It’s Time for Bush to Rebuild America, Activists Say
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 5/7/2003
WASHINGTON (NNPA)—As the Bush administration concentrates on rebuilding a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, some social policy experts are urging the president to give equal attention to rebuilding America’s social fabric.
“President Bush has been a champion for democracy over there. But he has been silent on democracy over here,” says Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of Fellowship Chapel United Church of Christ and president of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP. “If America has enough resources to build Iraq in the Middle East, then we have the resources to rebuild Detroit in the Midwest.”
Critics say Bush is pushing for health care for all Iraqi citizens while 40 million Americans are uninsured. He is pushing for the rehabilitation of 6,000 school buildings in Iraq while under-funding by $10 billion his two-year-old education initiative, “No Child Left Behind.” And he wants a new electoral system in Iraq—complete with checks and balances to protect against election disputes—despite charges that America’s electoral system needs an overhaul.
“We’re talking about giving out contracts to build 6,000 schools [in Iraq] when we have schools in my district that are literally getting wet in the rain, buildings that are literally over 100 years old,” says Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “The economy is already in disarray. He’s still trying to give a substantial tax cut. The economy itself is on the down stroke. We’re spending extra money for homeland security and additional money for the war. I mean, if that’s not a combination for economic disaster, I don’t know what is.”
Cummings says he supports helping the Iraqi people after America and its allies have destroyed their country. However, he adds: “I’m just saying that we need to start off by looking at the children within a few miles of the very capital where Mr. Bush sits and throughout this country… Something is wrong with this picture.”
Analysts estimate that the rebuilding of Iraq could cost $25 billion to $100 billion, depending on how long it takes and the extent of international cooperation. And some
question whether rebuilding efforts in Iraq will last.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that they are not there to rebuild that country, but to steal its natural resources,” says Julia Hare, executive director of the Black Think Tank in San Francisco. “Not only do they not plan to rebuild here. They do not plan to rebuild there. They plan to strengthen the oil wells and the money that they have.”
Iraq is the second largest oil supplier in the world, behind Saudi Arabia. That has led some opponents of the war to charge that the fighting is not about freeing Iraqis from Saddam Hussein’s oppression, but about seizing the prosperous oil wells.
With the war in Iraq and proposed tax breaks tilted toward the wealthy, most cities and states are experiencing budget problems. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 41 states will face deficits the next fiscal year totaling $78.4 billion.
William Spriggs, executive director of the National Urban League's Institute for Opportunity and Equality, says Americans are suffering in other ways.
“We’d gotten so used to thinking that we couldn’t afford [needed services] that people have stopped thinking about it,” Spriggs says. “It dropped from the conversation. So, part of the problem is just that—a lack of political will—and a lot of passing the buck.”
For that to change, community groups must step up the pressure, says Damu Smith, founder and Chairman of Black Voices for Peace, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-war group.
Smith says advocacy groups must ask themselves, “’Where’s the other share of the pie when it comes to public education, affordable housing and health care?’ There’s got to be a reorientation. And that’s a public policy issue.”
Patricia A. Coulter, president of the Urban League of Philadelphia, knows all about the impact of public policy.
“It’s not so much getting the computers hooked up,” she says. “Our real challenge is the safety of the computers because in order to have the computers in the building, we need to have a gate to guard the computers. So, you have to go through the system of getting a gate for the school. When you think of how these things impact our children on a day-to- day basis, that’s another thing. When you look at our schools in Philadelphia, they look more like prisons.”
And most of the people going to prison are poor.
“Poor people have not been able to gain access to even a decent income,” says Maude Hurd, president of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a community-based group that represents low-income people. “We need decent wages for basic necessities like food, rent and just to be able to put clothing on their family’s backs. But poor people have not even been able to gain access to even a decent income to be able to survive, so it’s tough.”
And it will get tougher unless people take action, says Cummings. Bush refused to meet with Cummings and the CBC to discuss the war with Iraq and other issues.
“In some sort of way, we’ve got to refocus him on the attention of this country,” Cummings says. “Every forum that we can, we’re going to be talking about it. We’re going to be asking him publicly, why is it that he can’t find time to meet with us on issues that go to the center of the lives of Americans, period.”
Cummings answers his own question:
He says, “The fact is that we’ve got a president who claims to be compassionate and conservative. He is extremely long on conservative and extremely short on compassionate.”