Persistence Pays Off in Advocating for Poor and Hungry People
Bread members in Ohio are still working to set-up a formal meeting with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), but they snapped a picture with the senator (center) after a meeting with one of his staffers during Bread for the World's 2012 Lobby Day. (Photo courtesy of Jon Gromek)
By Jon Gromek
When I started my career as an organizer, one the first lessons I learned was in the value of persistence in building a good public relationship. I remember talking to a pastor with whom I had been working for many months, and introducing him to the ministry of the organization I was with at the time. He was generally supportive but reluctant—doubtful it would fit prominently into the already busy life of his church. It was an important church in the community so I persisted, talking with the pastor every couple of months, sending him articles related to our conversations that I thought he might find interesting, and inviting him and other members to meetings.
Eventually, my work paid off—not only did the congregation become one of the strongest and most active churches involved, but the pastor even took on a leadership position within the organization. Much later I asked him what changed his mind and he admitted it was my persistence and the trust we built. He knew that because I persisted that it must have been important and worth his time.
About a month ago, Bread for the World members and other circle of protection allies gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio, to meet with staffers of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) at Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church. There was an impressive showing of clergy and faith leaders from almost every major denomination (including Bread for the World president David Beckmann).
The group shared some truly powerful stories of feeding programs and ministries at work in Ohio, and of members who struggled despite the best efforts of the church to provide support. The staff person was very gracious and listened intently. Then Rev. Beckmann politely interrupted and asked a pointed question: "If this is important to the senator, why is it that we’ve never been able to get a meeting with Senator Portman or his senior staff ?" Beckmann pointed out the strength and broad diversity of the group present, no doubt representing millions of Ohio Christians, all coming together for a single purpose. It wasn’t that the issue wasn’t important, the staffer said, but because so many important groups were jockeying for their time and attention, they just couldn’t meet every request.
We know in our work and ministry at Bread for the World that merit is not enough to win victory for poor and hungry people. Moving our elected officials to do the right thing takes persistent effort. It means following up with Senator Portman’s state director with a tour at the local St. Vincent De Paul Society, to give an in-person look at the reality of hunger and poverty.
And it means having dozens and dozens Ohioans call the office of Sen. Rob Portman on Monday Nov. 26 at 800-826-3688 to tell him that we want to see a bipartisan plan to address our deficits, one that explicitly forms a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people (including SNAP, WIC, the EITC, and poverty-focused development assistance).
It means being persistent and balancing the fierce urgency of the here and now with the long view that we are building the Kingdom of God.
Jon Gromek is a Bread for World regional organizer in the central hub, which includes Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan.
Action: Ohio Bread members, please be sure to call the office of Sen. Rob Portman this Monday, Nov. 26, and tell him that you want to see a bipartisan plan that addresses our deficits without balancing the federal budget on the backs of poor and hungry people. You can reach Sen. Portman's office at: 800-826-3688
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