602 posts categorized "Advocacy"
By Zach Schmidt
In mid-February, a dozen clergy from Chicago’s North Shore and South Side began signing and circulating a letter calling on Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to reinstate emergency unemployment compensation (EUC), which expired last December. Sen. Kirk had previously voted “no” twice, even though Illinois struggles with the third highest unemployment rate in the nation (8.9 percent). A group of clergy—led by Rabbi Ike Serotta of Lakeside Congregation in Highland Park (Sen. Kirk’s hometown) and Rev. Brian Roots of Christ United Methodist in Deerfield—have also asked for a meeting, so that they can tell Sen. Kirk in person why his vote is important to them. We will continue pushing for this meeting.
One month later, our list of religious leaders has grown tenfold, and Sen. Kirk has put his name on a bipartisan bill to extend EUC! We are excited about this victory, and we thank Sens. Kirk and Durbin for working together to help craft a short-term compromise that will bring relief to the more than 120,000 Illinoisans (and 2 million Americans) who have been cut off from this vital assistance.
But our work is not finished! The Senate is on recess next week, and the bill will not receive a vote until after the Senate is back in session on March 24, so we need to continue calling on Sen. Kirk to vote “yes” until it happens. Plus, this is a retroactive, five-month bill, so our long-term unemployed neighbors will again face an expiration of emergency assistance at the end of May. We also need to encourage our U.S. representatives to extend EUC, as the House will consider the issue once it passes the Senate.
There are still three job seekers for every job available in the United States, and until the economic recovery truly reaches our neighbors, we will continue calling on Sen. Kirk to support EUC—for the good of our communities and for the good of Illinois.
If you are a religious leader in Illinois, please sign and share our letter.
Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.
As Bread for the World begins its 40th anniversary year, a host of treasured memories come flooding to my mind. Let me share a few of them with you:
The church and the people in the poverty-stricken neighborhood in New York City that became the birthplace of Bread for the World [Trinity Lutheran Church on the Lower East Side].
Our awareness in those early days that providing emergency assistance, though essential, did not get at the underlying causes of hunger and poverty.
The discovery that almost nothing was being done to challenge Christians as citizens to use their influence on members of Congress for national action against hunger.
The group of faithful Christians (seven Catholics and seven Protestants) who served as an informal "think tank" to explore the idea of a "citizens lobby" against hunger.
All of these things led us to our vision of a faith-based, politically nonpartisan movement that might mobilize people in every state and congressional district to serve as an outcry for action by Congress on specific measures to reduce hunger here and abroad. From the start, we made the decision to anchor our work in the Gospel of God’s providential care and saving love in Jesus. And we decided to help people link their faith in Christ with our stewardship as citizens in order to obtain justice for hungry people.
It seemed a simple and obvious way of following Jesus. But it also seemed a gamble. Would it work? Some told me it would not work, that Christians are wedded to direct aid only. They said a response that moves into the political arena would press a button too hot to touch. Stick to Band-Aids, they advised.
We prayed for wisdom and invited God's blessing, then decided to launch Bread for the World nationally. We were full of hope but also prepared for possible failure. To our astonishment, an initial mailing brought in several thousand members, and Bread for the World was off and running.
Our first major initiative, a Right to Food Resolution, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Republican Mark Hatfield (Ore.) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democrat Don Fraser (Minn.). At first, no one paid any attention. Then folks like you began to write, and churches across the country joined the campaign. Members of Congress began hearing from their own voters—first a few letters, then dozens, then hundreds. The Right to Food became a lively issue that attracted the support of religious leaders and the press. And after vigorous debate, Congress passed it.
The campaign for the Right to Food brought us thousands of new members and showed that a relatively small number of citizens could wield influence way out of proportion to our numbers — and get Congress to take action against hunger.
Forty years later, Bread for the World members are still at it. Thanks to you, our efforts to end hunger have been blessed beyond measure. And again thanks to you, Bread for the World’s future looks even more promising.
Rev. Arthur Simon is the founder and president emeritus of Bread for the World.
Celebrate Bread's anniversary with us!Plan to join us June 9 to 10 in Washington, D.C., to celebrate our 40 years of working together to end hunger. There will be a 40th anniversary dinner on Monday evening, June 9, and our annual Lobby Day on June 10. More details will be provided at www.bread.org/40 as they become available.
Photo: Matt Newell-Ching
By Zach Schmidt
More than 100 religious leaders from the North Shore and elsewhere in the Chicago area have sent a letter to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), calling on him to help families struggling with unemployment. The clergy have asked Sen. Kirk to support the extension of emergency unemployment compensation (EUC), a federal program that provides unemployment aid after state benefits have been exhausted. This aid helps families pay bills and put food on the table, while they seek work in a difficult job market. EUC expired last December, and Congress has so far been unable to reinstate it, causing more than 2 million people to lose this vital assistance, including more than 110,000 from Illinois.
Sen. Kirk has twice voted against reinstating EUC, even though the unemployment rate in Illinois is 8.9 percent—the third highest in the nation. The last vote, which happened in February, fell one vote short of passage. Sen. Kirk’s “no” is widely seen as decisive in killing that bill, and he will hold the key vote when the Senate again considers the bill, which may be as early as next week. [Update, 3/13: On March 13, Sen. Kirk added his name to a bipartisan bill to restore EUC. This issue will remain important in the weeks ahead, and we are still gathering signatures.]
Clergy in Illinois: to add your signature, please send your title, name, congregation, and email address to Zach Schmidt at email@example.com.
The letter and signatures follow.
"Hope" is one of the photos featured in a Camden, N.J. Witnesses to Hunger exhibit held at a local gallery on Sept. 19, 2013. Of the work, photographer and Witnesses advocate Nia T writes, "'Hunger lives here and so does hope.' I like that saying. That’s something. That’s deep. It means that they’re helping. They’re helping the environment. They’re helping the community." (Photo by Nia T/Witnesses to Hunger)
Denver resident Robin Dickinson and her family rely on two main sources for food: their garden and their SNAP benefits. In November, when across-the-board cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program took effect, Dickinson also saw her garden's yield diminish because of frost. Dickinson took a picture of one of her withered tomato plants; the shot is included in the photo project "Hunger Through My Lens," sponsored by Hunger Free Colorado.
"It seemed especially cruel that SNAP benefits were cut at the same time winter frost killed off the last of our tomatoes," Dickinson wrote in the photo’s caption.
The "Hunger Through My Lens" project gives cameras to SNAP recipients and asks them to document their experiences with hunger. The photos drive home the importance of anti-hunger efforts in ways that statistics often can't: it's one thing to hear about food deserts, but quite another to see one woman's photo collage of beautiful bananas in a grocery store in an affluent neighborhood juxtaposed with bruised, expensive produce at a corner bodega. "Hunger Through My Lens" has received quite a bit of media attention lately, but it isn't the first program of its kind.
Barbie Izquierdo, whose story was featured in the documentary A Place at the Table and Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters, became engaged in anti-hunger work through Drexel University’s Witnesses to Hunger program. Izquierdo was given a cell phone with a camera, and asked to document her life through photos of the hunger and poverty in her Philadelphia neighborhood. Izquierdo is a nationally recognized speaker on hunger, lobbies on Capitol Hill in support of anti-hunger programs, and has reached millions through her documentary appearance, but her path to advocacy started, in part, with those photos.
Last year, at a time when the SNAP program was facing especially devastating cuts, the Witnesses program in Camden, N.J., held a gallery show to display some of the photographs taken by project participants. Bread for the World organizer Larry Hollar wrote about the participatory advocacy project and the photos on display, and how they conveyed not defeat at that crucial time, but hope for a world without hunger.
This month, in observance of National Nutrition Month, Feeding America is calling on people to show their support for nutrition through photography—it's holding a Photo-A-Day challenge. Feeding America is asking participants to snap a pic each day, based on a different words or phrase ("hungry," "fresh," "on a budget") and share those photos on social media sites. It's yet another way for people who care about ending hunger and malnutrition—and, in some cases, are dealing with hunger and malnutrition themselves—to use the power of the lens to bring attention to these important issues.
Lynne Hybels listens as Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy speaks during the "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" panel discussion at the 2014 Justice Conference in Los Angeles, Calif., on Feb. 21. (Robin Stephenson)
Once you have seen injustice in the world, it cannot be unseen. You want to do something – but what? How can we work toward restorative justice in our communities, our nation, and our world?
Restoration of God’s vision of the world as it should be, as opposed to how the world is, was a theme of this year’s Justice Conference, which took place in Los Angeles last week. Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy, interim director of church relations at Bread for the World, participated in the panel "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" with teacher and advocate Belinda Bauman, Willow Creek Community Church co-founder and Ten for Congo founder Lynne Hybels, Kilns College vice president of development Melissa McCreery, and moderator Chelsie Frank.
The road to advocacy had different on-ramps for each of the women. For Vaillancourt-Murphy it began by living and working with migrant workers in Oregon after finishing college. Frustrated with a system that prevented people from flourishing, she needed to do something. Biblical examples of advocates like Nehemiah and Ruth pointed her toward Bread for the World, and the need to address root causes of injustice. “When we connect our story and God’s story, the world transforms,” Vaillancourt-Murphy said.
McCreery used her training as an educator as her foothold in justice work. The response to injustice is often driven by emotion, but she pointed out that injustices also have political, cultural, and even economic roots that must be considered. A holistic approach is vital to avoiding burnout. “We need to educate people to be successful leaders, so they don’t spin their wheels around the emotional context,” McCreery said.
Bauman's journey to advocacy began with a sputtering engine. “The pothole I fell into,” she told the audience, “was because I was waiting for someone to give me permission.” She emphasized that once you have found something you are deeply passionate about, finding good resources and educating yourself is your responsibility. The moral of her story is that persistence pays off. “Failure is one of our greatest assets and we learn from it,” she said. Bauman encouraged new advocates to keep moving forward in their roles as citizens, and said they must push through fear to change the world. “Capitol Hill feels like Kansas, but you begin,” she said.
When Frank asked the panel how an advocate without a position in an organization could begin, Hybels turned to Vaillancourt-Murphy and said, “That is why I’m grateful for Krisanne and Bread for the World. They make it easy.” Hybels said her view of the church’s role as praying and building awareness expanded to include advocacy once she saw that transforming unjust systems required changes at the policy level. “The first thing I did was I got on the computer, found my representative and my senators, and emailed them," said Hybels. "They just need to know.”
Searching for a foothold in transformational advocacy can feel lonely for the new faithful advocate, but Bauman offered a piece of advice for them: find others who are passionate at the soul level and, “stir each other up to good works.” The most important thing, she advised, is to “fearlessly, courageously, humbly, and intelligently begin.”
Have you ever considered making letter writing a spiritual practice? In this age of electronic communication through emails and texting, a letter written the old-fashioned way—by hand—can make a big difference in a person’s life and actually make your message stand out amid modern-day chatter.
Letters can comfort the grieving, embrace the lonely, uplift the discouraged, and carry love across the globe. A letter can also affect the lives of people you may not even know. Writing to your policy makers in Washington, D.C., can influence the decisions they make—decisions that affect millions of people both here at home and around the world.
Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid," aims to help millions of hungry people overseas. With smart changes to the ways our federal government uses the money we already spend on food aid, we can assist millions more who are refugees, survivors of disasters, or living in a cycle of chronic poverty.
Use the sample letter below as a model for your own letter, and visit the Offering of Letters website to find out more about how you can invite others in your faith community to raise their voices with thousands of Christians around the country on this issue. Take 15 minutes today to write, and think about what it might mean to make writing letters a part of your spiritual life.
Billy Kangas is Bread for the World's Catholic Relations fellow.
Photo: Participants in an Offering of Letter at Woodridge UMC in Woodridge, Ill., on April 28, 2013 (Photo by Christine Darfler, courtesy of Pastor Dave Buerstetta)
It’s no secret the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP, or food stamps) has been dealt a series of crushing blows over the last several months. We’ve seen unprecedented cuts to the program, including an $11 billion cut that took effect on Nov. 1, and impacted more than 47 million Americans. Earlier this month, an additional $8.6 billion cut to SNAP included in the farm bill was signed into law. As a result, 850,000 SNAP households in 15 states and the District of Columbia will see their benefits cut by about $90 a month.
Let’s not mince words—these cuts will have dire consequences for millions of hungry Americans. They will affect people like Nadine Blackwell, a disabled former nurse who dedicated years of her life to helping others. She now relies on SNAP and other safety net programs in her time of need. Faced with deep cuts to her SNAP benefits, Nadine may be able to turn to friends, neighbors, and food pantries for some additional help, but churches and charities are struggling to fill the gaps in most families’ grocery budgets. (Watch Nadine’s story)
With a farm bill signed into law, Bread for the World members have asked us for next steps regarding SNAP. If the last several months offer any indication, attacks against SNAP will continue. The farm bill fight may be finished, but our work to protect and strengthen the program is far from over. Although we are tired and frustrated, we cannot let our feelings of disappointment become feelings of defeat. We must tell Congress that enough is enough, and redouble our efforts to fight any additional cuts to the program.
The SNAP cuts in the farm bill are a huge blow to those families who will see their food budgets shrink, but our voices have made, and will continue to make, a difference.
Faithful advocates successfully blocked harmful provisions that would’ve lead to millions of people not just experiencing cuts to their benefits, but losing them altogether. We stopped policy changes at the federal level that would have banned convicted felons from the program for life (a move that would’ve affected millions of children in the process), punished people for not finding work in a tough economy, and allowed states to drug test every applicant. Those provisions, if enacted, would’ve affected people like Nate, a young father in Ohio who is working hard to provide for his baby daughter. For Nate, a returning citizen who has had trouble finding work, SNAP has been a vital lifeline, allowing him to feed and care for his daughter as he gets back on his feet. (Watch Nate’s story)
We could see more votes to cut SNAP in the coming months; the program will likely remain at the center of a bitter congressional tug-of-war. But advocates must continue to bust myths about SNAP and spread the message that it helps children and struggling families eat. In a nation that has more than enough food to go around, no one should have to go hungry because Congress wants to find budget savings.
With so many families seeing their SNAP benefits reduced, our work to protect other anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs takes on even greater importance— protecting WIC, school meals, and tax credits, and reinstating emergency unemployment insurance will be crucial to making sure that families reeling from the SNAP cuts don’t fall deeper into poverty as a result.
And we will continue to tell members of Congress that they must protect SNAP. Families struggling to put food on the table must be our lawmakers’ top priority. Enough is enough.
Children in the Sunday school at Erwin First United Methodist Church in Syracuse, N.Y., wrote letters to President Obama about ending hunger as part of the congregation’s participation in the 2013 Offering of Letters.
As we enter a new Offering of Letters season, Bread for the World organizers are often asked, "How do I get started with the Offering of Letters?" Organizing a letter-writing event to urge our leaders to help hungry people around the world is easier than many think. Here are two examples of congregations that conducted their first letter-writing events in 2013 and how they got involved in that important first advocacy step.
Deacon Grace Marable of Bethel Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia has been a long-time activist and church leader. Illness prevents her from pursuing paid employment, so her volunteer work is her passion — one she shares with three generations of family members, including four-year-old great-grandson Devin.
Several years ago, the hunger action leader in Philadelphia’s presbytery introduced Marable to Bread for the World. She realized that advocacy, along with a strengthened food cupboard at her church, was a key response to hunger and that the two could be linked in creative ways.
Marable attended an Offering of Letters workshop last April in downtown Philadelphia and vowed that 2013 was the year that she would organize an offering among the recipients and volunteers at her church’s weekly food cupboard. She tailored the sample letter to each group and got an enthusiastic response from all who participated. One pantry recipient even returned after finishing his letters and asked, "Are there more letters to write?"
After the offering, Marable gathered all of the letters, got in her car, and drove to Washington, D.C., to give the letters to other Pennsylvanians attending Bread's 2013 National Gathering last June. She asked them to hand-deliver the letters to members of Congress during Bread's annual Lobby Day that week. After some time had passed, Marable had a pantry recipient excitedly run up to her, waving the response she had received from one of her senators. The woman was undeterred that the senator was not supportive. She was actually proud to have taken part and eager to do more.
Since becoming an active part of Bread, Marable speaks about hunger and justice advocacy each Sunday in worship and with the church’s women’s group, which she helps lead. Members of her church often remark that she has “found her voice.”
Sometimes "outside voices" draw advocates to Bread. Rev. Karen Bellimer, minister of music at Erwin First United Methodist Church in Syracuse, N.Y., says she and her husband first learned about Bread when they saw Jon Stewart interview the producers of the hunger documentary A Place at the Table on The Daily Show.
Moved by what she heard, Bellimer ordered the video and showed it twice — in a local theater and later at her church. With that grounding, in May 2013 she organized the church’s first Offering of Letters, building on its existing food pantry outreach and engaging children and adults alike. Children in the Sunday school at Erwin First United Methodist Church wrote letters to Obama about ending hunger as part of the congregation’s participation in the 2013 Offering of Letters. During worship, one family in the congregation shared that its members receive federal food assistance through SNAP (formerly food stamps), and they talked about their own journey with hunger, sparking a good conversation in worship. Now, the Erwin church has pledged to make hunger and advocacy a key part of its ministry.
These are just two examples of creative ways to take that first key step toward advocacy in your church or campus. Contact your Bread for the World regional organizer for more suggestions and resources to deepen your connection to Bread and the 2014 Offering of Letters campaign. Thousands of other hunger activists in churches and on campuses across the country have found their voices through Bread, and you can too.
(Left to right) Amanda Wojcinski, Wynn Horton, Moeun Sun, Aminata Kanu, Rebecca Lang, and Robert Mauger, students at Houghton College in upstate New York, navigate Capitol Hill during Lobby Day on June 11, 2013. The students met with their senators and representative and urged them to preserve funding for food assistance in the farm bill (Eric Bond).
By Shirley A. Mullen
It is not difficult to attract Christian college students to advocacy. They are on the lookout for causes to believe in. Most of them are idealists. They believe the solutions just can’t be all that complicated.
For some, advocacy is like a onetime cross-cultural experience, which takes them temporarily into an exotic world of the "other" but that leaves them virtually unchanged. They know it is a good thing to do, but they do not intend to be an advocate.
For some, advocacy is another way of "coming of age." It is a way of demarcating themselves from their own history, of making a statement in their own voice, apart from their parents' faith or political beliefs. But, in the end, it is all about them and not about those for whom they are speaking.
For some, advocacy is a way of exerting their gifts of persuasion and organization to come out on top. Yes, it is all for a good cause. But the main thing is the winning. It is all about being "right" and proving that to the rest of the world.
Describing these forms of advocacy in no way discounts their potential for good. Sometimes things turn out much better than we planned for or expected. Imperfect people can be agents in accomplishing very good things in the world. More often than not, however, our efforts do not yield what we had hoped, at least not in the short run. Far too often, well-intentioned and hardworking people do not see the results commensurate with their efforts.
God calls us to be advocates for life — not for a season. As believers, we are to be there for the "stranger" (Deuteronomy 15), for the "widow and orphan" (James), for those who "are in prison, naked, and hungry" (Matthew 25:35). The challenge for college students, and for each of us, is to allow advocacy to become a way of life and not a one-time experience that inoculates us against a lifetime of truly seeing the needs speaking faithfully for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Advocacy is tiring work. Results are not immediate. The work is never done. Even with occasional dramatic victories, changing the law is a long way from changing culture or changing hearts.
Sustained faithfulness in advocacy must be grounded in a larger life of discipline, humility, and Christian hope if it is to endure for the long haul. We are sometimes called to invest our lives in causes that seem to go nowhere, because it is the right thing to do, because the tapestry of history is longer in the making than our short lives, and because we know that nothing is wasted in God's economy.
God offers to work through us, finite and broken as we are, in his redemptive plans and purposes in this world.
Sam Daley-Harris knows quite a bit about using advocacy to effect social change. He is the founder of the anti-poverty nonprofit RESULTS, the organization's Microcredit Summit Campaign, and the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation—as well as a longtime Bread for the World member. Daley-Harris is also the author of Reclaiming Our Democracy, in which he offers ordinary citizens strategies to become powerful advocates. He recently released the 20th-anniversary edition of his book, which issues a challenge to organizations to provide a deeper level of empowerment to their members.
"There needs to be an understanding on how to coach volunteers to go deeper with their advocacy," he says. "I spent the first 31 years of my life like most people — hopeless about solving big problems. I got involved in [California anti-hunger nonprofit] the Hunger Project in 1977 and met my member of Congress, the late Bill Lehman (D-Fla.) about a year later. He’s the one who told me about Bread and urged me to join."
Daley-Harris says he "cut his teeth" at Bread for the World, where he was introduced to advocacy work, then went on to found RESULTS in 1980, and wrote the first edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy in 1993, based on what he'd learned about grassroots activism. The updated version of the book still focuses on strengthening advocacy efforts but includes new information on using current technologies and social media in advocacy work. Daley-Harris says that although social media has expanded advocacy efforts in many ways, it's still important for nonprofits to offer their volunteers a way to engage that goes beyond a mouse click. Namely, organizations must offer their activists "a deep curriculum and rich support" — in other words, prepare advocates with useful information and offer them help in engaging with their elected officials.
He says the Bread model of not just asking advocates to sign an online petition or send a form email, but encouraging them to contact members of Congress through personal letters, phone calls, and in-person meetings — as well as writing letters to the editors of local papers — is key to "creating champions in Congress and in the media."
"If someone is in an organization that does significant online 'mouse-click advocacy,' I’m not saying to stop that," he says. "I'm just saying that if you have a million members, or half a million members, or 100,000 members, or 50,000 members, there's a small percentage of your members who want to go much deeper than that. And if you allow them to do that, major change is possible. [Those are the things] that get to the root of changing a member of Congress' position and really dealing with things like climate change and global poverty, which are systemic issues."
Letters to the editor, in particular, Daley-Harris says, are a tool that many organizations are no longer emphasizing, even though they are still incredibly effective. "Are newspapers struggling? Yes. Are they cutting back on the number of their editorial writers? Yes," he says. "But when I wake up in the morning, the first thing that I do, I wake up and I read my emails, I read Google news, and I read the New York Times online. I think we all still go to the newspaper — we just might not go to the front yard to pick it up." (See Bread's guide to writing a successful letter to the editor.)
Finally, Daley-Harris says, he learned from his time at RESULTS and his early work with Bread that advocates are capable of, and want to do, a tremendous amount of work for worthy causes. Too many organizations are afraid of giving their grassroots too much to do, but there will always be a core group who wants to do more, not less. "People really want to make a bigger difference," he says.
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