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Child Watch® Column: "The Pledge"

Release Date: July 1, 2011

Marian Wright Edelman

Over this long holiday weekend, children will be gathering in towns and cities around the country ooh-ing and aah-ing over fireworks, marching in parades, proud of their heritage and proudly waving the American flag. Most of them still believe in the promise of America—a promise reflected in so many of the values and ideals that underlie the founding documents of our nation and the Pledge of Allegiance so many of us learned as children and repeated each morning in school.

But today the promise of America's Pledge of Allegiance is in jeopardy for millions of our nation's children, and right now many of our elected officials are letting another pledge take precedence. Americans for Tax Reform, the organization headed by Grover Norquist, created the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" twenty-five years ago and now "asks every candidate for elected office on the state and federal level to make a written commitment to their constituents to ‘oppose and vote against tax increases.'" Many of our current Congressional leaders have signed onto this pledge and now seem to believe it is the only pledge they need to honor. They are so determined and dug in they are willing to default on our country's obligations in order to stick to it—and their loyalty to this no-new-taxes pledge is putting millions of our children and entire nation at risk.

But what about those elected leaders' Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, and to the republic for which it stands, and to the promise of liberty and justice for all? Does that pledge still matter? And if so, how can there be liberty for all our children when our public education system is condemning so many of them to failure—unable to read and do math proficiently at grade level in this globalizing competitive world? How can there be justice for our nation's youngest citizens when they are the poorest age group in rich America and have gotten poorer—15.5 million in 2009? How could some Congressional leaders consider dismantling the health care program so many of our poor children rely on and propose cuts in federal nutrition programs at a time when hunger and food insecurity are rampant and growing? And how can there be justice for our children if the millionaires and billionaires and the richest corporations don't pay anywhere near their fair share and have reaped hugely disparate benefits from Bush-era tax cuts while the nation is mired in debt contributing to the widest gap between rich and poor ever recorded? How can any member of Congress even consider balancing the budget on the backs of our babies and children who are losing their homes and all sense of security about tomorrow?

President Obama made some of the choices very plain in his recent press conference. As he put it: "If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we have to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship… Before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children's education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it's only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys."

Our nation does have a huge deficit problem—but Congress has tunnel vision on the wrong one. Our most dangerous deficits are our values deficit and narrow self interest which pose the biggest threat to our future and our children's future and the very idea of America. Our failure to invest in our children has already led to a deficit in human capital and companies are troubled by an undereducated workforce that can barely keep up with business today. If we don't fix our education system and prepare all of our children to thrive in the global economy, America's promise may die forever.

As we celebrate our strong nation's independence, let us all pledge to ensure all our children a more—not less—just land. Let us demand that all our political leaders pledge not to ask children to sacrifice their hopes and health and food and education while asking for no sacrifice from powerful billionaires and corporations who have gained far more than their fair share.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Kim at: January 28, 2012
The Pledge should be in action but while I was in high school we barely said it every morning. That ended in Middle school like they wanted to take it away.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 13, 2011
I don't know why there isn't a bigger outcry about this. Republicans are lieing to the country and Democrats are not challenging them enougnh. Have we all given up and decided poor children have no rights and shouldn't ecxist?

Submitted by arleeg at: July 10, 2011
You are so right. We keep talking about the debt and the need to reduce spending but that is not the problem. Terri's comment really demonstrates the truth. Every dollar of government spending that is cut will eliminate someone's job - maybe lots of jobs because there is a ripple effect for dollars spent - and will eliminate health care and education for not only our children but for much of the middle class. Not only our children but our whole country loses when we allow the Republicans to call their debt reduction bill a "jobs bill" instead of a "jobs elimination bill",and people believe it.

Submitted by Aileen at: July 5, 2011
You are spot on! Thank you for reminding us all about our pledge. Thank you also for inspiring me to do more about raising this issue. Thank you once again!

Submitted by mon at: July 3, 2011

Submitted by beachmommy at: July 3, 2011
The truth in this article is making me sick to my stomach. I feel so hopeless and helpless. Surely someone in power will do something to help us. That is the Superman that we are truly waiting for!

Submitted by Terri at: July 2, 2011
I live in Minnesota and work with parents who are going to school so that they can get off of welfare. With the state shut down, their much needed child care is not being paid for. The people, like me, who provide care are asked once again to stand on soft funding. To do this while giving tax cuts to wealthy buisnesses and individuals is apaling. Terri McNeil, St Paul, MN

Submitted by Susie at: July 1, 2011
I am always proud when I call Marian Wright Edelman my mentor and hero; never more so when i read words like those she has written on the eve of Independence Day, 2011. Thank you for calling us to our highest values as a nation.

Submitted by grandma at: July 1, 2011
You are a strong and wise voice for the youth who have no direct voice or representation .

Submitted by rcorwin22 at: July 1, 2011
Those of us who are in their sixties and older have very strong memories about the war(s) and the spirit of helping others as well as selves. Unfortunately many of the politicians have lost the spirit of helping and sharing. We do not need to sacrifice children's dreams and their ability to get to realize their dreams. The less our population shares wealth with those who do not have wealth, the less we are one country. We must not allow that to happen. We must take the rich people and lead them to realizing that they can make a difference in many many ways--all of which could support and help those who are in need.

Submitted by tmh at: July 1, 2011
We must always remember what liberty means and has meant to us in this country, what our fathers and brothers fought for. Liberty and freedom. Thank you Ms. Edelman

Submitted by Sweet Twink at: July 1, 2011
That which is outlined is unfortunate. And,it is truly sad that the rich continue to get richer. Everyone knows that those on the bottom rubg of the pyramid are always the least cared about in all societies.