The power of community activism
This article originally appeared in the June 2010 Newsletter.
Years ago, after receiving a mailing from Bread for the World, Joan Neil remembers telling her husband, “This is something I want to do.”
At the time, she was involved with the League of Women Voters at the state level in Illinois. As the organization’s international relations chair, she represented the League during a visit to NATO in the 1980s after the group helped push the national defense policy to the forefront of the public debate.
At the time Neil joined Bread for the World, she was comfortable contacting legislators—and she understood how powerful that action could be.
Bread’s mission was also a good fit with her personal history. Her father, a United Church of Christ minister, was “up front” about social issues, both in his private life and from the pulpit.
“He was vocal in his opposition to Japanese internment camps during the second world war,” she remembers. “And at a time when there was much excitement about the development of an atom bomb, my parents were absolutely appalled by it.”
Also vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War, Neil’s father spent hours typing letters to the servicemen whose families were members of the congregation he served. Parishioners told Neil, “We may not always agree with your father, but we like him!”
Today, Neil continues her work with the local League of Women Voters on statewide issues. Thirteen years ago, Joan and her late husband Herbert helped found Protestants for the Common Good. She remains a board member of this Chicago-based consortium, which advocates for justice and educates about the Gospel’s mandate to take care of people.
When she can spare the time, Neil enjoys gardening and Chicago’s many cultural attractions. And she looks forward to hiking in Arizona and New Mexico, where two of her children have settled.
Neil is also working with her congregation—Northfield Community Church (United Church of Christ) in Northfield, IL—to conduct an Offering of Letters on behalf of Bread for the World’s efforts to protect and strengthen tax credits that benefit low-income families.
For Neil, the Offering of Letters represents her belief that systems must change in order to end hunger and material poverty.
“Bread is changing structures,” she says. “It benefits all of us to help change the situation.”
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