Statement by Common Cause President Miles Rapoport on the 44th Birthday of Common Cause

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  • Dale Eisman

Forty-four years ago today, with the country deeply divided over a long and unpopular war and struggling to confront centuries of racial and economic injustice, John Gardner launched Common Cause with a letter to the American people.

The new organization would be “a true ‘citizens lobby’… concerned not with the advancement of special interests but with the well-being of the nation,” he pledged.

At Common Cause, we mark this birthday with a rededication to Mr. Gardner’s ideal of advocacy on behalf of the public interest. The “reordering of our national priorities” he called for in 1970 is as important today as it was then.

In the unfolding tragedy of Ferguson, Missouri, where the inexplicable killing of a young African-American man has triggered a spasm of violence and revived memories of police-citizen confrontations of an earlier era, we are reminded of his charge that “the problems of poverty and race must be among our first concerns.”

In the dysfunction of government — a Congress paralyzed by partisan obstructionists, the mishandled launch of a landmark health care program, a judiciary that equates big money with free speech — we recall his lament of systems “so rigid that they cannot respond to impending disaster.”

And in the growing public consensus that our economy no longer works to give everyone a fair shot, we hear echoes of his declaration that many Americans “are shocked by the facts of poverty and pollution and inadequate housing, but they don’t know what to do.”

John Gardner knew, and his call to action still guides us.

“The things that unite us as a people are more important than the things that divide us,” he asserted. “No particular interest group can prosper for long if the nation is disintegrating. 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.”

For Common Cause, as it was then, it is today. On this, our 44th birthday, we recommit ourselves to John Gardner’s vision and the tireless energy with which he pursued it.