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Fund public service instead of bombers, Sen. Wofford urges
STANFORD -- Calling for "active duty citizenship," Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Penn.), a founder of the Peace Corps, urged a Stanford University audience to move beyond militarism and into activism.
"With the unraveling of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, the whole world has turned upside down," Wofford said in his Feb. 1 keynote address at Stanford's ninth annual You Can Make a Difference conference. "We now have a historic opportunity, a historic duty, to turn our country's priorities right side up."
Suggesting a new definition of national security that "puts emphasis not on bombs but on our brains," Wofford said Americans need to reexamine military strategies and weapons systems that burden the country in a post-Cold War economy.
He advocated doubling the budget of the Peace Corps to $400 million, and merging the organization with Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). He suggested tripling the budget authorized by the National and Community Services Act to $600 million. All that money, he said, could be provided by canceling one $800-million B-2 bomber.
The federal government must give the same attention to domestic needs as foreign ones, he said.
"It's right that we extend a helping hand, that we respond to the emergencies (abroad), but I can't understand why we don't respond with equal commitment, resources and energy to the human problems at home," Wofford said.
"I'm not only interested in saving a new generation from dropping out of high school, into the streets, into the drugs, into welfare or prison or death," he said. "I'm just as interested in saving an affluent generation of young (college-educated) people from moving into the culture of greed that this country has been celebrating for the last 10 years."
A former Pennsylvania secretary of labor and industry, Wofford defeated former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh in last fall's elections largely on the issue of health insurance. And he said that issue is not irrelevant to the nation's economy.
To build economic rather than military strength, he said, America must establish a strong labor force. And health insurance is the crux of most labor disputes, Wofford said.
Besides South Africa, the United States is the only major industrial country without a universal health plan, he said.
"In the Constitution, if you're charged with a crime, you have a right to a lawyer," Wofford said. "It's far more fundamental if you're sick to have a right to a doctor."
Sworn into the Senate last May to replace the late John Hein, Wofford is less traditional than his predecessor. He has been a law student at Howard and Notre Dame universities, a kibbutz resident in Israel and president of Bryn Mawr College.
As a young man, Wofford went to India to study Gandhi's teachings.
"I came back from India feeling embarrassed that I'd never done anything about civil rights," he said. "I had been asked all over India: 'What have you done about segregation laws?' At age 22, I hadn't done anything."
Upon returning home, he decided to study law at historically black Howard University. He was the first white person to attend Howard since women's suffrage leaders, unable to gain acceptance anywhere else, had been admitted at the turn of the century.
His family objected, saying a Howard degree would ruin his chances for a political career.
Yet Wofford credits attending Howard with his ability to bring together John F. Kennedy, to whom he was an assistant, and Martin Luther King Jr., to whom he was an adviser.
"Going to Howard put me on the track that led me to talk at black institutions in the South about civil disobedience and Gandhi," Wofford said.
"The fact that I went to Howard University was a major factor in convincing African Americans in Pennsylvania that I was not a campaign convert to civil rights," he said. Wofford has garnered as much as 90 percent of the black vote in Pennsylvania elections.
In the 1950s, Wofford and some classmates formed the International Development Placement Association to get young Americans to teach or work in institutions in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
"It was a little Peace Corps," Wofford said. "It was a hard thing doing in the private sector. We didn't have a government penny. And about six years later we gave up . . . but we knew it worked."
When John Kennedy later proposed the Peace Corps, Wofford, who was on Kennedy's campaign staff as a civil rights worker, asked to help Sargent Shriver develop the prototype. He negotiated the presence of the Peace Corps in several African countries.
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