Washington Was Down but Hunger Advocates in Illinois Were Not
Bread for the World regional organizer Zachary Schmidt (far left) meeting with Chicago pastors and community leaders to organize a call-in day targeting Sen. Dick Durbin. (Photo courtesy of David Swanson).
By Zach Schmidt
Congressional offices in Washington, D.C., shut down on Tuesday, Oct. 30, due to Hurricane Sandy, but that didn't stop hunger advocates in Illinois from pulling off a successful call-in day targeting Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
With our thoughts and prayers with those who lost loved ones to the ravages of Sandy, Illinoisans worked doubly hard to preserve the circle of protection that helps so many, both at home and abroad. Many activists placed not one, but two calls that day, making the effort to reach Sen. Durbin's district office in Chicago—which was open and operating last week—after learning that his D.C. office was closed.
Those who follow Bread for the World's issues may wonder why we focused energy on Sen. Durbin, one of the strongest champions for hungry and poor people in Congress. The answer is simple: to encourage him to “keep it up” in these turbulent times. When it comes to finding a way forward for our nation, everything is on the table, from spending cuts (including cuts to vital safety net programs) to tax increases. On Capitol Hill, there is great pressure to come to a budget agreement—any agreement—especially for Sen. Durbin, who is in a position of leadership. But we in Illinois say, “not on the backs of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
We Illinoisans say, “Senator Durbin, thank you for protecting poor and hungry people. As a leader in the Senate and with the 'Gang of Eight,' the bipartisan group of senators working on a framework that will address our nation’s deficit. Continue to push your colleagues to protect programs such as SNAP, WIC, and tax credits in the U.S., and poverty-focused assistance abroad. We support you as you do this.”The successful call-in day started as a distant idea that steadily built momentum and force through the joint effort of Bread members and faith and community leaders. Bread's regional organizing team got to know community leaders and pastors on Chicago’s South Side and in the city’s western suburbs. These leaders know that the church is called to serve the broken both by meeting their needs and by advocating for them. They shared stories of people in need, and those stories motivated us and moved us forward together.
We asked the leaders for personal endorsements of our action, and we asked them to go beyond forwarding the email to everyone they know (although we welcomed that, too). We asked these respected leaders to personally invite two to three people—people they were confident would follow through—to make calls. Some pastors went a step further and encouraged their own people to tangibly commit to making a call and to letting them know afterward that they had done so. They got their people to move, as only pastors can, and our effort grew stronger still.
We scheduled a conference call with leaders across the state of Illinois on Monday, Oct. 29, which led to a revised goal of 125 calls. We also used that time to share a legislative update, explain the importance of messaging Sen. Durbin, and rally participants for the call-in day. We asked if those on the conference call would make a call, and we asked them to share with the group the names of the two or three people they would personally invite to make a call. Many did.
Then we simply followed up, checked in with them on call-in day, and supported these leaders and pastors in reaching their own goals and our shared goal.
The result? 167 logged phone calls to Sen. Durbin’s office, and a clear picture of who the key leaders are, old and new, who delivered the bulk of these calls.
By God’s grace, our action lifted up the real concern to protect poor and hungry people and planted that concern at the senator’s feet. May he, and may we all, be lifted up, turned around and carried along by this powerful force.
Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.
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