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Lawmakers will be back on Capitol Hill after Labor Day. And they have a lot of work ahead of them, including passing spending bills, raising the debt ceiling, voting on criminal justice reform, and reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP.
And of course, Congress needs to pass a budget.
In preparation for the advocacy work in September, many Bread members met with their respective lawmakers during the August recess — normally a time when lawmakers go back to their home districts for respite and district work.
“August is a great time for our members to engage with their senators and representative,” said Matt Gross, interim co-director of organizing at Bread for the World. “Building that rapport with lawmakers and their staff is essential to advancing our work of ending hunger and poverty.”
Bread and its members conducted 35 in-district meetings across the country last month. At some meetings, Bread activists were able to engage with actual lawmakers, while at other meetings they meet with staff members only.
In addition, 23 letters to the editor and op-eds were published in local newspapers, and Bread activists also attended several town halls and other local events. Several informational packets and letters about the budget were dropped off at in-district offices.
In meetings, Bread activists urged their lawmakers and staff to oppose cuts to critical programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, refundable tax credits, and international development.
Gross said that it was important that there be civility between lawmakers and their staff, and Bread members. Case in point, several Bread members were able to meet with U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.-12). During the 70-minute long meeting, the Illinois team found areas of both common ground and respectful disagreement with the congressman.
A topic of discussion was the federal budget. If passed, the proposed House budget resolution would cut $150 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Bost suggested that federal programs would not be necessary if churches did more to help hungry people. However, the team responded that caring for others is a human responsibility, and not just the responsibility of churches.
Churches are doing their part. However, they can’t do it alone. The federal government needs to do its part too. One out 20 bags of food assistance already comes from churches and other charitable organizations.
During the meeting, the team also thanked Bost for his support of the Global Food Security Act — legislation that supports global agriculture and food security. However, the current famine conditions that are putting 20 million people at risk of starvation calls for a more urgent response. Protecting lifesaving foreign aid from funding cuts is a good place to start.
Team members told Bost that improving food aid would maximize efficiencies, getting more of the aid to those in need. Bost said that was something he would consider.
Of course, meetings between lawmakers and Bread members won’t end just because the month of August is over. They will continue. However, we also want members to be actively engaged in further advocacy. September is a crucial month because many decisions will be made regarding the fiscal year 2018 budget.
To stay engaged, make sure to visit the Activist Corner, which is updated weekly. Look for emails in your inbox regarding actions you can take and read up on how budgets cuts to the fiscal year 2018 budget would harm Latinos, African Americans, and people living in Africa and the Middle East. You can also learn more about the budget process here.
This story was written by Jennifer Gonzalez, Bread for the World’s managing editor, with contribution by Robin Stephenson, senior manager for social media at Bread for the World.
Photo: Counter-protestors in Justice Park in Charlottesville, Va. Anthony Crider/Wikimedia Commons.
By Marlysa D. Gamblin
As a Christian organization, Bread for the World denounces the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Va., and believes that racism fundamentally undermines our mission to end hunger in the United States.
Two years ago, I wrote a blog about the importance of talking about race, and eradicating racism, if we are ever going to end U.S. hunger and poverty.
During the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., racism has been positioned front and center in our public discourse, and we are reminded of this truth — we must find solutions to end racism in the United States. At the core of the various decisions to take statues such as the one of Robert E. Lee down is the belief that our country stands against racism and oppression — two critically significant barriers to ending U.S. hunger and poverty.
The violence that erupted in Charlottesville showed us that there are still people in our country who don’t share this belief in what our country is about. They are instead holding on to ideals of racism and oppression. Charlottesville showed us that there is still much more work to be done.
Charlottesville evokes more than meets the eye. Sure, it shows us what one type of racism may look like — overt and violent. But we must reflect on racism as a whole. And the truth is that hidden forms of structural racism are equally damaging for communities of color every single day.
We must all do our part to understand what racism is and how we can fight it within our own contexts and communities. Each of us has a role — from the U.S. president and members of Congress, to church and community groups, businesses large and small, and individuals. Each of us can work to eradicate racism and oppression, which, in turn, will go a long way toward ending hunger, food insecurity, and poverty.
Bread for the World Institute’s recent briefing paper, “Ending U.S. Hunger and Poverty by Focusing on Communities Where It’s Most Likely,” makes the case that ending hunger and poverty in our country requires investing in communities most affected by them. Communities of color fare worse every time. They are twice as likely to experience hunger, live in poverty, or be one paycheck away from becoming hungry or poor.
But why? It goes back to structural oppression and racism, which is the systemic practice of racial discrimination and unfair treatment. Structural racism is seen in every sector when communities of color are likely to experience discrimination based on the color of their skin — from the care they receive at the doctor’s office to the jobs and wages they are offered. This reality perpetuates hunger and poverty in communities of color at far greater rates compared to their white counterparts. Yet, we often do not include this structural truth in our thinking about and activism against racism.
Ending U.S. hunger and poverty not only means eliminating expressions of racism that are violent and intimidating, but that we end ALL forms of racism, including the hidden structural racism that communities experience every day.
Let us all take what was intended to spread fear and intimidation and use it to awaken our communities to act against racism — regardless of your job, age, title, religious belief, place you live, or color of your skin. Everyone has a role in eradicating racism in all of its forms.
Marlysa D. Gamblin is the domestic advisor for policy and programs, specific populations at Bread for the World Institute.
Editor’s note: This is an edited version of a speech that Elizabeth Conde-Frazier gave during a pre-Lobby Day dinner in June.
By Elizabeth Conde-Frazier
We are people experienced in the generational pains of colonization and its legacy of greed and racism in our world today. This has taken the form of hunger which could lead to death. While this history marks us it also unites us. Despite this, we are strongly united by the power of God, who breaks our chains of oppression and gives us the power to be the children of God who advocate for all to be fed.
When we engage in legislative advocacy, we show compassion. Compassion evokes imagination coupled with action. In the gospel of Mark, every time Jesus brings forth a miracle the gospel says: “And Jesus had compassion.” Compassion means to suffer with others. It connotes solidarity and makes us passionate. It is intimate and sympathetic with God and humanity. It leads to prophetic space that locates us alongside of and in fellowship with those who suffer.
This happens because the Holy Spirit leads us to moments of conviction. Such moments disrupt how we see the world and disclose renewed ways to be in the world which we may not have considered.
For example, one may not have imagined going into a legislator’s office to speak your heart on legislation that addresses hunger and poverty. But in this role of Spirit-filled prophet, we can announce what is in the heart of God. A prophet denounces the forces that would contradict God’s will for all to be fed. Prophets are not only found at the altar but give utterance in the courts of the kings. The prophet’s vocation is to open people’s hearts, to enlist them into the agenda of justice. This leads to transformation.
These actions by the children of God are united by “vínculos,” a Spanish word that refers to bonds and creates relationship between persons. These bonds subject us to each other. “Vínculos” suggests that eternal bonds make it impossible for separation to take place. On Pentecost, the Spirit of Christ gave people tongues of fire to give utterance of the love of God. This Pentecost Spirit empowers and forms us into “vínculos” according to our skill sets. Whether we like each other is irrelevant. We are bonded in the carrying out of our common purpose as the children of God.
What we see in the world is the worship of power, the practice of “power-cult.” But the power of Pentecost is love that faces anguish, absorbs it and transforms it. It is this power from which hope is born. Hope is when we identify troubles while allowing our imagination to be aroused to picture possibilities of hope. This hope is a powerful force that withstands despair and saves lives. Jesus is our example. He took on our sufferings on the cross and gave us new life and hope. This provided a pathway for hope for all. May we go forth as the children of God and speak possibilities of hope that will become pathways of providing bread for all.
Elizabeth Conde-Frazier is dean of Esperanza College of Eastern University in Philadelphia, Pa. She holds a doctoral degree from Boston College and a master of divinity degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Every year Bread for the World members vote for candidates to fill open seats on Bread for the World’s Board of Directors.
The Board of Directors guides and governs our work together. It is responsible for setting the direction for how Bread can best channel its resources to help end hunger. The Board is a multidenominational, multicultural, bipartisan group of people from all parts of the United States who have expertise on a variety of issues of importance to ending hunger.
One-third of the Board rotates each year. Vote now for eight members for the next class of board members.
This year’s 15 candidates were chosen for the gifts they would bring to the board. Read their biographies, then cast your vote. Voting ends Sept. 13, 2017.
Results of the election will be announced in December. New Board members will begin their terms in January 2018. Board members are elected to three-year terms, and board members are eligible to serve two consecutive terms.
Bread for the World members may nominate others for consideration as a board candidate. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to submit a candidate for the 2018 election.
Now is the time to order bulletin inserts and posters for use in your church as you celebrate Bread for the World Sunday on Oct. 15 — or another Sunday this fall. You may also request a new scripture study written by Rev. James Martin, SJ, editor-at-large of America magazine and author of the bestseller “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” Father Martin writes about Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding feast.
Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and co-author of “Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World,” has prepared a new litany or responsive prayer. The litany, scripture study, and worship bulletin inserts are available in both English and Spanish. To view, download, or order printed copies go here or call 800-822-7323, ext. 1072.
When you send Bread for the World Christmas cards to your family and friends, you will help create hope and opportunity for people who are hungry. Proceeds from the sale of these cards support efforts to urge our nation’s decision makers to change the policies and conditions that allow hunger to persist in our own country and abroad.
The 2017 card features an original illustration called Nurture by Doug Puller, Bread for the World’s senior design and art manager.
Ten cards and envelopes are only $15 (includes shipping). Additional card designs, including one without a religious greeting, are available. View the cards and place your order today, or call 800-822-7323, ext. 1072.
Photo: House Speaker Paul Ryan, left, speaking with Rev. Lawrence Kirby Jr. in Ryan’s office during this year’s Lobby Day.
I didn’t plan on becoming a minister,” said Rev. Lawrence Kirby Jr., of Kenosha, Wis. “My whole life, I’d watched my father, Bishop Lawrence Kirby, lead gracefully, absolutely passionate about issues and people.”
Lawrence Kirby Sr., has led St. Paul Baptist Church in Racine, Wis. He is also bishop in the National Baptist Convention USA. The younger Kirby had studied psychology. “But,” he says, “I listened to the call to ministry and was ordained in March of 2009. Now I’ve led congregations for seven years.”
Pastor Kirby served on his father’s staff, first in youth ministry and then as associate pastor. “I next served Second Baptist Church of Kenosha for six years,” he said. “Then I founded Acts Church of Kenosha, where I serve as pastor today.”
Both Pastor Kirby and his father are making a big difference in their congregations and in their home state of Wisconsin. Matt Gross, interim co-director of organizing for Bread for the World, has worked with father and son for several years. “Together and with their leadership, these two have helped enable Bread for the World to speak truth to power to one of the most important political leaders in our country, House Speaker Paul Ryan,” Gross said.
Pastor Kirby first met Ryan when he was still a teen. Ryan was a fresh-faced nominee for Wisconsin’s House of Representatives. “My father’s church is the oldest African American church in Wisconsin. It’s a place where politicians have long come to meet our community and to learn,” Kirby said.
In 2011, Pastor Kirby was invited to become a Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader. Along with other young leaders, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to gain skills in advocacy and community organizing.
“I’ve visited members of Congress as part of that Lobby Day, and each Lobby Day since,” Pastor Kirby said. He’s seen progress in his discussions with Ryan. “The first time I met with him to advocate as a Hunger Justice Leader, he was cordial, but very focused on cuts.”
“Today,” said Pastor Kirby, “Speaker Ryan is asking better questions. We agree U.S. aid needs to be efficient and effective. But he is very focused on rebranding his party. One way is by localizing programs and giving states more control. I argued that maintaining consistency and improving federal programs is better.”
Bishop Kirby, along with his son, visited Ryan during this year's Lobby Day. Gross appreciates the combined strength of Bishop Kirby and his son, Pastor Kirby. “They are compelled by their commitment to their faith, their congregations and their communities,” Gross said.
Pastor Kirby says, “It is so important that our church’s service to the world be multifaceted, including both charity and advocacy. Our leaders must be accountable to their constituents. Our advocacy is an investment in families that yields a great positive outcome.”
Photo: A woman rows her load of bananas toward Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta region for sale at the market. McKay Savage/Wikimedia Commons.
By Anh Minh Ta
I could never forget the sights and the sounds of the Mekong Delta in my home country, Vietnam.
Lush green rice paddies extend to the horizon, as far as the eye can see. In fruit orchards across the region, golden papayas, ruby red rambutans, and spiky durians hang low. Every morning when the sun rises, usually around 5 o’clock, the floating market — so-called because vendors sell their products from wooden boats — begins. Each boat is filled with grains, fruits, vegetables, and freshly caught fish and shrimp. Vendors exchange pleasantries and make bargains. The produce is then transported down the water to the rest of southern Vietnam; or loaded onto trucks that carry it to northern Vietnam or across the border into Laos or Cambodia; or flown on planes to foreign lands, like Japan, Holland, or the United States.
The many branches of the Mekong River that ebb and flow among rice fields, orchards, shrimp farms, and fishing grounds do not just bring water, but also life. The Mekong Delta, dubbed the “rice barn” of Vietnam, is one of the two agricultural centers of Vietnam. In our language, it is known as the “Nine Dragons” Delta for the nine estuaries in the country where the river meets the sea.
I visited Mekong Delta for the first time when I was 15 and was deeply humbled by its vast beauty. But the delta suffered a historic drought in 2016, which caused multiple crop failures. Many Vietnamese, myself included, are increasingly aware of and alarmed by the rising sea level that might wipe out about half of our “rice barn” by the end of this century. Traditional defenses against the rising sea level, such as sea dikes and mangroves, have failed, as the rise in sea level was higher than their capacities.
No one is a climate change skeptic in Vietnam.
It’s impossible to doubt a lived experience. Although the Mekong Delta is one of the places where climate change is hitting hardest, a country like Vietnam, with more than 2,000 miles of coastline, sees and feels the rising waves in every city. During late August, the beginning of what we call “storm season,” hurricanes devastate fish and shrimp farms on the coast, and floods drown harvests in the countryside and paralyze urban centers. These natural disasters, which kill thousands of people outright and lead many more to malnutrition and starvation in subsequent years, are getting worse every year.
According to a Standard & Poor report, Vietnam is the second most vulnerable nation to the threats posed by climate change, just behind its neighbor Cambodia. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest city and financial center, is on the list of the 20 global cities projected to be hit hardest by climate change and rising sea levels. In the Mekong Delta, rising sea levels now enable salt water to reach further inland — in some areas as far as 37 miles. River water is then unusable for rice cultivation, so many farmers switch to shrimp farming.
The historic drought in 2016 meant a difficult rice harvest. The future of rice cultivation seems increasingly uncertain since dam construction upstream in China has caused the Mekong river water levels to go down. The Mekong River water levels might become insufficient to support agricultural activities in the region. This is important to farmers and consumers in Vietnam, of course, but it also impacts many other people since Vietnam is the world’s third-largest rice producer.
Vietnam no longer makes headlines for conflicts or deep poverty. The country is doing well economically — poverty rates have gone down significantly since markets were opened in the 1980s. What is less often noted in Vietnam’s success story is that this post-war growth was spurred and supported by development assistance. Programs sponsored and implemented by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and U.S. government entities such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) covered a broad spectrum, ranging from boosting economic growth to health and education.
Even with a strong economy, and even though poverty has largely been eradicated in most parts of the country, Vietnam still has malnutrition, poverty, and starvation. The escalation of natural disasters as a result of climate change and other new challenges are moving Vietnam’s goals of ending hunger and extreme poverty increasingly out of reach.
It is incredible to me that in these changing times and circumstances, the partnership between the United States and Vietnam is still very much alive, with much goodwill. Moving beyond economic growth-focused programs, USAID has supported multiple programs aimed at limiting the damage from climate change and building resilience in both rural agricultural areas and urban centers to ensure that progress will not be reversed.
The Climate Resilient and Sustainable Urban Development Program (2015-2019) helps cities improve their policy frameworks for more sustainable urban development. The USAID Green Annamites Project (2016-2020) aims to increase resilience for vulnerable communities in Central Vietnam and protects the environment and biodiversity of Vietnam’s forests. The Vietnam Forests and Deltas Program (2012-2018) focuses on building resilience in the Red River and Mekong Deltas as well as in other agricultural landscapes. Other development assistance programs include clean energy strategies and projects to develop a path toward green, low-emission, and sustainable economic development.
All of these programs, sponsored by USAID, join many others in working to mitigate the effects of climate change on food security and protect the progress of development. They also protect the legacy of decades of hard work by both the Vietnamese people and the nations that have helped us, especially the United States.
As Mark Green, the newly appointed administrator of USAID, stated during his confirmation hearing, the end goal of foreign assistance is to reach the day when aid can end. But the proposals and overall trend of cutting resources for foreign assistance curbing funds for critical programs. Such cuts, along with resistance to the idea of global cooperation, will push back the dates when many of these programs reach their goals and come to an end.
Advocacy on Capitol Hill for continuous long-term funding of international development programs, especially the ones that deal with climate change, matters greatly to all the farmers and other citizens of Vietnam who are and will be affected by natural disasters, rising sea levels, and other effects of climate change.
Anh Minh Ta was a summer government relations intern at Bread for the World.
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