The spirit of the civil rights movement was born again yesterday in the hot, packed basement of a Baptist church, pushing its way into the early spring atmosphere as defiantly as the first crocuses that poked through the hardened soil outside.
Nearly 300 people came to Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th and P Streets NW to participate in a rally sponsored by the D.C. Food Stamp Coalition protesting the Reagan administration's proposed budget cuts in food stamps, child nutrition and other social programs.
Handheld fans and paper programs dusted an endless chorus of 'amens' through the air as speakers took to the platform to detail the inequities in the proposed budget, offer counter proposals and answer questions from the audience of community organizers, church people, concerned citizens and welfare mothers.
American University professor Brady Tyson told the group that organization is the key to fending off David Stockman's axe. Bristow Hardin, regional organizer for the National Anit-Hunger Coalition Clearinghouse, called the proposed changes "Robin Hood in reverse," and suggested greater budget savings would be realized if the administration would examine the tax system, which he referred to as "the welfare program for the rich."
And then it was D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy's turn. Ushered in on a standing ovation, red ribbons streaming from the breast pocket of his slate gray blazer, he recognized a questioner in the back of the room who wanted to know if it would be possible for Congress to take money from the defense budget and "put it back into the mouths of the hungry." The answer, which never did touch on the original question, took about an hour and was the main event of the day.
"It is apparent to those of us in the [Congressional] Black Caucus," Fauntroy said, "that the burden of fighting inflation and balancing the budget is to be placed on the shoulders of those who can least afford to bear it. I have come to tell you today that the Reagan administration is failing the moral test of government."
From the back of the room, Laura Hobbs, a hotel maid and mother of four who earns about $6,500 a year, nodded vigorously and shouted, "Tell it."
"Fact is," she contin;ued, "some folks work like crazy and still can't afford to eat."
Without missing a breath, Fauntroy, the chairman of the caucus, warned that the proposed October 1 implementation of the new budget "will go down as a day of infamy unless we get to work and let them know that we are not going to accept this.
"Jesse Helms of South Africa, I mean, North Carolina, represents his constituents well," Fauntroy told the amused group. "His theory is that government is overfeeding poor children on what amounts to 86 cents a day. Eighty-six cents. Now what you gonna eat with eighty-six cents?"
"Jellybeans," someone in the audience suggested.
"Their rationale," Fauntroy said of the administration, "is that people who are working wought to buy their own food. But some people would have to stop working if they didn't have the extra help food stamps provide. They will go back on welfare, and pay no taxes either. Now isn't that stupid?
"But you know, there are a lot of people out there who really think our problem in America is all those poor people," he continued, his voice rising over the shouts and clapping of hands.
"Probably they haven't looked at Mr. Reagan's $2.9 billion public welfare program which he calls the oil depletion allowance. . . . Right now, the oil companies are so rich that they don't have anything better to do with their money than run around and buy up Montgomery Ward stores. But they need help. And Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms want to help them by taking food away from some little child who's mama gets food stamps and who may get a free meal at school."
Fauntroy said the caucus will meet President Reagan's challenge to those who do not agree with his proposals by offering their own budget on March 18. Among the suggestions it will include are heavier taxation for wealthy individuals and large corporations and decreased defense spending.
"I didn't mean to carry on so, but I hope I answered your question," Fauntroy concluded, grinning and delicately patting his forehead with a crisp white handkerchief. After his remarks, the crowd rose and joined hands to sing "We Shall Overcome," and to trade names and phone numbers in anticipation of further rallies, workshops and protests.
"I don't think all of this determination is going to end here," one elderly woman said. "The last time we had to protest, I was younger and I could get out there and march and yell. This time, all I can do is write letters, but I've learned that that's important, too. There's a lot of poor old black ladies like me who Ronald Reagan better watch out for."