Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 2, 1997


The Briefing Room

1:40 P.M. EST

MS. LEWIS: I see some familiar faces. For those of you who heard this twice today, I'm sorry, but we've got a public service announcement that we're going to be unveiling and we're so proud, but we just wanted to begin with that.

As you know, this is a big and important week for our President's Initiative on Race. We're going to Akron tomorrow for our first town meeting. But I'd like to step back a bit and talk about some of the other things we've been doing. You've heard about our Youth Outreach program -- the PSA you're about to see is based I guess on -- comes for two reasons. The first is that the Advisory Board for the President's Initiative on Race has recommended that we emphasize youth -- economic opportunity, education, and young people as our main points.

The second is that we're seeing some very interesting data that continues to come out about attitudes of young people. There was a Time-CNN poll about three weeks ago, very interesting, on young people's attitudes. We've got an MTV poll that talks about how race relations, diversity and tolerance are important issues to today's youth. Young people overwhelmingly see America's growing racial and ethnic diversity as more of a good thing, 69 percent --than a bad thing, 20 percent. We think 69 to 20 are good odds.

But it also seems to us an example of ways in which this generation is really taking the lead. And that's appropriate. When we talk about the next century, they are going to be the leaders. The 21st century is going to be up to them. And so as we talked about ways to reach out to them, it was pretty clear that we would want to do this through the media.

What you will see is a collaborative effort with the President's Initiative on Race, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund and the Ad Council. We worked collaboratively on the strategy and who we wanted to reach. We came up with some ideas. We went back out into the field and tested it. We listened to what the young people told us. They said, for example, they do think of themselves as leaders on this issues and they didn't think they needed celebrities, they thought they'd like to hear from people like themselves. They told us they wanted to be asked what do they think and they wanted to be asked for their ideas. And you'll see that we have built that in as well.

And so what you're going to see is a 60-second PSA. We have a 30-second as well. It will be shown for the first time nationwide tomorrow at the beginning and end of the President's town meeting. And we will, afterwards, thanks to the Ad Council, be going around to all you trying to get it on the air. And here it is.

(Video is shown.)

MS. LEWIS: So that's it. This will be a national campaign. And as you can see, we're all very excited about it.

We're all very excited except for a few members of the White House staff who have just learned that they are no longer in the target youth audience and they're brooding about it. But I'm sure they'll come around. And I'll be happy to take your questions on this or some of the events that are coming up this week.

Q How long is it going to run, Ann?

MS. LEWIS: Well, the Ad Council should probably tell us that, but we're hoping for several months. I'll get back to you with details.

Q What do people do when they call that 800 number?

MS. LEWIS: There are two things you can do. If you click on to the web site, to the White House web site, you get on to our President's Initiative on Race web site which includes promising practices, which includes areas in your own locality, how you can get connected. It talks a lot about the initiative and asks for your suggestions. If you call you will get a package from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund. They're handling this for us.

It sends back a wonderful letter that says to young people something like this: Congratulations. You are the first generation to live at a time when discrimination is not legal. It's illegal. And, therefore, you're making a different world. And here are some of things you can do. And then it goes on to give them eight or nine specific examples that they can do -- take leadership, think about their own attitudes, join a dialogue group or start one, work on a community service project, and then write back to us and say what you'd like to do. So in each case, we say to young people, get involved, be a leader, here are some examples of what you can do, tell us what you are doing and we'll help you connect.

Q What kind of program are you hoping the ads run during?

MS. LEWIS: I think, as you see from this, our target audience is 17 to 22-year-olds. And we would hope to get on programs that they're likely to see.

Q Which means what? What do you have in mind?

MS. LEWIS: How shall I say this right? It's been a while -- probably those are programs I don't watch. And one of the ways we targeted this is if I've heard of it, it's probably -- I will get you a better list from the Ad Council. But, again, our agreement with them is they would go back out and look for programs whose demographics match this audience. I don't have that list with me, but I'll be happy to get it for you.

Q What do you hope to get out of the -- or what does the White House, the President hope to get out of the town meeting?

MS. LEWIS: What we hope to get out of the town meeting is, first, an example of the kind of dialogue that we think -- and lots of local communities think, as I've been reading in the newspapers lately -- that lots of communities find is helpful; where people get together and talk, people of different races get together. Sometimes churches with different congregations get together or people get together in a service group or a dialogue, talk to one another, think -- use that experience to discuss how we are different in some ways, but also how much we have in common.

So I think we've seen in the last week, since we've been talking more about the town meeting, some wonderful examples of what's already happening in Akron, where you have a dialogue group.

I saw this morning's paper, in USA Today, about what's happening in Charlotte. We would hope that more communities either that have these local dialogue groups -- people will say, gee, that's a good idea, I'd like to be part of something like that. Or there may be communities that will want to start it. That's one.

Second, I hope the conversation tomorrow is interesting, it's engaging, people think, yeah, I know what that's means, and that they will continue those conversations at home and they'll continue those conversations in the workplace.

And, finally, I hope it will continue as the President has said, to move us closer to that 21st century, because as a result of this, people will be more interested in taking action -- actions on education, actions on educational opportunity -- all the ways we're looking at policy, people will be willing to stand up and say, I'll be a leader. We are recruiting leaders in the religious community, in the business community. We had our youth leadership meetings -- I think we did a briefing on that yesterday -- corporate CEOs are coming out and we're asking them to be leaders, higher education folks -- so people will step up and say, I'll be a leader in my community. We're hoping to get all those. In some cases, they're going to get started; in some cases they're going to get better publicized. That's what we would hope.

Q Well, the head of the race commission doesn't seem to encourage much dialogue since he's not allowing any of the opposition to speak.

MS. LEWIS: Actually, Dr. Franklin is head of our Race Advisory Board. It's interesting, because there have been a wide variety of people who have come in and spoken to the board, and members of the board have gone out and spoken to a wide variety of people. I've noticed that Jim Sleeper, for example, who's the author of a book that's pretty critical of our positions on race, is one of the people who was asked to come in and speak to the initiative. I know that as members of the initiative go out and speak -- Angela Oh speaking to firefighters, for example -- they have gone out wherever they can to reach to the widest possible audience.

If you read the story in today's -- I think it's the Miami Herald, about the corporate CEOs' meeting, it says that the conversation got -- I'm trying to remember whether they said heated, interesting, but they suggested that the conversation was open in range. And you will know that for tomorrow we are planning not just to have a set of authors who bring very different sets of points of view to this conversation, but also in the students and the community leaders we're hoping that we have a real cross-section of views.

Q In light of what you just said, what happened in College Park?

MS. LEWIS: I can go back, and I'm not sure how much time we want to spend going back, but it is my understanding that that was a meeting of people to discuss the value of diversity in higher education and various ways to get there, not about affirmative action. So the idea that it was not treated as a debate about affirmative action is -- that isn't how it had been structured. It was meant to be what are the different ways you can bring a variety of people together.

Q Are there debates about affirmative action in the process, or will there be?

MS. LEWIS: My guess is -- and again, we just want to be clear that this is about a wide variety of issues. Affirmative action is one issue. But if you talk about education and educational opportunity, if we talk about how we strengthen elementary schools, if you look at the President's announcement on how we're going to recruit teachers for under-served inner-city and rural schools, that would be one such example. If you look at Secretary Cisneros' efforts, leadership on housing discrimination, that's another. There are so many policies and so many different ways we're moving forward -- health care we'll be looking at and some others -- that I would just not want that to be perceived as the only issue. It will be part of the discussion, but it's not going to dominate the discussion.

Q But just to put you on the spot a little bit, John's question was, is affirmative action a subject of debate or has that already been decided on?

MS. LEWIS: Oh, let me be clear -- sorry -- let me back up then and say, one, I think the President has a position on affirmative action; he's made that clear. Two, it will be a continuing subject of discussion; you know that he's going to be meeting with conservatives sometime this month and my guess is that is one of the subjects that will come up. But again, I was just trying to put it in perspective and say that's not the only subject that's going to come up.

Q Some of the board members are saying flatly that the White House doesn't want the board itself to air disagreements, that there is sort of a chill over anything that's risky. What's your response to that?

MS. LEWIS: I think -- how do I say this right -- one, taking on the subject of race the way the President did was not exactly safe. Opening up and saying, let's have a national -- I'm going to have a President's initiative, let's take this issue on and let's talk about it and let's talk honestly and openly and let's talk about policies on it, that was in itself, I'd say, a step forward, especially at a time when, remember, we were not in a crisis situation, we were not responding.

So I think maybe we have to do a better job of talking to the board and saying we do want open discussion, we do want -- I wouldn't want anyone who is on the board to feel chilled. But at the same time -- well, we won't get credit, so never mind, I withdraw the request for credit. I would just say in my opinion, by no means humble, the fact that we have embarked on this suggests that we are not trying to play it safe. And the fact that we're going to Akron, holding a town meeting, asking for a variety of people with a variety of opinions on that stage to be part of that discussion with the President is further examples of how we're trying to open this up.

Q But where is the tension that we all know any dialogue on race creates? I mean, it's not in this ad. We haven't seen it at the board meetings. Where will we see it, I guess?

MS. LEWIS: Well, some of the tension is when we're on the phone saying, no, I really mean it, we really want to invite people to come up here who are going to have a different point of view. That's the way this is going to be real. So, again, this ad is not meant to be a debate. We're not trying to recreate a debate when you do a public service announcement. We're trying to talk to young people and say, you're the leaders, step forward, do what you know is right, be a leader. That's one avenue. A second avenue and a different avenue is the town meeting where we're saying, we're going to have a diversity of viewpoint and race, and we're going to talk about where we are and where we are as Americans.

Q To follow up on that tension question, people who agree to come and talk are already people who agree to come to talk. And it's everybody else that seems to have been the target of this process. And the President in San Diego said, we're going to talk about things that make people uncomfortable, and College Park is an example where the discomfort was edited out of the discussion. So can you take another run at the question of tension -- where and when the talk gets tough and difficult and uncomfortable?

MS. LEWIS: Well, here I am trying to encourage people to come to a town meeting tomorrow and you're going to tell them they're going to be uncomfortable. We're working at cross-purposes here. Seriously, what we are asking people to do is do something that I know is difficult. We're saying to people, we really want to hear from people who disagree with us on this. That's the way this is going to be real. We are really asking community leaders who have been recommending participants to recommend people who bring a different point of view to this. And I believe --

Q Disagree on what?

MS. LEWIS: Who disagree -- who may say, for example, and I'm again -- who may say, this is no big deal, what do we have to talk about. It's exactly what John said. The people who first come forward are the people who say, great, let's sign up; there's a dialogue on race, I'm here. That's a very important set of people. But there are another set of people who are going to say, hey, I've got a lot going on, I'm raising my family, I'm trying to do what's right, why doesn't everybody just follow the rules the way I do. We want people to bring a variety of points of view to this and we are working on that. And we take that responsibility very seriously.

Q What about people who believe in separatism at both ends of the racial spectrum?

MS. LEWIS: I don't know how wide we will get on both ends. I would be comfortable if we can arrive at people of goodwill who were at either end of separatism, because I think at that point, that's a very small minority of Americans. And I want to be clear, we've got 65 people on stage. We may have somebody on stage who believes that. But we're not trying to have one of every possible -- what we're trying to get is, I think, representing mostly -- how do we say this -- people of goodwill, people who want to get along. But that's going to vary from people who think the way to do this is to talk more about race -- and I'll go back to say, I think you expressed it well -- to the people who don't think that this is necessarily important or who aren't part of a dialogue group. We're trying to reach out and bring them in.

Q What do you think of the New Jersey settlement? I mean, didn't it seem like civil rights people were bugging out?

MS. LEWIS: Oh, I didn't think they were bugging out. Helen, there are days when I'm glad I'm not a lawyer, and reading those stories was one of those days. I decided to let other people who have studied this for years, many of them my friends, take the lead on that one.

Q How risky is it, really, for the President to call on people to have a dialogue on race; -- part one of the question --part two, assuming there is a nationwide dialogue provoked by all of this, what next? What does he or what does the White House hope will come from -- what will be the next step after this dialogue?

MS. LEWIS: I think I'd go back to the first question -- it's risky. I think the President knew when he raised it, and he said around the San Diego speech, that he was stepping forward. We are bringing this up, unlike usual times when it's come as a country when there is not a crisis, when we're not all focused on it. And he was asking us all to do this. And he said, you know, we'll be a better, stronger country if we do it. We'll be better prepared for the 21st century.

Q Where's the risk?

Q Yes, what's the risk?

MS. LEWIS: The risk? A minute ago I was told there was a risk and now I tried to explain --

Q No, you said there was a risk.

MS. LEWIS: Oh, I said -- there is a risk, because this is not a subject that people naturally talk about. It is a subject that arouses some strong feelings. It is a subject on which people are going to disagree. And again, I'd ask you to go back and listen to, tune in on some of the dialogue that's been happening. It's not always easy. And what we've said is, we want to do this.

The second question is what do we hope will happen as a result of it. I would hope as a result of what we're doing, as a result of the town meeting, of the leadership recruitment, of the policy actions, that you'll be able to look back in the year that the initiative has been underway and say, here's what we achieved. We will have policies, very specific policies -- for example, again, recruiting teachers; for example, enforcing housing discrimination -- some other kinds of policies you're going to hear -- education and health care -- making a difference.

Second, I would hope that we have many more people who have stepped up and said, I want to be a leader, I'm going to be a leader in my community, we're going to talk more about race, we're going to pay attention to it, I'm going to reach out to people of a different race from myself, my church is going to reach out to people of a different race, I'm going to reach out to people I work with, build some friendships with them because that's the way we can learn to get together and to overcome stereotypes. I'd say that's the second piece -- is on recruiting leaders.

Third piece, on promising practices - again, all these communities groups -- I would hope those groups that are already in existence are going to feel a real surge that this is something that we a nation are committed to. I would hope the communities that aren't doing something like this yet will do it.

I'll give you a last example and that is this Monday at our youth briefing we had a young man stand up who is a football captain at one of the local high school -- Tom Manatose (phonetic) -- and he got interested in this and he'd read a little about it. And he thought, you know, real leaders in schools are the sports captains. So he called a meeting and invited the sports team captains from -- I don't know -- all the variety of high schools and had about 200 young people there, and said, we're the leaders in our schools, what is it we could do. And they came away with their own ideas. Maybe their ideas were to have a club or a discussion at school; maybe it was to spend part of every lunch hour on this. One of them was talking about putting up posters, bulletin boards, having a dialogue.

Again, we're not telling people here's exactly what you should do. But I am sure by saying, this is something we can all do something about, this is something we can all move forward on, we will see a variety of actions and progress at a lot of different levels. And that's our goal.

THE PRESS: Thank you

[Footer icon]

[White House icon] [Help Desk icon]

To comment on this service,
send feedback to the Web Development Team.