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'Milk Party' rallies for kids

The founders of The Children's Movement of Florida say they have discovered something that almost all Floridians hold in common: They love their children.

What is less certain is whether the movement - a campaign in only its second month - can gain the kind of political traction that will lead to big gains for the state's smallest residents.


Read all about the Children's Movement of Florida at its website.

Modeling themselves after the conservative Tea Party movement, a group of influential Floridians has launched a political campaign to increase public and private investment in children. They say Florida spends less than almost every state in the U.S. for programs that benefit kids, and voters should demand that their leaders do better.

To make their point, movement leaders are holding a series of 17 "Milk Party" rallies throughout the state; Tuesday's rally was in Fort Lauderdale, Wednesday's in Miami, and the movement's iconic blue bus will be in Key West for a gathering Thursday.

Organizers believe that by the time they're done, 15,000 Floridians will have attended at least one of the events. Participants range from PTA parents to the Democratic nominee for governor, Alex Sink. The state's chief financial officer, Sink sat in the back row of a rally in St. Petersburg with her husband, Bill McBride, a Tampa lawyer.

Nancy Solis, a mother of two who joined the YMCA of Snapper Creek to attend Miami's rally, said she hopes the fledgeling movement can garner the kind of support it needs to improve the lives of children.

"They should start giving more money for the kids, instead of wasting it on a stadium," Solis said.

But as the campaign gains momentum, a question emerges: Is devotion to children enough to build a successful movement around?

David Lawrence Jr., who led a successful effort to create public funding for preschools that serve 4-year-olds, believes it is.

Lawrence, a former publisher of The Miami Herald, spent the last two years building the Milk Party before going public this summer with a series of press conferences and rallies. His group held focus groups and did polling, among other things, to determine what issues appealed to the broadest group of Floridians.

"It starts from a moral imperative," said Lawrence, the former head of the Miami Children's Trust. "But simply telling folks you are on the side of the angels - even if they believe you are on the side of the angels - won't cut it.

"You need prove to people that this cuts across class and income. You need to prove to them that it is doable."

Sean D. Foreman, an assistant professor of political science at Barry University, said such an ambitious effort may well be doable in the long run - though it's likely not doable now.

"This is an issue that pulls at the heart strings of everyone," said Foreman. "There's something about children. They appeal to the emotions and neutralize any political arguments."

But he added: "The problem is, right now, people's attention is so

focused on the economy and their immediate wellbeing that they are not in the mood to plan for the future."

By most any measure, Florida's investment in children, and children's welfare, lags behind - sometimes far behind - that of other states.

According to the state's Children's Cabinet, Florida regularly ranks in the bottom half of states in child health, largely a result of the state's high infant mortality rate and the number of children born with low birth weight. Florida ranks 49th in the number of children who remain uninsured.