A Federal Case II; 19; John Gardner's Common Cause: Is There or Isn't There?
A. This is a federal case from Washington D.C. the National Educational radio network brings you an examination of current issues facing our nation and its capital city. Here is an E.R. am correspondent am zil for the next minute or so you're going to hear why several people work for common cause. This is an organization formed less than six months ago in the Capitol which has more than 50000 members already. Lol that the executive director for common cause. Well first of all. I think this this is filling a need where so many people don't feel the parties are being affected or are responsive they don't feel they can be heard of the parties. But
let me assure you that our efforts here will be to help change the parties so that people will be heard. Ellie Robins supervisor of the volunteer staff. I think I've sensed more than anything as a frustration level beyond which people can't sit. There sitting in the suburbs they're working during the day. Whatever it is it fills their time. They're frustrated they want to be active they want to make constructive Chang's. They see the division of divisiveness in this country and they don't like it. Two men in charge of Common Cause membership. First Larry Williams And then Roger Craver. All the male really kind of attract We the people we kind of attract. Those who want to do something about our problems as opposed to those who want to reflect about past glories
people feel leaderless. They're looking for suggestions of things to do in their very positive constructive things people people can be doing I think this is this is why they they find appealing to common cause. Georgiana Rathbun editor of the organization's newsletter but I say what I as any any active member says that there's a need for this organization. There are an awful lot of aspects of our government life that says we need you. But allies in Jack Moscowitz lobbyist in the public interest for common cause and I think that John Gardner has struck a chord in this country in the in the membership response is evidence of it. There is just a growing dissatisfaction with the institutions of this country in the way they say they serve us. And Peter Edelman a consultant to this organization on the seniority issue in Congress that the public thinks that the change can't happen in a simply is not right in a
democracy for him for a moment to hold that kind of power. So I think it's an extremely important issue I was personally. I personally saw the results of a number of occasions and I've been here for years to have a chance to do something about it. You walk into common cause offices in downtown Washington D.C. and the first thing to notice about this place are all the posters the little ones saying Love and bigger ones with cryptic messages like give a damn and everybody's organized but the people there are a lot of young people and plenty of blacks somewhere in the inner office it's John Gardner former president of the Carnegie Corp. former secretary of Health Education and Welfare on the Lyndon Johnson and former chairman of the National Urban coalition. It was his idea this common cause. He is an important man who couldn't fit me in this day so we'll hear from some of the others on his staff and the team. Lol Beck the executive director right underneath John Gardner explains where common
cause comes from. Oh I was the executive director first of the urban coalition action culture and the urban coalition action coalition was the predecessor organization to come cause. And I in the staff of the action house only. Came to work a common Call it was a good it was a question of reorienting ourselves very considerably because we know or. Are seeking a very large national membership. We are any longer an organization that has just a pay board with prestigious people on it. This is now a national citizen's group. To what extent is this organization which calls itself a citizens lobby group stand or fall on John Gardner's name. Beck says at the present time the Gardner name certainly is is a very helpful matter. I think that people are responding for two reasons.
In many instances it is because Mr. Gardner has a reputation for wanting to see change. He has a very fine reputation for it. Working hard to reorder national priorities. But I think there's something much deeper to this than just the Gardner name. If you could come and read and I would invite you to do this. Some of our mail that comes in here every day. You will see immediately. That there there there is a great reaching out in this country for something that isn't partisan for some efforts that are not self-serving to try to get at this country's problems. And I'm finding as I talk with more and more
people that there virtually is a is a desperation to try to get problems a little differently than we have in the past and that this effort this organizational effort a common cause. Represents that to a lot of people and that goes far beyond John Gardner's name. Larry Williams and Roger Craver are responsible for membership. They talk about what has happened to common cause in September. Initially one common cause was it was announced of course of a lot of people joined as a result of the publicity and the public announcement but we had a little more organized campaign that week. We began by sending out mailings to to people to see what the reaction in the country would be. As a matter of fact the reaction was four times that which the direct mail firm estimated it would be. Then we experimented with
newspaper advertising and again we had this overwhelming response and now we're adding we're experimenting with magazine advertising. We're continuing the direct mail. Larry what what are some of the other things. Well in addition there are we. About 50000 members on board one of the first things we do with a member joins us is to ask him those were his first acts of of membership to go out and recruit some new members. We've got two to grow to do a viable size to support ourselves financially and to collect enough voices so that we can be heard here in Washington with the Congress and the executive branch and around the country. I say what what can I do and Larry and
I worry about membership and they're concerned with it and so we have some very specific things we we ask them to do and they they seem to be doing it. For example we have a member in Wayland Massachusetts who saw the advertisement for common cause in the Boston Globe and she clipped it out of the globe and lucked into were little local paper and asked the editor he would take the advertisement she would pay for it and the editor took it back to the publisher and the publisher came out and said yes we'll accept that if you pay for it once I'll pay for it a second time and we have a member in Westport Connecticut who took that same med and had handbills printed and he sits at the trash stand at the train station every morning distributing clothes so that the members can do very specific things and they they seem to be doing. What about the staff of this organization. Is it a group of Democrats or Republicans. Jack Moscowitz who has been most recently lobbying for welfare
reform comments to it's kind of interesting. I'm a Democrat Mr. Garner's a Republican I believe Lol Baucus a Republican. I don't know even know a lot of them are so you know it was and I suppose you could categorize me in my past as being a very partisan Democrat having come into public life as a politician practicing lawyer but there is very little partisan discussion. Because it's in the I think it's easily explained it's an issue oriented organization. I mean we're for welfare reform and and. If you're for welfare reform I'm meaning that that's really in the end we're in we're trying to persuade both parties and you generally deal with the central element of both parties in the more progressive element parties. So I've not you know I don't see any big partisan discussion is there because we have such a small staff you know everybody sort of does everything.
So first of all there are all the activities on welfare reform now the two most current activities is we had a statement signed that we delivered to the leadership in the Senate urging them not to adjourn until they voted on welfare reform it was a statement urging the Senate it was addressed to senators Mansfield's gotten along urging the Senate not to adjourn until they voted on welfare reform and the same statement was signed by a hundred some hundred distinguished citizens ranging from civil like civil rights leaders like Whitney Young to presidents of major corporations to Bishop Bernie Dina's. Of the Catholic bishops a Catholic National Catholic Well for a conference Cynthia with L of the National Council of Churches. And so that that's one activity that continuing and gay getting these hundred signatures and getting everybody to agree the state that's the most immediate past.
I've been doing some direct lobbying and visiting on welfare reform. Then if you just sit here a good deal of my day is responding to people who show up at the door want to know about Common Cause I just returned from a luncheon of some HUD employees I want to know about common cause because Rue sax our volunteer lady said would you go speak to this luncheon. I am now I have been working on with Senators Pierce and rebel Congressman Anderson and you Gauls offices and trying to get a TV financing bill shaped up for the next session of Congress. We have been now discussing what we're going to do. And there's been a lot of discussion. Congressional reform and seniority especially as it relates to the Democratic caucus. And I I am most directly involved in trying to organize our members to do something. The agenda for common cause reads like a New Year's resolution for political S.. There are 15 issues things like overhauling and revitalizing the government at all levels withdrawing all troops from Vietnam in an orderly timetable
the elimination of poverty equal opportunity in every aspect of American life. You name it and Common Cause has a finger in it. Nobody was very specific about how this noble agenda was developed. The Editor of all common cause publications Georgianna Rathbun was vague. Well certainly meetings with. Mr Gardner Mr Beck. Their. Interested organisation Action of record papers media and all that was much more specific. This was done over a period of actually many many months. It's something that has been hammered out over a period of over two and a half years by meeting with for a variety of individuals and groups environmental people. People in the minority community. The awful lot of awful lot of people had a part in. Them were.
But some of the issues were very specific in the last session of Congress between September and December of this last year. Common Cause fought for three bills. The Family Assistance Plan the manpower bill and the limitation on TV spending by political candidates. All bills were considered by common cause to be in the public interest but none is law today. Roger Craver explains one of the problems this organizations come into being in the closing days of a harassed Congress and so this is not a good measuring rod. Really what we we can do the specific example of of defeat but victory right around the corner is our effort to override the campaign financing bill although the veto is not overridden promises of come out for even stronger legislation in the next Congress and in addition to being the executive director. Lol that has been the chief lobbyist on the Hill to override the presidential veto
on the manpower bill although he didn't succeed this year. He talks about the two essential ingredient you need to win a fight like this one. Our national membership effort really came a little too late. For the wide range of activities to be applied to that bill. We did many of the things we we had our professional staff members at work on the Hill. We work with a variety of different groups and mayors and the governors and so forth on that bill. But missing the missing ingredient. Was developing the widespread support of the people around the country. If you would talk about that subject public service employment to most people they really wouldn't even know what you're talking about. And yet four major national commissions in the last five years have called for that as absolutely essential in getting our manpower problems and that our unemployment problem.
And yet most people around the country couldn't even discuss it with you. They wouldn't even be able to respond if you asked them didn't we you know do you know what it is. And so that is the you know that's the missing ingredient and we went to the Hill and on that bill which we won't have missing any more when we fight hard from now on over the next two years on a piece of legislation will not only be getting the groups that are interested involved. We will not only be at work on the Hill with our professional staff members but we will really be looking to the individual congressional districts and to concerned citizens and asking them to take the initiative. You have to have people writing letters. Telephoning there their representatives coming to see them and I would take that now a step further into the kinds of activities that we are going to
be. Undertaking here by having our members form little groups and go to city newspaper editors for example with the facts in hand about a given issue and just ask them to editorialize and to speak out on these issues and this will all be tied in with the time of the issue is it is important on Capitol Hill doing the same thing with them with television and radio stations. Seeking out the financial contributors to members of Congress and Senate. We're going to see them and saying to them it's very important that you understand this issue. This kind of thing I don't think has been done very often in the past but we're going to be. Doing that. Peter Edelman used to work for Robert Kennedy when he was a senator from New York. He is presently devising an attack on the seniority system in Congress a system with John Gardner pointed out to his members in a newsletter is not a
law but merely custom. The objective is to bring about a simple change. The open are the recorded vote of the meetings of the two parties on Chairman of Committees which is the Democrats you know breaking the law remember. Which is Republicans. Very simple procedural objective but at the same time we're going to accomplish real change the objective is also change who actually holds some key committee chairmanships. We're concentrating on John McMillan of South Carolina who's the chairman of the House District Committee in there and has kept a stranglehold on district affairs here for many years has called people on Home Rule communist sympathizers to call nervousness if he is the chairman of the House Rules Committee and has a life and death control over every piece of legislation that comes to the floor of the house because the Rules Committee is the traffic manager and decides what legislation will be
taken up and when if ever. Mr. Coleman just in the last few weeks has blocked legislation to improve equal employment opportunities in this country coming to. He blocked legislation to create an independent consumer protection agency from coming to the fore. This kind of thing is is is really an anachronistic It's inexcusable in 1970 so he is a prime target for for action. The third area and it is Congressman Paul of Texas who is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and a singly single handedly responsible for stopping food from getting millions of hungry children in this country. One of the most callous individuals that I've ever seen in any legislative body he is personally calloused personally very conservative believes. Evidently both the government should not be involved in the problems of this kind of believes as he is sad that
poor people are drones and that's his word and if they don't work they should meet him so that the idea that you simply provide food to people who are hungry is something that's beyond his level of recognition. So that in addition to saying and gearing up people all over the country say that they want democracy in Congress but they want majority rule open so that they can know about it as to who will be the chairman of the committees. We say that that kind of procedural change means nothing unless it's accompanied by by specific action a particular chairman and the most recalcitrant we could have picked out others but those are the three who really symbolize epitomize more than any other is that the real tragedy of the responsiveness of Congress. We picked on the House of Representatives because frankly that issue of seniority and its its manifestations and of occasions is more on the front burner in the House of Representatives that it is in the Senate and he simply can't run a national campaign of this kind. As to both the
House the House and the Senate over the course of three or four weeks at the same time I think the chances are are are mixed. There is a committee chaired which was chaired by Representative Julia Butler Hanson of Washington on the Democratic side another chaired by Representative Barber cannibal of New York and Republican sides of two committees have reported and made some recommendations for change in the process. They're not as extensive as we would like for example the Hansen Committee says that whenever a member of the caucus the Democratic caucus is supported by 10 others asked for a vote of any chairman or any member of the Committee on assignment to that committee there will be a vote. Now that's that's quite a step forward. And and at a minimum at a minimum that handsome Committee recommendation ought to be adopted and I think it will be particularly if we make it clear through common cause that there are thousands of people around the country who want more and who only accept that as a minimum not as some point from which to bargain down where I think the chances of that are very good in terms of the particular
challenges to particular chairman which I think are the really the guts of what we're about here. It's hard to assess what the chances are I should say that the best organized challenges that Congressman Miller of South Carolina for his chairmanship of the House District of Columbia Committee you know he would be quite optimistic about that. As to Mr. Cohen Mr. Paul I think it remains to be seen how much support there is and it depends really on how much activity we can generate around the country. So I'd say the chances are mixed and there's enough of a chance to do something so it's worth worth making the effort. Peter Edelman's plan of attack is a good example of the approach common cause is taking in all the common cause literature you see the phrases citizens lobby and the need to revitalize government institutions. This attack on seniority is what those phrases are all about is the seniority system the single greatest evil in Congress I asked Edelman you know the most single evil in Congress is who's in Congress and that we at first we can't
deal with by changing the rules of seniority that we have to deal with the polls. That's a taste of what Common Cause is trying to do. The place radiates good will and good intentions but it has its critics. John Gardner has been called to quote establishment unquote and common cause not a radical enough group to really change the system to this kind of liberal lower back advises. Someone has to work hard at the day to day activity. Of bringing about change you know we say just throw them out and new ones brought in. That's awfully easy to say. But if you have ever worked up on Capitol Hill or if you ever were around state legislatures or around local school boards you just just go five to 10 miles outside of the city for example or outside of New York City where where so many are are 5 to 10 miles outside some major university community and come up against the hard
realities of what it really means to bring about change. I think that you will see that it means hard persistent work. Another group of critics charges that Common Cause evades the real problem by not working through the Republican and Democratic parties. That's how you really change the government they say. One recent editorial in The New York Times by Theodore Bikel charge that John Gardner was being unnecessarily apocalyptic. BECK answers all I can say at this point is that if Mr. Vical was trying to say that the situation isn't quite as serious as Mr. Gardner was painting it I think perhaps he and all of us for that matter either take a very careful look again at how few people are voting in this country. I would suggest to Mr. Bickel that even come and take a look again at some of our mail. Just to to get a feel for. How so many people be seem
to be turned off about the political system. There are an awful lot of people around this country who really do not believe. That it's working and they aren't participating because they don't think it's being very responsive when the parties are open so that people can participate as they are not as you know in many many states. Many people wonder well what's the use to even try. And so of course we're going to be one of the things we'll be doing is pressing for for party reform. Well Common Cause get depressed and give up. Or will it be around awhile first back answers and then Ellie Robins who is in charge of 60 volunteers working in the office. I haven't looked ahead. I'm sure Mr. Gardner hasn't got a lead in years and now we're striving for a very large membership of. Over a hundred thousand by early spring hopefully by the fall it will be many many thousands more who are not interested and I want to stress this
in Batticaloa in building a permanent bureaucracy here. We're interested in taking on the job to get a job. It might take two it might take four it might take six. My attic here is awfully hard to look at it two or three but the present time it looks like we're going to be around for quite a while. Mr. Gardner Saturday meeting with volunteers that when he began coming cause he didn't know he didn't have a crystal ball to know for sure that there were people out there but there are the letters from them to us are are so they're terribly terribly concerned about this country and they want to do whatever they can do that's within their their frame of reference. They're willing to work. They understand it's going to be a long haul but it's not something that was taken a long time for our institutions to be become less and less responsive to the needs of the people and it's going to take time for them to be made
responsible. Is this just another group set up in the nation's capital and backed by small contributions that is destined to fade into the dust. John Gardner and Lowell back in the others you've heard really suggest two reasons why this group may be different. For one thing it is not underestimating the disillusionment of many citizens about how well our government works. In fact common cause is proposing to tamper with some of our most hallowed institutions the seniority system is one example. But this organization is also based on the assumption that there are enough believes people share in common to form a group about them. That notion is contrary to our small special interest groups or even to our political parties themselves which offer shelter to many special interests under a single roof. Common Cause is saying something that may seem idealistic to some. It's a if you can organize the people into a powerful lobby which has many common interests in repairing a broken
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- APA: A Federal Case II; 19; John Gardner's Common Cause: Is There or Isn't There?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-g44hrj6s