Presidents roll up sleeves in Philadelphia's 'Badlands'
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Web posted at: 8:56 p.m. EDT (0056 GMT)
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- Three U.S. presidents, three first ladies, a vice president and his wife, a rap music star and a country band pitched in Sunday to clean up an urban eyesore in north Philadelphia so rough and forbidding that police call it "the Badlands."
The event was the official launching of a three-day summit to promote volunteer community service.
The focus of Sunday's effort was a grim eight-mile stretch of Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia, a street police say drug users have turned into a shooting gallery.
On hand for speeches and other festivities, and then some honest labor, were President and Mrs. Clinton, along with former Presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter and their wives.
Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, rap musician LL Cool J and the Oak Ridge Boys also attended, along with numerous other political and corporate luminaries.
Approximately 6,000 volunteers were also on hand, and used tools and supplies provided by numerous corporations, fueled by food provided by the McDonald's restaurant chain.
The meaning of citizenship
"Today we're just Americans, not Republican or Democrat, not Jew or gentile, not rich or poor, not black or white," Bush said at a pep rally before the cleanup began. "Today we are Americans united by a common commitment to our country."
Saying he wanted to "redefine the meaning of citizenship in America," Clinton said, "To be a good citizen you have to obey the law, you've got to go to work or be in school, you've got to pay your taxes and -- oh, yes -- you've got to serve in your community to help make it a better place."
Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell led a clean-up patrol along Germantown Avenue, picking up trash and liquor bottles in derelict lots and sidewalks.
Carter helped paint over the front of an abandoned museum, while Bush planned to spend the afternoon picking up trash and grooming a neighborhood in another part of the city.
Clinton gets busy with paint
Putting down his crutches, Clinton gingerly limped along the stained wall of a pool house and spread a coat of beige paint, careful to keep dribbles off his suede shoes.
At one point he became frustrated by his inability to work the paint into crevices and banged the roller against the wall to force the paint in.
Later he and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been a firm advocate of programs for poor children, and read to a group of pre-schoolers.
Residents welcomed the attention, although they wondered how much good it would do. While watching the president paint, Malcolm Jefferson, 27, said, "He gets to see it the way we have to live in it."
Another Germantown man was not impressed by the flurry of activity, nor by what some have criticized as an overblown photo opportunity.
"Show me a neighborhood where people are working," he said. "That's never dirty, I don't care if it's white, black or Hispanic."
'Volunteerism can't solve everything'
There was also implied criticism from several dozen students carrying signs that said, "Don't volunteer me." Some conservative groups have criticized the summit as an unwarranted attempt by government to influence personal behavior.
While Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell said he supports the summit, he told the pep rally that "volunteerism can't solve everything. Government still has a significant role, if not the most significant role, to play."
Clinton and other VIPs were to attend a musical gala Sunday night where the president will give out 10 Presidential Service Awards.
On Monday, he was to speak at the summit's main session, along with former presidents Bush, Carter and Gerald Ford. Nancy Reagan, wife of former President Ronald Reagan, was to also attend the meeting in Independence Hall, billed as a "call to action" for volunteers.
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