John Gardner's Letter That Launched Common Cause
Common Cause founder,
FOR RELEASE AT 10:00 AM TUESDAY, AUGUST 18, 1970
JOHN W. GARDNER LAUNCHES MEMBERSHIP CAMPAIGN FOR COMMON CAUSE
John W. Gardner, Chairman of the Urban Coalition Action Council today announced the launching of a membership campaign for "Common Cause," a nationwide, independent, non-partisan organization "for those Americans who want to help in the rebuilding of the nation."
At a Washington, D.C., news conference, Mr. Gardner released a letter to prospective members of the new organization in which he called for the formation of a "citizens' lobby" and citizens participation in the revitalization of politics and government.
The letter, signed by Mr. Gardner, outlines the broad objectives, functions, and background of Common Cause. Some excerpts:
"Many people today recognize that national priorities must be changed, but they don't know how to go about it. They are shocked by the facts of poverty and pollution and inadequate housing, but they don't know what to do."
"The first thing Common Cause will do is to assist you to speak and act in behalf of legislation designed to solve the nation's problems. We are going to build a true "citizens" lobby – a lobby concerned not with the advancement of special interests but with the well-being of the nation. We will keep you up-to-date on crucial issues before Congress. We will suggest when and where to bring pressure to bear."
"One of our aims will be to revitalize politics and government."
Mr. Gardner said, "Most parts of the system have grown so rigid that they cannot respond to impending disaster. They are so ill-designed for contemporary purposes that they waste taxpayers' money, mangle good programs, and frustrate every good man who enters the system."
"The solutions are not mysterious. Any capable city councilman, state legislator, party official, or Member of Congress might tell you highly practical steps that could be taken tomorrow to make the system more responsive."
"But there has been no active, powerful, hard-hitting constituency to fight for such steps. We can provide that kind of constituency."
"We want public officials to have literally millions of American citizens looking over their shoulders at every move they make. We want phones to ring in Washington and state capitols and town halls. We want people watching and influencing every move that government makes."
"We want weak public officials to know they will be subject to criticism. We want strong and concerned representatives to know their efforts are appreciated."
Addressing himself to the agenda of Common Cause, Mr. Gardner said:
"We believe there is a great urgency in ending the Vietnam War on a scheduled time table. We believe there must be a reordering of the national priorities. We believe the problem of poverty and race must be among our first concerns."
"We will call for new solutions in housing, employment, education, health, consumer protection, environment, family planning, law enforcement, and the administration of justice."
Mr. Gardner said Common Cause was an outgrowth of the Urban Coalition Action Council.
"Operating under a governing board of extraordinary diversity (mayors, minority group leaders, and leadership from business, labor, and the major religious groups), the Action Council proved to be astonishingly effective," he said.
The Council has worked with a variety of allies in the civil rights organizations, the labor movement, the business community, and other groups. And it has participated in major legislative victories, including extension of the Voting Rights Act, passage of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House, and defeat of a measure that would have virtually ended non-partisan voter registration programs.
"In short, we know from first hand experience that citizen action can be effective. We ask you to join us in making it even more so."
Mr Gardner said there was no expectation that every member of Common Cause would agree on all details of the agenda but he said that Action Councils experience was that "(I)t is possible to arrive at significant proposals that will be agreed on by Americans of widely differing backgrounds.
"We take the phrase "Common Cause" seriously," Mr. Gardner said.
"The things that unite us as a people are more important than the things that divide us. No particular interest group can prosper for long if the nation is disintegrating."
"Every group must have an overriding interest in the well-being of the whole society. It follows that our agenda must be an agenda for all Americans – for the poor, the comfortable and those in between, for old and young, for black and white, for city dwellers and farmers, for men and women."