It's been quite a year

Photo credit: TapTheForwardAssist

By Michele Learner

Bread for the World, as a collective Christian voice with national grassroots membership, has worked for decades to end hunger in the United States and around the world.

Year after year, Bread members use our gift of citizenship and our role as constituents to urge elected representatives to support legislation and policies that move the country and the world toward the end of hunger.

Ending hunger in a sustainable, lasting way means finding solutions to its root causes. Bread also supports budget allocations that enable everyone in the country to put food on the table. The importance of both these objectives should be reflected in the federal budget, because the budget is a moral document that identifies very clearly what our society truly values.

Bread’s advocacy efforts are based firmly in the opportunities offered by participatory democracy. Members support candidates for office who believe the U.S. government can and should do more to end the causes of hunger. Later, they engage with their democratically elected leaders through emails, phone calls, letters, and visits.

As individuals and in small groups, Bread members have been able to make an impact again and again in persuading members of Congress to support measures that would help end hunger. They share their own and their community’s experiences and concerns; they explain how facts and analysis support the importance of Bread’s priorities; and they build human connection.

Advocacy also works because members of Congress take seriously their responsibilities to represent their constituents, introduce legislation, and vote in ways that promote the well-being of people and the planet.

If either constituents or members of Congress “drop the ball,” Bread’s ability to win more protections and resources for people living with hunger would be at grave risk.

On January 6, 2021, I stared at my computer screen in horror. Democratic government is far from an easy effort, and this country stumbles quite often. But I think the nation’s founders had a good point when they named progress toward “a more perfect union” as the goal. No one thought the union had to be perfect already.

Ideally, democracy can largely prevent violence by giving individuals a voice, maintaining the rule of law, establishing peaceful ways of settling disputes, and adopting other measures that may  sound like just common sense but that are rare in nondemocratic settings.

Over the course of this year, we have all learned much more about what January 6, and the days surrounding it, meant and mean. In November, I was dispirited but not surprised to note that, for the first time ever, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) has categorized the United States as a “backsliding democracy.”

The contested presidential election is the main reason for the country to be listed among, not full democracies or even “eroding democracies,” but among countries that have suffered “a more severe and deliberate kind of democratic erosion.” Other countries that have recently been moved to this category include India and Brazil.

The United States is a global leader, and what happens here affects people in far-flung parts of the world. As the report explains, “The former US President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations during the 2020 US presidential election have had spillover effects, including in Brazil, Mexico, Myanmar, and Peru, among others.”

The better news is that Bread for the World and all our supporters can be part of the solution. The report’s recommendations describe what anti-hunger advocates have set out to do: “Government institutions, along with civil society and the media, must prevent rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding by … buttressing the pillars of democracy that ensure accountability, including broad participation and access to information…”

The years 2020 and 2021 have been extraordinary, to use one of the frequently heard terms of this era. As active citizens and as faithful Christians, we do not give up in despair, but we persevere in hope.

Michele Learner is managing editor, policy analysis and coalition building, with Bread for the World.

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