to push the new Congress and President
further than they ever imagined. In the context of the Presidential election
crisis, building movements on the issues of living wage jobs, organizing
the unorganized, public education, health care and an end to police violence
are more possible and more necessary.


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