Ending Hunger Transcends Divisions
Bread for the World is beginning our 2011 Offering of Letters campaign – focused on making U.S. foreign assistance more effective in reducing hunger and poverty--in a political environment that is deeply partisan. But hunger is not a partisan issue so we are cautiously optimistic.
Since our beginning in the 1970s, Bread has done successful bipartisan work with Congress. Often, it is faith that leads people – including members of Congress-- to take action against hunger in God’s world, and shared faith that enables them to work together in the face of political divisions.
Focusing on the Common Challenge
The long-term collaborative work against hunger of former Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) shows how bipartisanship can work.
“Differences that seemed so consequential lose their significance,” Hall wrote of his first experience witnessing hunger and starvation. In his 2006 book Changing the Face of Hunger, Hall tells the story of how his commitment to ending hunger was galvanized by a visit, at a time and to a place that anyone old enough remembers seeing on TV: Ethiopia, 1984.
“I had never seen anyone die before,” Hall wrote. But in the village of Korem, Ethiopia, he witnessed the starvation deaths of at least 25 children in a matter of minutes. He said years later: “Having a child die in my arms -- I’ve never gotten over it.”
Wolf said in a recent interview, “In 1984, during the height of the famine, Tony [Hall] invited me to travel to Ethiopia, and I went. The trip was life-changing.
“My faith teaches that to whom much is given, much is expected,” he continued. “America has been richly blessed and we have an opportunity to significantly impact people around the world who find themselves in very difficult situations.”
Hall said that it was on his way back to the United States from Ethiopia that he decided that helping hungry people was a way he could bring his faith into his work in politics.
By all accounts, Hall and Wolf disagree on nearly every issue that comes before Congress. So how did they work together on hunger?
Wolf explained, “Issues like hunger and human rights ought to transcend party affiliation, and trips like [my initial visit to Ethiopia] can be formative, especially for new members of Congress.”
“It is easy for us to be with people that think like us,” Hall wrote. “But we grow when we are with people whose views differ from ours…. We need to meet together in prayer and simply take the time to get to know one another.” Hall takes his own advice: for more than 25 years, he has met with Wolf for prayer every Tuesday afternoon that Congress is in session.
When it came to politics, the two didn’t talk about issues that divided them--rather, they focused on the common challenge of hunger. Together they traveled to half a dozen hunger “hotspots,” sponsored legislation, and urged fellow legislators and successive U.S. administrations to take action.
Making lasting progress against hunger requires getting to its root causes, one of which is war and conflict. During the 1990s, for example, more than 6.5 million people in three African countries were driven from their homes by wars that were funded by mining and selling diamonds. Hunger was rampant since most people relied on subsistence farming but could no longer work in their fields. When Hall and Wolf visited Sierra Leone in 1999, they saw how “conflict diamonds” were prolonging the war – and the agony of civilians. "The death and despair was overwhelming," said Wolf.
Upon their return, Hall and Wolf sponsored the bipartisan Clean Diamonds Trade Act, later signed into law by President George W. Bush, to help stop conflict diamonds from being exported to the United States. The law gives the president both the authority to ban diamond imports from countries that are not taking effective steps to stop the flow of conflict diamonds, and the responsibility to report to Congress on progress made in blocking their entry into the United States.
Hall, who is now managing director of the Alliance to End Hunger, encourages people of faith to “harness and direct” their voices on behalf of hungry people. As he points out, global hunger may be constantly in our thoughts but very rarely on the minds of our elected leaders. We as constituents need to make sure our elected leaders – whatever their political convictions—keep ending hunger and its causes on the front burner.