A boisterous crowd of 1,500 chanting, sign-waving youths and community workers demonstrated briefly yesterday in front of the White House and then marched along Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill to protest budget cuts that will cost many of them federally financed jobs.
Buoyed by cries of "Fired up! Can't take no more!" and "We Want a J-O-B so we can E-A-T!", the coalition of youth groups -- the National Young People's Lobby for Jobs -- met with several congressmen on the Hill to protest an increase in military spending, deep cuts in social service programs, the creation of a subminimum wage for youths and severe curtailment of the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) program.
En route to the Capitol, they tried to encourage onlookers to join their line of march. A few people did.
"Wake up too reality, people! We wants jobs," shouted Alan Jones-Bey, a Hispanic youth from the South Bronx. Jones-Bey, 21, said he earns $93 every two weeks teaching boxing at a South Bronx settlement house and receives another $139 a month in Social Security survivor benefits. If proposed budget cuts are approved, the center will close in June, he said, and the Social Security benefit will stop coming when he turns 22.
"There are a lot of people out here who want to do something for themselves," he said. "I'm one."
Carolyn Wood, 15, a 10th grader at Regina High School in Washington, said she was especially concerned about possible creation of a lower wage system for youths.
"If they give us the subminimum wage, who knows what we'll be making," she said. "We want to have a nice summer job with decent money after we get our paychecks."
At the heart of the protest, however, was escalating youth unemployment. Recently 1,200 CETA youth aides were fired while they were in training in the Detroit school system, according to Pat Dowling, an elementary school teacher there. Most were high school graduates.
Laura Ginsberg, a Washington organizer of the march, said preparation for the rally began after the November election. Youth groups held fish frys, cake sales and discos, and solicited donations to raise money to finance the trip. Participants in the rally came from upstate New York, various points along the East Coast and from such metropolitan areas as Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Detroit. They traveled by buses, cars and vans.
Yesterday, they bopped down Pennsylvania Avenue, a veritable United Nations of black, white and brown youths.
There rhetoric was simple:
"What do we want?"
"When do we want them?"
Perhaps the toughest question they asked all day emerged in the theme of their afternoon rally on the west steps of the Capitol. They asked, without jobs, "Where do we go from here?"