139 posts categorized "Organizing"
By Brittany Gray
A Free Marissa Now caravan traveling from Oakland, Calif., arrived in Jackson, Miss., on January 23, 2015. I joined over 70 students, community, and faith leaders to participate in a teach-in to learn more about the incarceration of Marissa Alexander and her case.
The mobilization movement aims to bring attention to incarceration, domestic violence, and is calling for Alexander’s immediate release.
At Bread for the World, we view mass incarceration through the lens of hunger. The practice of mass incarceration – imprisonment of citizens at record levels – traps individuals and whole communities in cycles of hunger and poverty.
Alexander is an African-American woman and mother from Jacksonville, Fla., who was a victim of domestic violence. During a life-threatening beating from her estranged partner, she fired a warning shot - injuring no one - in her attempt to defend herself. Alexander was arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. Sentenced to 20 years in jail, Alexander won an appeal after being incarcerated for 1,000 days. After her release, the state of Florida decided to prosecute her again.
Organizers of the Free Marissa Now caravan shared the background and status of Alexander’s case during the teach-in. They also presented the context within which Marissa’s case exists. The issue of mass incarceration is complex. It touches on the issues of racism, sexism, and the development of the prison industrial complex.
The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world. State and federal governments spend an estimated $74 billion a year on corrections. And communities of color experience higher rates of incarceration. For example, in Mississippi, while blacks make up 37 percent of the population, they represent 57 percent of incarcerated individuals.
When parents are incarcerated, children suffer the consequences. Children in Mississippi are already living precarious lives. During the teach-in, I shared the fact that nearly 1 in 3 children lived in households that lacked access to adequate food in 2012 and nearly 2 in 5 children relied on SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits to meet their nutritional needs on an average month.
For single mothers like Alexander, serving time in prison and the economic difficulties that follow an individual back to their community is especially hard on families. Even more worrisome is the fact that the number of incarcerated women is growing. Andrea James, who experienced incarceration, talks about the impact of incarceration on children in the 2015 Hunger Report.
Local events, like Free Marissa Now, help to educate communities about the social injustice surrounding incarceration. The conversations led to the creation of a local working group around the issue of mass incarceration, and served as a reminder that this is a major problem in communities of color and beyond. People of faith must begin to work locally to promote awareness surrounding systemic issues such as mass incarceration that plague our communities each and every day.
Bread plans to continue its own work around the issue of incarceration – highlighting whenever possible its impact on hunger and poverty. Keep following the Bread Blog for updates.
Brittany Gray is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.
By Jon Gromek
We live in a country where nearly 16 million children (1 in 5) live in homes that struggle to put food on the table. This year, Congress will debate the funding and policies for the programs that feed our children and nourish the minds and bodies of our brightest future. We will hear a great deal of facts and figures, statistics, and the minutiae of policies and programs. As important as these things are to the debate, one of the most important aspects in this national discussion is YOUR VOICE.
The decisions made this year will affect the health and well-being of mothers and children for years to come. Last week, Bread for the World officially launched its 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children, which means it’s time for Bread members across the country to start writing letters to their members of Congress! The Offering of Letters kit is a great resource for people everywhere to engage in advocacy and raise their Christian voice. Some of the most effective tools are the videos produced for the 2015 Offering of Letters campaign.
Be sure to watch the “Lunch ‘n’ Learn: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs,” video and also the 60-second trailer. Share them with a friend, or show them in preparation for a congregation-wide Offering of Letters. Use the videos as a tool to engage and educate people in your congregation or community. Share them with friends and your congregation on Facebook. Post them on blogs. Show them during a Sunday school class, and invite reflection and discussion afterward. The videos not only put the issue of hunger in context, but also help put a face to what we are fighting for and the children who struggle with hunger every day.
Through these short videos you can meet Barbie Izquierdo and her children, Aidan and Leylanie, a Philadelphia family that has benefited from child nutrition programs; hear from staff at elementary and high schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland who speak first-hand about the importance of investing in our children’s growth, development, and education. Use the stories as inspiration to go out into your own community to meet and talk with students and educators who live these programs. They are representative of families and community members in every corner of our country, and they are the reason to write, call, email, and visit your congressional leaders and tell them to “feed our children.”
Jon Gromek is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.
KIVU Gap Year students Caroline Barry, left, and Margaret Kuester, center, visit the office of U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA-11). Jared Noetzel, right, evangelical engagement fellow at Bread, sits in the meeting. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.
By Jennifer Gonzalez
Roughly 20 college-bound high school graduates visited Bread for the World’s offices last week to learn about Bread’s work and how they can become advocates to end hunger by 2030.
The students’ visit is part of their 8-month “gap year” experience facilitated by faith-based KIVU Gap Year. A “gap year” is when students take a year off school in between high school and college (typically deferring college enrollment) to explore their educational and life goals before starting college.
Part of the students’ experience at Bread was learning about our advocacy work. Before heading out to Capitol Hill to speak with their members of Congress, the students received a tutorial of sorts about Bread’s advocacy goals, especially the child nutrition reauthorization bill, and how to speak with legislators.
The bill is set to expire this year, and Bread plans to work vigorously to ensure its reauthorization. In fact, this year’s Offering of Letters focuses on the importance of child nutrition.
“Having student groups like Kivu Gap Year visit Bread is a great opportunity for young people to learn about living out their faith through advocacy,” said Christine Melendez Ashley, senior policy analyst at Bread. “They get to put that into practice by going to visit their members of Congress. We help empower them to be a voice for the voiceless, in this case, for kids at risk of hunger.”
Maggie Parsley, 18, from Columbus, Ohio, said she found her visit to Bread both informative and inspiring. She got to visit with aides from the offices of Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) and speak with them about the importance of child nutrition.
Parsley said she hopes the “gap year” experience will give her an opportunity to figure out her life’s passion and be better prepared for college. “For me, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do [after high school],” she said. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go.”
KIVU’s gap year is divided into two components: domestic and international. Students spend the first half of their “gap year” doing a domestic internship. Parsley did hers at a refugee resettlement center in Denver, Col. On Saturday, the students left to go overseas to begin their international internships in countries such as Rwanda, Philippines, Tanzania and Israel.
For some students, the opportunity to grow closer to God and deepen their faith was central to their decision to join KIVU’s gap year experience. “I believe God was calling me to do this,” said Courtney Lashar, 19, of Norman, Okla. Lasher spent her domestic internship at Sox Place - a daytime youth drop-in center in Denver, Colo.
In fact, Lashar’s meeting with Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-4) turned from a political encounter to a spiritual one when prayer was recited at the end of their meeting - first by Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy, who leads national evangelical church relations at Bread, and then by the congressman himself. “He wanted to pray for us. For our trip and what we were doing as part of KIVU,” Lashar said. “It was an amazing thing to see.”
Jared Noetzel, evangelical engagement fellow at Bread, said that advocacy should be part of Christian discipleship, and that these young people get that. "They are ready not only to take their faith seriously, but to turn it into action. Their choice to advocate for the marginalized in society represents the best of our shared, Christian social ethic."
Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World.
This week, faithful advocacy won out over special interests in a modern-day David and Goliath story. Using messages of faith as virtual slingshots aimed at Congress, Bread members across the country told lawmakers to prioritize food for hungry people over profit for shipping conglomerates - and they listened.
This week, in the final days of the 113th Congress, lawmakers passed a bill funding the Coast Guard for 2015 that rolled back proposals to increase subsidies to the world’s largest shipping companies to ship U.S. food aid.
Last spring, a provision was quietly slipped into a Coast Guard bill that the House passed, which called for an increase in the amount of food aid required to be shipped on U.S. vessels.
Bread advocates with the help of Bread organizers responded quickly by targeting key members on the Senate Commerce Committee, the committee that considered the legislation next.
Jon Gromek, a Bread regional organizer whose territory includes West Virginia, supported advocates as they engaged with Sen. Jay Rockefeller. He chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. Committee chairs are important advocacy targets because they are also the gatekeepers that can either allow or prevent bills from moving forward. West Virginia advocates made it clear to Sen. Rockefeller that feeding people was a moral issue.
“Nuns called Senator Rockefeller, echoing the call of faith leaders across the state who wrote to him on food aid reform,” Gromek said.
In Indiana, another member of the Commerce Committee heard from anti-hunger advocates. “Bread activists spent two hours on a Thursday morning before a critical committee vote to ensure Senator Dan Coats voted by proxy,” Gromek said. “His vote was a critical swing ‘yea’ to positively advance food-aid reform.”
Advocates also spoke up on the other side of the country. David Gist, who organizes in California, said persistence and teamwork was key to their efforts.
“The Bay Area Bread team lobbied Sen. Barbara Boxer to the point that Senate staffers became as adept as Bread members at articulating our talking points,” Gist said. Sen. Boxer is also a member of the Commerce Committee.
“A number of churches, unable to confirm local lobby meetings, chose to hand deliver their Offerings of Letters and used these drop-by visits,” Gist added. “In short, California advocates were relentless!”
From his base in Bread for the World’s Chicago office, organizer Zach Schmidt helped faith leaders in Illinois and Missouri get a message out. Schmidt organized sign-on letters that garnered hundreds of signatures by faith leaders.
In St. Louis, two more committee members were targeted through local media. “A diverse trio of leaders wrote an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in May, urging Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill to reject a provision that would have harmed hungry people,” Schmidt said.
Meeting congressional staffers locally is another tactic Schmidt encouraged advocates to use.
“And most recently,” Schmidt said, “a group of leaders, led by Rev. Dr. Doyle Sager, met with staff from the senators’ offices to discuss this issue.” Sager is senior pastor at First Baptist Church, Jefferson, Mo.
All of this advocacy happened as part of Bread’s 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid. Next year’s Offering of Letters will focus on a different topic.
Bread will continue to work on food-aid reform and urge Congress to pass the Food for Peace Reform Act next year. For now, as this campaign and year draw to a close, let’s take a moment and celebrate the power of the faithful voice and the victories advocacy has won for people who are hungry.
“This is the fruit of faithful, persistent advocacy,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a statement to the press yesterday.
Learn more: U.S. Food Aid Reform
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior reigonal organizer at Bread for the World
Photo: (Bread for the World)
By LaVida Davis
With a few common sense policy reforms, we can take two bites out of hunger this summer. It is possible to pass international food aid and immigration reform in 2014.
During the May grassroots webinar and conference call, our experts will tell you where legislation stands in Congress and how your voice can make a difference. Register for the Tuesday, May 20 webinar: Double Your Impact on Hunger: Food Aid and Immigration Reform in 2014. This month we will talk about:
- A summer of immigration reform — why June and July are critical and who can move legislation forward in the House.
- The outrageous possibility of Congress taking U.S. food aid from 2 million hungry people to benefit just a few shipping companies. A bill being considered in the Senate would do just that if we don’t stop it in the next couple of months.
Also, Bread for the World's biggest day of the year is less than 3 weeks away, and we want you to be a part of it! Each year at our National Gathering, participants spend an afternoon taking the faithful call to end hunger to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. But you don’t need to come to D.C. to join us. Register for the webinar and get a sneak peak at June's virtual lobby day.
This summer we must send shock waves across Capitol Hill that demand action. Reforms that can help millions escape hunger both here and abroad are within reach. With so much possible, are you ready to build the political will that will push us over the edge of history?
Register today for the May webinar. Submit your questions ahead of time to organizing coordinator Marion Jasin at email@example.com. And if you are new to Bread's webinars, check out our comprehensive how-to guide.
LaVida Davis is Bread for the World's director of organizing and grassroots capacity building.
Marvin Garcia Salas eats breakfast with his son Jesus, 4, in Chiapas, Mexico. Marvin was once an undocumented immigrant in the United States, where he had moved without his family to better support them. Hunger, and a lack of economic opportunity are at the root of much of the undocumented immigration from Mexico. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the 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.
By Robin Stephenson
Each month, Bread for the World’s organizing and government relations departments team up for a grassroots conference call and webinar to make sure our members have the most up-to-date information on polices moving through Congress that affect hungry and poor people. Yesterday, Bread’s director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, began the briefing by stating that there is a lot going on in Washington, D.C., right now—immigration, appropriations, sequestration, and voting the House farm bill, which includes devastating cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and international food aid.
In the Senate, members continue to debate immigration reform and are expected to vote before the July 4 break. Hunger and immigration are connected and Bread will continue to monitor progress and take targeted action.
Both the House and Senate are grappling with appropriation bills, and the size of each pie is currently very different, reported policy analyst Amelia Kegan. The appropriations committees differ on several points, including sequestration, in their calculations, and if there is no agreement by Sept. 30 when the government’s fiscal year ends, the vast distance between drafts will likely result in a continuing resolution. Sequestration, which harms both long and short term responses to hunger, could be averted through debt ceiling negotiations, but that depends on voters. Kegan said that during her meetings with congressional offices on the Hill, she is often asked to tell Bread members to speak up by making calls to Congress. “Just because it's not in the news, doesn't mean it doesn't matter,” she said.
But the main issue of the day, on which the current call to action is focused, is the House farm bill which, in its current form, includes $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP and $2.5 billion in cuts to food aid. As of last night, Mitchell reported that the House Rules Committee had received 225 amendments—including 75 that impact nutrition and two on food aid—some that threaten to increase hunger. We will monitor those amendments and, if they reach the floor, provide updates here on the Bread Blog. Not all of the amendments are harmful, though—Bread for the World is actively asking for support of the McGovern amendment, which would restore SNAP funding. An amendment on food aid by Reps. Royce and Engle would also decrease hunger by increasing the flexibility and efficiency of food aid programs. Ultimately, a final bill that includes any cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people, either at home or abroad, must be met with a resounding “no.” But that will only happen if you make calls and get your networks to speak up.
Stating the sad reality that has remained true with each cost-cutting proposal since the budget negotiations began, LaVida Davis, Bread's director of organizing, said that “the people that are the most vulnerable get thrown under the bus first, so we have to be vigilant.” The sounds of ringing phones should be echoing throughout the halls of Congress today and continue until a final vote has been taken. Let them know you are listening.
We will continue to follow and report on any new developments around immigration, sequestration, the budget, and the farm bill. The next conference call and webinar will be July 16. Below is the slide show from last night’s webinar portion.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
Photo: John, a former banker who is one of the subjects of The Line, shops for himself and his three children at a food pantry. (Film still from The Line, courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
By Alicia Vela
Recently, I worked with Bread for the World regional organizer Zach Schmidt and a few of my seminary classmates to organize a viewing of The Line--a documentary that takes a look at poverty in America. The event was part of a class called “Mobilizing for Justice,” taught by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, professor at North Park Theological Seminary, and Dr. Dennis Edwards, senior pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.
After watching the documentary, which follows four highly-relatable stories of Americans living in poverty, we participated in an exercise that shows how poverty cuts across all demographics. We then entered a period of small- and large-group discussion, reflecting on issues surrounding poverty in America and the ways in which the church can and should respond. The night ended with a plea for those present, as future pastors and leaders, to use our power—our pulpit, our congregation members, and our voices—to impact the issue of poverty in our communities and across the country.
During the event, we discussed different ways of responding to poverty, from helping local food pantries and soup kitchens to advocating for policy changes. We had an opportunity to sign Bread’s petition to President Obama, urging him to set a goal and work with Congress to end hunger. The conversation was productive in raising awareness as well allowing us to brainstorm more ways to be involved in addressing poverty. We also collected canned food for the North Park Friendship Center, an organization fighting hunger on Chicago’s North Side.
There are several pieces that I personally took away from my experience with Bread for the World, but the idea of using my voice for advocacy really stood out. I had always thought that as a pastor, I shouldn’t get involved in politics. Being an advocate seemed too divisive in my mind. I have always hidden my political affiliation while working in the church because I thought people would try to argue with me if they had different views. Then I realized that fighting for the hungry is not a political opinion or side, but rather a biblical mandate.
If we take seriously Jesus’s call to love the orphan, fight on behalf the defenseless and care for the weak, we begin to see advocacy as an essential response. As Christians we cannot stand alongside and watch those around us hurt because of the broken systems we have created. We are called to fight for them, to call or write our government leaders and ask for better laws and more care for those who are most vulnerable.
Vela earned her B.A. in psychology from the University of Colorado at
Boulder and recently completed her Master of Divinity coursework at North
Seminary. A Colorado native, she is currently interning at Deer Grove
Covenant Church in Palatine, Ill.
Rev. James Forbes, shown in 2006, was the keynote speaker at a North Carolina Bread for the World conference last month. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Scott Griessel, flickr user creatista.
By Paula Well and Rev. Bob Herron
On Saturday, April 13, a dream became a reality—a North Carolina Bread for the World Conference took place at the Christ United Methodist Church in Greensboro, N.C. Thanks to the efforts of the local Bread Leadership Team of the Triad we held a successful conference that brought attention to issues of hunger in our state, our county, and around the world.
The keynote of the day was given by Dr. James Forbes, pastor emeritus of Riverside Church, in New York City. His words inspired and challenged the more than 100 attendees. During the conference, Dr. Forbes also offered a “homiletics teaching,” a workshop for pastors on methods of preaching justice. LaMarco Cable, deputy director of organizing for Bread’s southern hub, gave a presentation on this year’s Offering of Letters and presidential petition.
During lunch, participants wrote letters to Congress and signed the presidential petition while listening to music from hunger advocate and musician Bryan McFarland. The rest of the time was spent networking with people from various parts of the state and sharing ideas about strengthening our advocacy. We were also very blessed to have a local cinema showing the brilliant documentary A Place at the Table the same time that the conference was taking place. We cannot recommend it highly enough.
We hope that other Bread Leadership Teams will be inspired by hearing about our North Carolina event. We pray that the brilliant preaching of Rev. Forbes and the leadership of LaMarco Cable will take us to new heights. We also pray that the exhilaration of learning how our small voices can be used to amplify important issues will not fade.
Recently, our team reconvened to discuss how we could capitalize on the energy of that day, and we became reinvigorated and ready to plan for our next conference. We feel the ways in which the Holy Spirit emboldens us to dream֫—to dream of a day when, instead of one in six Americans going to bed hungry at night, no one is hungry. We dream of a day when Bread for the World won’t be necessary any longer because the problem of hunger has been solved.
Until that dream is realized, we will continue our work.Paula Well and Rev. Bob Herron are team members of the Bread for the World Triad of N.C.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.