THE priority of Baltimore's "Save Our Cities" march on Washington Oct. 12 is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, in the guarantee that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
And Baltimore and most other cities have many grievances to be redressed. Consider some of them:
Between 1980 and 1991, essential federal capital grants to Baltimore city plummeted from $475 million to $42 million, a drop of $433 million -- or 97 percent. These grants, which in 1980 covered over 70 percent of Baltimore's capital budget, in 1990 took care of only 16 percent. Federal grants for job training, so urgently needed in Baltimore, declined from $85 million in 1980 ,, to about $9 million last year, a drop of about 90 percent.
We are an urban nation. The United States depends on cities. Most people live and work in cities. Cities are our vital centers of culture and industry. Yet our cities today stand virtually abandoned by the federal government; they are caught in a spiral of economic and spiritual decline. Our national security today is threatened not mainly by foreign enemies but by inadequate education, unemployment, homelessness, crime, despair and indifference. If our cities die, our country will soon follow.
Cities simply do not have the resources to halt their own decline. Higher local taxes drive more citizens out of the cities, leaving those who stay with an ever heavier burden. Yet the federal government has shifted the burden of taxes to the near-bankrupt cities and states.
Only at the national level are there resources great enough to reverse the downward trends of urban America.
The march on Oct. 12 will petition the federal government to take the following emergency measures:
* Restore aid to cities for essential programs and services previously supported by federal grants which have been cut to the bone.
* Restore fairness to tax systems as proposed by Maryland's Linowes Commission.
* In keeping with the end of the Cold War, reduce military spending. End waste, fraud and abuse of funds throughout government.
* Repeal laws, such as Gramm-Rudman, which prevent funding to save our cities.
Over 65 respected organizations and a number of political, business, civic and religious leaders are supporting the march. All citizens are urged to join this call on the federal government to restore aid to Baltimore and other cities for education, food programs, housing, economic development, crime prevention, public health, environmental protection, repair and replacement of deteriorating infrastructure and fairness in a federal tax system that now inequitably burdens the middle class and poor.
These ends are patriotic, and so are the means: the petitioning of government to redress grievances. We have the hard-won constitutional right that can be the model for other cities and for people all over the world who cherish freedom. Now it is our duty to exercise the right.
Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore businessman.