As Congress nears votes on budget cuts, some area residents want to organize an opposition movement.
Congress hasn't agreed on how far it will go with cuts to an array of social programs, and President Clinton hasn't agreed to those cuts.
But Democratic victories in several closely-watched elections across the nation Tuesday offered encouragement to some area residents who gathered Wednesday in Lawrence to talk about their fears and frustrations a year after Republicans won majorities in both houses of Congress.
"We expect more and we demand more and it's time we stop saying 'Thank God it's not worse.'" said Hilda Enoch of Lawrence, who helped organize the meeting for the Kaw Valley chapter of the Older Women's League.
Disheartened by Republican plans to slash programs for the poor, children, seniors, students, Native Americans and people with disabilities -- while offering tax breaks to wealthier voters -- some of the people who met at the Lawrence Public Library hoped Democratic election victories Tuesday in Kentucky, Virginia and Maine would indicate a national rejection of the budget policies now being negotiated in the 104th Congress.
Enoch, who said that leaders in Congress have purposely pushed plans too complicated for most people to follow, circulated a petition threatening votes against those politicians who back efforts to slash social programs.
She also proposed the creation of a new "coalition for social justice" to work against such cuts.
"What can we do to let them know there is some unity on this?" she asked. "I think it is time a grassroots movement begins all over the country."
About 50 people attended the meeting, half of them students in a social welfare policy class at Kansas University taught by Forest Swall, chairman of the Democratic Party in Douglas County.
Swall said proposed cuts to nutrition, education and welfare programs would backfire, resulting in higher crime rates and greater demand for more police and jails.
"It says, in effect, that we can turn our backs on our children," Swall said. "The whole notion that children are our greatest resource is ignored."
Some of those who attended the meeting hoped for the start of something comparable to the 1960s civil rights movement, complete with teach-ins and protest marches.
"It's discouraging to see many things we created in the 1930s and 1960s being dismantled," said Ed Dutton, chairman of the Douglas County-Lawrence Advocacy Council on Aging.
Proposed cuts to Medicaid and Medicare programs will devastate the nation's senior citizens, its poor and its disabled, Dutton said.
"We need to educate ourselves," he said. "This government needs to be corrected ... so we start taking some initiative. We need to organize and come together."