Rallying to Change the Politics of Hunger
Hundreds gather in Washington
For Sharon Heck of Wittier, CA, attending her third Bread for the World National Gathering after an absence of a few years, it was an opportunity to reenergize her journey for justice.
"It's the kind of thing that really gives me a boost and charges me up for going back and doing the kind of work I like to do," she said.
To Barbara Miller, from Washington, MI, who has been "hanging around" Bread for the World since the late 1980s, new faces captured her attention.
"The phrase 'faith in action' really stuck in my mind," she said. "I loved seeing all the young faces here, of college students, high school students, people's children. I was so energized and so thrilled to see that. I thank you all—young people and those who helped you to get here, to be part of this action. Because we are of God, and we must do this."
Carlos Navarro, a longtime activist from Albuquerque, values the powerful feeling of hope that was on display.
"In the face of everything that feels so difficult, we have people coming together in a circle of protection," he said. "That's a powerful symbolic statement. We're sending out a positive message, not just a lament."
These three joined more than 600 people who attended events in conjunction with Bread for the World's National Gathering 2011, Lobby Day, and the meeting "1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers & Children: Building Political Commitment." Over four days, attendees worshiped together, heard from experts and fellow activists, told their own stories and those of Bread, and organized to change the politics of hunger.
At Saturday evening's session, Bread President David Beckmann told of his visit to Bangladesh, where he worked in the early 1970s, and the progress it has made against hunger and poverty. There is a greater supply and variety of food available in the village markets now, he told attendees. Women enjoy greater status now and have microcredit groups that help them provide income and care for their families.
"The lives of my friends there have turned out much better than anyone could have expected," Beckmann said.
Unfortunately, the United States hasn't made the same dramatic progress in reducing poverty and hunger as the rest of the world. Currently, Congress is considering budget cuts that could have devastating effects on hungry people. Beckmann asked the National Gathering participants to ask God to enter into this struggle.
On Pentecost Sunday, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, preached from the book of Esther about the need for a "prophetic solidarity" with hungry people.
"Our purpose is to speak truth to power—that's prophecy. But it's an incomplete definition. We also must speak truth to those robbed of power," he said. "That's 'prophetic solidarity.'"
On Monday, June 13, participants joined advocates from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, international NGOs, and experts for "1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers and Children." The meeting was co-hosted by Bread for the World Institute and Concern Worldwide, an Irish development organization. At the opening plenary, video welcome addresses were shown from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, addressed the afternoon session, and New York Times columnist and food activist Mark Bittman delivered the dinner keynote address.
The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative focuses on the window of opportunity between pregnancy and a child's second birthday, when simple, cost-effective nutrition interventions can save lives and prevent largely irreversible damage to physical and intellectual development. At the meeting, SUN participants representing more than a dozen countries developed an action plan to build the political will needed to end early childhood malnutrition.
Events culminated on Tuesday with Lobby Day, when participants traveled to Capitol Hill to ask their members of Congress to form a circle of protection around programs that help hungry and poor people. The difficult budget environment right now made these visits vitally important. Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), honored this year by Bread for the World for his ongoing commitment to hungry people, stressed this point emphatically as he addressed the crowd.
"I suggest you go and see my colleagues with a sense of outrage," he said. "That a bill is before the floor that would cut WIC. Outrage. That would cut the supplemental food program. Outrage. That would cut programs that provide tons and tons and tons of food to needy people. And just tell my colleagues that, more and more, all of this country is involved. … Tell them it may even be their neighbors."
Advocates did just that, including Eileen Smith LeVan, a Lutheran pastor from Reading, PA. "I'm about as green as you can be to Bread for the World. This was my first opportunity ever to do advocacy in this way," she said.
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) left a congressional committee meeting to speak with LeVan and other constituents. After listening to them, he said Congress still needed to "put everything on the table for cuts," including programs focused on hungry and poor people.
"I looked at him at the end and said would you please consider placing a circle of protection around these programs," LeVan said. "We're not talking about people's standard of living. We're talking about people losing their lives, about children losing their opportunities, about people dying of malaria, of HIV/AIDS. It's much more important than just a lowered standard of living."
LeVan said Rep. Gerlach looked at her and said he would study the materials she left and reconsider the program cuts.
"God was working today," LeVan said. "I'm hooked, and I'm coming back."
To see and download photos of the events, go to Bread's flickr account: http://bit.ly/lwM58i