To children's advocate Marian Wright Edelman, it's time to be "a very good pest" to fight the Reagan budget cuts for social programs. To Episcopal priest Jack Woodard, it's time for massive civil disobedience to "gum up the works of government." To sociologist Douglas Glasgow, it's time to "force, wherever possible," the federal government to assume responsibility for society's forgotten people.
Social activists Edelman, Woodard, Glasgow and others found a receptive audience this week for their views as about 125 people, most of them public and private human service providers, gathered at the Washington Cathedral for a two-day conference on the city's poor or powerless.
The activists, many of them invoking Biblical exhortations to care for the needy, were preaching to the already committed. Nonetheless, the social workers, halfway-home operators, clergy and others attending the conference missed few opportunities to applaud enthusiastically the attacks on the Reagan social service budget cuts.
The conference, called "And Who Is My Neighbor?" was sponsored by the cathedral as part of its 75th anniversary celebration and by the Joint Task Force on Community Education, a coalition of 16 public and private groups that provide various services to the city's poor, mentally ill and mentally handicapped, unemployed, elderly and physically handicapped.
Edelman, in her keynote speech at a combination religious service and convocation Wednesday night, contrasted a variety of federal budget cuts affecting children with the large increases for defense spending called for by the Reagan administration.
"All of us believe in a strong defense," she said, "but what is it we are about as a people?"
To combat the cuts, she said, requires "being a very good pest," wearing down those who want to shift spending priorities. "Those of us who care about the disenfranchised have to persist, to not give up."
Woodard, rector of St. Stephen's and The Incarnation Church, voiced a more pointed view at the Thursday session of the conference: "It's okay to raise hell and get mad. It's time for us to get mad."
He described a new federal requirement that welfare recipients must report their financial status on a monthly basis as "a deliberate design of mass cruelty to get people off welfare."
Woodard, who was recently found guilty of blocking public access at an arms bazaar here last year, said the answer to social service cuts is "aggressive noncooperation with government authorities, nonpayment of taxes, noncooperation with regulations.
"Suppose this turns out to be like Germany before World War II and you as a Christian didn't do anything?" he admonished.
Glasgow, a professor of social work at Howard University and the author of "The Black Underclass," said the Reagan administration "has shown a ruthless disregard for social health and social responsibility" without "providing any vision of what might replace" the programs that are being cut.
"That is the crime that is being perpetrated on the poor people," he said. "I am not and I hope you are not ready and willing to abdicate our responsibility. Nothing should take precedence over concern for humans.
"We should not in any way allow the forgotten people to be forgotten," Glasgow said.
Other events are planned at the cathedral this year to commemorate what it calls "A Year of Reconciliation." A day-long ecumenical program is planned next Saturday, a special Ascension Day celebration on May 20, an all-Stravinsky concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on June 17, six other summertime concerts and the dedication of the Cathedral's Pilgrim Observation Gallery and West Facade on Sept. 29.