Message: Poverty Not Just a Black Problem

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THIRTY years ago, blacks marched for basic rights - the right to vote, hold a job, and go anywhere a white person was allowed.

For tomorrow's march, the agenda and list of participants have broadened. Latinos, Arabs, Asian Americans, women, gays, and the disabled are expected to join African-American and labor groups to send a message to Washington in support of "jobs, peace, and justice."

The point, march organizers say, is that poverty is not just a black problem. Organizers are trying to revive interest in President Clinton's defeated economic-stimulus package, which would have spent money to spur job creation.

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But a new demon has raised its head since 1963: the North American Free Trade Agreement. It will likely be a target of scorn by marchers. "A faint struggle for economic stimulus has been replaced by a radical departure toward exporting jobs out of the country with NAFTA," the Rev. Jesse Jackson warned in a pre-march statement.

The marchers' legislative agenda includes:

* The Urban-Community Building Initiative, to help city-dwellers improve their skills, city infrastructure, citizen safety, family life, and access to capital.

* The Local Partnership Act, a revenue-sharing program with local governments for such activities as rehiring of unemployed workers and restoration of services.

* The Environmental Justice Act, a bill to ensure nondiscriminatory compliance with environmental laws.

* Universal health care.

* Aid to black South Africans.

Though some black leaders were disappointed by Mr. Clinton during the campaign and the beginning of his presidency, many hold out hope that, like President Kennedy, his administration could bring progressive change. "In '63, the Kennedy administration had real reservations about the march, but when Kennedy learned about it, he was very supportive," says Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia, who spoke at the '63 march.

"I think the civil rights movement must create the climate for the people in power - whether it's the president of the United States or members of Congress - to, as Dr. King would say, say 'yes' when people might have in mind to say 'no.' "

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