SEATTLE, WA, August, 31 2016 – The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is pleased to announce the honorees of the eighth annual Food Sovereignty Prize: the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF). The honorees were selected for their success in promoting food sovereignty, agroecology and social justice to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet.
Lauded as an alternative to the World Food Prize, the Food Sovereignty Prize champions real solutions to hunger and is recognized by social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world. The 2016 honorees are strident in their resistance to the corporate control of our food system, including false solutions of biotechnology that damage the planet while exacerbating poverty and hunger. Their programs and policies support small-scale farmers and communities, build unified networks, and prioritize the leadership of food providers, including women, farmworkers, peasants, indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities within the system.
“Hunger is not a technical problem, it’s a political problem,” said John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member. “Small farmers have had the solution to hunger for millennia in agroecology and food sovereignty.”
“The Borlaug and Gates Foundations and multinational corporations like Monsanto promote biotechnology because they profit from it. Ask the millions of farmworkers, family farmers and family fishermen feeding their communities what they need and they will tell you: access to land, clean water and their own seeds,” noted Diana Robinson, Campaign and Education Coordinator at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member.
About the Honorees
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) was founded in 2008 by a group of activist networks and launched in Durban, South Africa, during the 2011 alternative people's climate summit, organized to counter the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference Of the Parties 17 talks (COP17). AFSA brings together organizations representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists and hunter/gatherers; indigenous peoples; youth, women and consumer networks; people of faith; and environmental activists from across Africa. Together they advocate for community rights and family farming, promote traditional knowledge systems, and protect natural resources. In the face of increased corporate agribusiness interests threatening their food systems, including massive land and water grabs, the criminalization of seed-saving practices, and false solutions to climate change such as so-called "Climate-Smart Agriculture", AFSA unites the people most impacted by these injustices to advance food sovereignty through agroecological practices, policy work and movement-building efforts.
Bern Guri, The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s chairperson, noted, “Africa has a myriad of ways to feed her people and to keep her environment safe. However, a few international corporations from the global North have generated approaches strictly for their own profit by misleading our leaders and our people, stealing our seeds and culture, and destroying our environment.”
For AFSA it is clear that the way forward will allow food producers, supported by consumers, to take control of production systems and markets to provide healthy and nutritious food. Facing the many ecological, economic and social challenges in today’s world requires an urgent transition to agroecology to establish the ecologically sustainable, socially just and nutritious food systems of the future, and it can be done through the collective, inclusive and democratic co-generation of the knowledge held by farmers, consumers, researchers and African governments, who are meant to serve the interests of their (farming) populations.
The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), founded in 1986, has a long-standing mission to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health and environmental justice issues affecting their lives. Their guiding vision is a social environment in which farmworkers are treated as equals, not exploited and deprived based on race, ethnicity, immigrant status, or socioeconomic status. As members of the world’s largest social movement, La Via Campesina, FWAF is building collective power and a unified force for providing better living and working conditions, as well as equity and justice for farmworker families and communities. This includes building leadership and activist skills among communities of color who are disproportionately affected by pesticide exposure/health problems, environmental contamination, racism, exploitation and political under-representation while lifting up women’s wisdom and leadership.
"Farmworker families pay the greatest price in the corporate food system of today. They work in fields of poison and exploitation so that people can easily access cheap foods,” explained Elvira Carvajal, Farmworker Association of Florida's lead organizer in Homestead, Florida. “We have a vision to bring together the community around the art of healing with good food and herbs, which is part of our culture. We practice agroecology in the community by sharing the knowledge we bring from our grandparents, our mothers, our families, our ancestors. The meeting of cultures that happens in the gardens, where we grow our own food without chemicals, and sharing plants and traditions and knowledge across generations is a beautiful thing. I am proud of our own people practicing food and seed sovereignty."
US Food Sovereignty Alliance members Community to Community Development and Community Alliance for Global Justice will host the prize for the first time in the Northwest, welcoming the 2016 Honorees and Alliance partners from across the country to Seattle and Bellingham for several days of activities and actions. The prize ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 15th at 6pm at Town Hall at Eight and Seneca in Seattle.
For event updates and more information on the prize and this year’s winners visitwww.foodsovereigntyprize.org, follow the Food Sovereignty Prize at facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).
About US Food Sovereignty Alliance
The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups that upholds the right to food as a basic human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty. The Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system, believing that all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced in an ecologically sound manner. Learn more at usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org
At WhyHunger we strive for cross-collaboration among programs, understanding that as we build a movement to end hunger and poverty it is critical for domestic and international organizations to build solidarity. This often involves finding a way for food justice and food sovereignty organizations to build relationships and learn from each other. As a staff member who helps facilitate these encounters I often learn a lot, but I don’t always think about the opportunity I have to engage with partners personally as a fellow farmer.
I am an urban farmer at La Finca del Sur Urban Farm in the South Bronx in New York City. We are a women of color led farm that grows healthy food for ourselves and our community in a neighborhood where outside forces and corporations have flooded our neighborhood with cheap, unhealthy processed food. Our name -- La Finca del Sur -- translates to Farm of the South which is referring to multiple Souths. Most of us live in and around the South Bronx; most of us have a familial heritage in the Global South; and lastly, South is in solidarity with the women of color who make up the majority of farmers in the Global South. The reality of who farms in the world is not often the narrative that is highlighted, and part of our work at La Finca del Sur is to reframe that narrative and center the power around the people who grow, nourish and care for families and communities all over the world.
In June I had the opportunity for my WhyHunger and La Finca worlds to collide, when I showed one of our Global Movements program partners, Nelson Mudzingwa from the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF), around La Finca del Sur during his trip to the US. Nelson said this would be an opportunity to exchange knowledge between farmers. My first thought was how could we, urban farmers who have only been growing for 7 years, possibly have something to teach someone who has been farming much longer and more intensely than we have? But sure enough, as popular education theories state, everyone is an expert in their own experience. We were able to share our method of planting in raised beds which, as Nelson commented, could be a new way for ZIMSOFF farmers to grow root vegetables (they currently use a different technique using potato sacks to grow root vegetables). We have to use raised beds because New York City soil is contaminated, but this practice lends itself to other uses. I learned about different integrated pest management techniques and how using almost any plant that has a strong odor has the potential to repel pests for other plants when they are grown in the same plot.
What stood out more than practical techniques was our conversation about the spiritual and cyclical aspect of farming. How our ancestors continue to help us because as indigenous farmers they worked the land and even in their death their bodies provide our soil with nutrients. In New York City that link has been broken because our soil is so contaminated with environmental pollutants that we can’t plant directly in it. That sickness of the soil, as Nelson put it, and the loss of the connection to the land is mirrored in the sickness in our lives in the form of chronic disease and health disparities and the loss of connection to growing our own food.These are an extension of our unhealthy food environment. And as we try to remediate the soil and go back to growing our own food we reconnect to our culture, our ancestors and our health.
My encounter with Nelson re-emphasized that growing food in each of our corners of the world using traditional organic practices are in and of themselves acts of resistance and self-determination. For ZIMSOFF, the struggle is to maintain sovereignty of their land, water and seeds. For La Finca del Sur, it is to disrupt the unhealthy food environment and reconnect to our culture. What’s so powerful when farmers come together is that we find commonalities in our truths that growing is about so much more than food, its life.
It was a hot and sunny Wednesday morning, as I set out at 9a.m. excited for the unknown towards the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger’s Healing Garden at Far Rockaway Farm to meet my colleagues and fellow interns at WhyHunger. Having taken class trips with extended stays on farms throughout my middle and high school years I was no stranger to “a day on the farm”; however, I had never worked on an urban farm in New York City and knew this trip was special because it was not only a volunteer day, but WhyHunger was also working with Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH) to film a video project about the intersection of hunger and health and their work.
Once I arrived, we were given a tour of the farm by BSCAH’s Green Teen Internship Program supervisor, Sam. Afterwards, we were filmed as we sat down for an informative Q&A session with Sam to learn about the farm. The Healing Garden in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens is a production farm used to grow organic produce and even has chickens onsite to produce fresh eggs. BSCAH’S Green Teen program employs 15 local youth in the community to maintain the farm and its programs. As supervisor and a former Green Teen herself, Sam oversees these youth workers, and helps manage the farm and harvest produce along with a host of other tasks. The Healing Garden, Sam explained, was established in order to link agriculture and nutrition with community and economic development. And that connection was easy to see as I got to work! I spoke with the teens I worked alongside and found that they lived in the community and some had received their first exposure to gardening and farming practices through BSCAH’s program.
From the info session with Sam, I learned about an initiative that I did not get to see firsthand but was inspired by, the veggie prescriptions partnership between the Healing Garden and the nearby Addabbo Family Health Center. Those who suffer with diet-related diseases, like diabetes and high blood pressure, can get a “prescription” for produce from the clinic and bring it to the farm to pick up their free meds - fresh, organic fruits and vegetables grown by teens. This is a unique and creative initiative that promotes good health in the community. As a Public Health major at my university, I thought this initiative was a truly innovative approach because not only does it increase accessibility to fresh produce, but it encourages maintaining a long term relationship with a healthcare provider and connects more people in the community to the farm.
After the info session, I was assigned the task of tying tomato stalks that were hanging low on the soil or loose, to a higher wooden post. I worked with two boys, who were employed as Green Teen interns. As fellow interns and all the same age, I learned that one of the boys had fairly recently migrated from Jamaica with his mother and younger brother, who was also a Green Teen intern. As residents of the Far Rockaway community, this was his second summer as an intern here and he intended to continue into the fall as well. He told me his mother comes to their market and has incorporated much of the farm produce into her dinner recipes. While chopping kale into compost, his younger brother and I talked about our shared Jamaican family background and how time spent at the farm has positively affected his transition to New York.
By 2 p.m. my chopping days were over and WhyHunger, the film crew, and all the BSCAH staff began to exit the farm for the end of the workday. After a hug goodbye from my compost-chopping partner, I felt much appreciation and gratitude. As a born and bred city girl, I was curious but not initially thrilled about the idea of laboring on this sunny, 91-degree day. However, filled with great experiences and connections at the end of the workday, my perspective was completely changed and I was grateful for the knowledge and exposure I gained about the farm from those who worked there. As I left, I questioned, is urban farming in my future? I do not know, but I certainly would be open to it! Not just a beautiful green space, the Healing Garden at the Far Rockaway Farm further unites the community, partners with local entities for health promotion, increases accessibility to organic and local produce, and contributes economically to the area. In addition, it gave me a lesson on agroecology right in my own city.
The World Social Forum, held this month in Montreal, brought together thousands of activists, organizations and social movements working to build a sustainable and inclusive world, to learn, strategize and share knowledge with each other. With so many organizers, farmers, activists, students and change makers in one place, it was easy to see the collective strength of the movement and the potential for the type of transformative social change that our world needs. The power of this potential was crystal clear at a briefing held by Quebec’s Union paysanne and La Via Campesina on the struggle of small-scale farmers in Quebec.
Union paysanne, or Peasant Union, was formed by a group of concerned farmers, consumers and activists that have been organizing in Quebec since 2001 to advocate for agricultural reform across the province. The goals of the movement – clearly articulated in their policy platform – include defending the rights of small scale farmers and organic production, advocating for access to land, food sovereignty and fair trade principles, and combating the corporate control of seeds, land and access to resources, including the refusal of GMOs and dependency on industrial agriculture. As Benoit Girouard, president of Union paysanne and a beekeeper and farmer explained, the main issue in Quebec is “the fight for access and control of our local resources for the local people.”
For years, Union paysanne members have been organizing to break the monopoly of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) over the representation of farmers in Quebec. As Stephanie Wang and Laurence Barchichat, new farmers and coordinators of Union paysanne declared at the briefing, “Quebec cannot guarantee its food sovereignty without having a sovereign peasantry. The union monopoly of the UPA is a major obstacle to human-scale, respectful agriculture.”
The law in Quebec requires mandatory participation by small-scale farmers and producers in the UPA, which supports heavy regulations that make it hard for small farmers and producers to sell at markets and to have a viable, sustainable lifestyle in agriculture. According to Union paysanne, only 1% of the population in Quebec now works in agriculture; meanwhile 80% of agriculture land is not being cultivated because new, small-scale farmers and young farmers face restrictions to buy or access land. Most of the land is being shifted to large scale, corporate mono-culture facilities that are producing soy and canola. These and other barriers make it difficult for small-scale farmers to survive.
Dona Sofia and children: ""I never thought that we could become a community of strong women, with our heads full of ideas. I may not have any money but I am a wealthy woman because of my ties to AFEDES." Photo credit:WhyHunger
This post first appeared in EcoWatch.
The Kaqchikel women—one of 23 Mayan cultures in Guatemala—are fighting to protect their collective intellectual property rights to their traditional Mayan textile designs. Led by the Women's Association for the Development of Saquatepéquez (AFEDES), an organization with a membership of more than 1,000 indigenous women and supported by an association of Mayan lawyers, hundreds of Kaqchikel women artisans of all ages took their case to the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City this past June. They are asking the court to push the Guatemalan Congress to enact new laws that would protect their intellectual property rights over the intricate woven designs that have become ubiquitous in the tourist markets and are a direct reproduction of their heritage and cultural identity.
Reproduction of the Mayan textiles has become increasingly controlled by just a handful of companies that hire Mayan women and pay them very little (around 10 quetzales or just more than one U.S. dollar) for a design that might take days, even weeks, to weave. The products are sold at a much higher cost to tourists and textile buyers around the world. But this isn't just an economic issue to the indigenous women who flooded the courts this spring. Dressed in their traditional hand-woven blouses known as huipils—each design emblematic of the life in their particular community and worn every day by these women and their children as they work, play and go to school—they argued that the real value of these iconic textiles is the preservation of a way of life and the protection of a living culture.
In a recent field visit to accompany and support AFEDES and their efforts on behalf of indigenous women's social, cultural and economic rights, the AFEDES' Director Milivan Aspuac explained to me and my colleagues from WhyHunger that at its core their struggle is to protect the very heartbeat of Life. According to the Mayan Cosmovision, everything is connected and human beings are charged with engendering reciprocity, solidarity and harmony in all of the elements—physical and spiritual, matter and energy—that make up Life. The story of Life and the principles of their Cosmovision are revealed in the designs of the vibrantly-colored textiles that women have been creating for thousands of years—each one unique and representative of a particular time and value-system of a particular community. Protecting and preserving the way in which these designs are reproduced and the huipils worn (from adult to child, from generation to generation, from community to community) is to protect, repair and preserve Life.
There is much Life to repair in this mountainous region of Guatemala in the department of Saquatépequez, home to one of the tourist meccas in Central America, the carefully restored colonial city of Antigua which is a designated World Heritage Site. Since 1993, the AFEDES members have been organizing indigenous women throughout this state to join them in their efforts to envision a way of life that aligns with their Mayan Cosmovision while not wholly rejecting a modern world. Decolonization and reclamation is at the heart of their strategy to confront the gender, economic and racial oppression that has left them in extreme poverty and is slowing appropriating their culture. We saw evidence of the strategic ways in which AFEDES confronts oppression that reflect the holistic, complex and at times heartbreaking circumstances of women's lives. As Milvian explained: "AFEDES can't work only with food sovereignty or economic development or violence against women—we have to work on all these fronts because that's the reality of women's lives." The struggle is arduous, the losses are many, but with each win against the oppression that the women of AFEDES describe as patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism, one more strand of colorful cotton can be woven back in to their story.
Resisting Patriarchy: Self-Worth and Power in Numbers
The struggle to end violence against Mayan women in the village of San José Pacul is at the foundation of the organizing work that AFEDES does in this village and dozens of others just like it. Angelina Aspuac, one of AFEDES' organizers, tells us, "The main issue here is machismo." Sofia's story, who Angelina introduced us to, is representative, she said, of many of the Mayan women who have now come together to pool resources, share assets and work together to collectively improve the quality of their lives. "I never thought of becoming a wealthy woman," Sofia said. "The idea at the start was to start a community bank to make small loans." She explains that the men stepped in soon after and started to dictate what the loans should be used for and yet the women were still held responsible for paying the money back. Not alone in her predicament, Sofia's husband would confiscate the loan money she had intended to use for investing in a small cottage industry to make enough money to send her kids to school. She endured regular beatings and became isolated when he forbid her to attend any more of the women's meetings. Since she couldn't pay back her loans, she couldn't bring home any more funds for him to spend or invest in his own failed ventures. Eventually Sofia made the very difficult decision to separate from her husband despite the fear of retreating further into poverty. She left their home with their seven children and no money. She was emboldened to take her life in her own hands, she said, because she had the support of other women in AFEDES.
AFEDES has established "safe houses" for women when they report domestic abuse to the local police and their claims are dismissed. The police will often say the beatings are justified because the women did not prepare good food or did something else that provoked their husbands. AFEDES has become a space that abused women can retreat to for emotional and legal support. AFEDES is stretched thin in their attempt to attend to all the women who show up on the doorstep of the safe house. The organization does not yet have enough legal or counseling capacity to thoroughly support each woman's case. But they can listen to every woman's story with integrity and compassion and connect them to other women in their community for support. This is the first and often the most important intervention, one of the AFEDES organizers named Justiniana told us. Learning to value themselves and the other women in the community is a core aspect of the consciousness-raising work that AFEDES brings to the organized groups in each village. The issue of self-care is a part of that. "It's important that women learn to take care of themselves so they have the energy to do the work of preserving and protecting Life," she explained.
As colonialism ushered in western values, women began to be seen only as useful for work in the kitchen and the fields. Because of AFEDES the women have been able to organize, receive training in agroecology and homeopathy, learn a new trade and participate in leadership development. They recognize their own value and now their families and communities recognize their value. Sofia concluded her triumphant story with the following: "I never thought that we could become a community of strong women, with our heads full of ideas. I may not have any money but I am a wealthy woman because of my ties to AFEDES. I don't have a lot of income, but I have a community and my children are going to school. My children are behind me and supporting me. My children know that I have skills, knowledge and value. Because my children know that I have value, they come to recognize their own value and their own power."
This is a guest post originally published in the Kids Make a Difference Newsletter a couple years ago. Written by WhyHunger's longtime friend and Board Member Jen Chapin, in this honest reflection Jen wrangles with questions about racism that many have and reflects on America’s racial legacy, how it affects her son (who is now close to 11 yrs old) and what she’ll teach him. Unfortunately, the same questions and racial justice issues persist today so we wanted to share.
I have been wrangling with this essay in my head for months, as I’ve struggled to find the right words to respond to a question that just won’t go away. The stubborn question: In this day, when an African-American can be elected twice to the highest office in the land, is there still such a thing as white privilege? When we can point out so many black Americans among the most wealthy and powerful in media, entertainment and sports, isn’t that proof that the nation has evolved beyond its racist past?
I finally started writing down some thoughts last week and now can’t locate them, which is probably a good thing. This question is so vast and unwieldy, rooted in centuries of slave-trading and terrorism, naked violence and hidden theft, that I couldn’t manage to wrangle these thoughts into concise cohesion.
So I’ll just write about me. Or rather, about my 9 year old son. Or more precisely, about the ways I don’t have to worry, because he and I are white, and privileged.
Our neighborhood public school is 4 blocks away, a pretty straight shot from our apartment along a pleasant residential Brooklyn street. My son has started to walk himself to school sometimes, which is OK with me. He’s careful with cars and crossing streets, and the neighborhood is a pretty safe one. I remind him that my concern is less about him making a mistake than a driver doing so.
I don’t warn him about the police. If he were black or brown, I would. I’d likely say something like the mother character in the Springsteen song “American Skin (41 Shots)” does: “you have to understand the rules / If an officer stops you / promise me, you’ll always be polite / and that you’ll never ever run away / promise mama you’ll keep your hands in sight.”
My son is smart and sensitive. He has a tendency to be dramatic in self- denigration, to loudly berate himself as stupid – “I’m an idiot!” -- for an unspecified trespass. I recognize this a bit from my own childhood personality, and I console him without worrying too much. If he were black or brown, I would worry. I would worry that a teacher or other authority figure was failing to see his gifts, his potential, or even his humanity. I would worry that he had internalized the ever-present if often tacit message in our culture that black boys are intellectually and morally deficient, with certain mystical talents in sports and music but not many in school or the workforce.
When he does enter the workforce, perhaps I should worry, actually. My son’s given name, inspired by a beloved saxophonist, is rare and most often found among African-American men from the South. His surname comes from my husband and is also rare in the Northeast, and most often found among African- American men from the South. On a resumé, this sort of name is 50% less likely than a resumé with a white-sounding name attached to get a response from a potential employer. Or at least it was in 2002, when the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted their experiment. Are things different today, or will they be in the 10 years or so when my son is looking for a job?
Of course, the reason my son has a “black” name is that his ancestors owned many slaves who took that name as their own, as was the custom. My mother’s ancestry is more obscure to me, but she has indicated that her maiden name is also linked with many black Americans, and that there is likely slaveowning in her paternal family’s past as well. Today among our furnishings are several antique items inherited from both sides. Was this furniture made by slaves? Perhaps not, but there is no question that part of the wealth that paid for mine and my husband’s expensive liberal arts college educations – wealth measured both in dollars and in generations of inherited literacy – came from the labor of captive workers. (My alma mater, Brown University, was founded in a major slave trading port, by a major slave-trading family that also included at least one prominent abolitionist)
The fact has been deliberately buried from our national consciousness, but indeed the larger part of America’s wealth was built on slavery and genocide, and continues to build on habits of systematically separating black and brown (and white) people from the fruits of their labor. To acknowledge this is not to swim in guilt, but to be empowered by knowledge and the tools to move us all forward.
And what of my son? The conversations have begun, often prompted by his own questions and observations and a child’s fresh eye toward justice. He’s not quite ready yet, but in a few years I’ll have him read the excellent and exhaustive recent piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations”, and perhaps (I still have to get this and read it myself) the new book by historian Edward E. Baptist "The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism," so he can understand where we all come from, and play a clear-eyed role in where we are all going.
Artists Against Hunger and Poverty is excited to announce a new partnership with YouTuber Chris Oflyng for our Summer Meals Rock for Kids campaign! Known for his high energy and dynamic videos that promote positivity and acceptance, Chris has hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans across the world and is using his popular platform to draw attention to the summer hunger crisis in America.
When asked about why he decided to join the movement he says:
"As a child I began to have major concerns about hunger worldwide when my grandparents told me about poverty overseas and the agricultural and economic struggles people were facing. It grew even stronger as a teenager on a family trip to Seattle when I saw the needs of the people right in my home, America. I hope to use my crazy sense of humor and passion for travel to spread the word and help communities in need both domestically and abroad. I am proud and excited to be making a difference in the world by working with WhyHunger, an organization who is focusing on the root causes of hunger and poverty."
Fans now have the opportunity to join the battle against hunger by bidding on a chance to win a coffee date for two with Chris through Prizeo. This unique platform gives fans 100 entries for every $10 they donate, and the more they donate, the more entries they'll receive along with signed photos, t-shirts, and more!
This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.
When President Franklin Roosevelt proposed legislation for the New Deal at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s he needed the support of the South to pass it in congress. As a result, the vast majority of Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans were excluded from most of the benefits and protections that were given to white people. Roosevelt’s New Deal did save the country from an even worse and longer depression and laid the groundwork for prosperity for decades to come but millions were left out.
Now, in 2016 we are finally coming out of the Great Recession, yet millions of people have been left behind in poverty, low wage jobs, poor education, hunger and uncertainty about their future. The issue of economic inequality has moved from the back burner to the front of our awareness and consciences. Why do so few have so much? Why do so many have so little? How can that be healthy for a majority of our people and for our country as a whole? Where is there hope for change?
This election provides a unique opportunity for an economic sea change in America. The Republican candidate may set the stage for a major Democratic victory in November that ripples down to the Senate, House and state elections. That could then create a mandate for deep change in policies and programs on all levels. Bernie Sanders has successfully moved Hillary Clinton toward the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on many issues that are on the minds and in the hearts of a majority of Americans. A major win for the Democrats in November could transfer power in the Senate, several state governors and perhaps two or three dozen House of Representatives seats. It could set the stage for a “New Deal for A New Century” that would transform the economy and the politics of America. There are major issues that Clinton and Sanders basically agree on. She has said that she wants to work on several of the most important ones right away not just one or two. Let’s take a look in a series of articles at what a New Deal for a New Century would look like. Let’s start with work.
Justice for America’s Workers
A recent Pew Research Center survey showed some startling figures. The share of income for middle-class Americans fell from 62 percent in 1970 to 43 percent in 2014. During the same time upper-income families increased from 29 percent to 49 percent. How can we reverse those numbers and help more people to re-enter the middle class and poor people to rise to it? There are many government programs that help but the place to start is incomes.
Democrats want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over several years and index it to inflation. How many people will this effect? Well, 42 percent of all American workers earn less than $15 an hour. Think about the billions of dollars that would put back into the economy and the millions of people who would move out of poverty. Several large American cities and New York State, California and Washington D.C. are already moving in that direction. Legislators can learn from their experiences how to build the wage hikes out nationally without substantial job or business loss.
Democrats also want to pass a Family Values Package that would include paid sick leave, paid vacations and paid family leave. This should appeal to all those who believe and preach family values which have suffered dearly because parents are working two or three jobs and are rarely home together with their children. Somehow, many politicians who say they support family values do not support a living wage for those families. They need to be held accountable.
With humble beginnings in a small suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Artists Against Hunger and Poverty member Steve Bodner is a true grassroots artist. Even though he has gone on to play great venues like CBGB, Wrigley Field, and Trident Studios, he remains true to his roots and uses music to raise awareness on important issues. He continues to support WhyHunger with his new single “Louder Than Concorde” now available for purchase and with an upcoming performance on Saturday August 13, 2016 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Here’s an inside snapshot on Steve, his story, and why he chose to fight hunger:
How and why did you decide to work with WhyHunger’s Artists Against Hunger and Poverty program?
Since 1991, I have been doing various fundraisers under the name Bill Aid and Pittsburgh Musicians for Hunger Relief, now Musicians for Hunger Relief. I always loved the idea of using music to raise money and awareness. The hunger issue in America is something that we tend to look away from or just take for granted and it seems as if it is ignored in the mainstream media. One day I was listening to SiriusXM on the Bruce Springsteen channel and I heard someone talking about hunger and poverty issues and not pulling any punches. I was thrilled to hear this – it was inspiring to find a voice this eloquent but blunt on the radio. It was Bill Ayres, co-founder and ambassador of WhyHunger. I immediately looked up WhyHunger’s website and was so blown away by the Artists Against Hunger & Poverty program – it was what I had been trying to do, but it was being done so much better and on a much grander scale. I wanted to be a part of this so I contacted Hillary Zuckerberg and she was wonderful and welcoming and I have been thrilled to be a part of this ever since. I feel a kinship with the other artists involved and am humbled to be included.
What impact has your experience working with WhyHunger had on your music or on you personally?
I feel I am part of something bigger. It is amazing to see the artists involved and that has given me more push to approach other artists to get involved. I contacted some of my musical heroes to get involved in the Louder Than Concorde single – a new project with proceeds benefitting WhyHunger. Knowing that I am a part of WhyHunger has given me some legitimacy to ask artists like Spooner Oldham, Caleb Quaye and Adam Marsland to be a part of this work. It has also been great to bring my usual collaborator Steven E. Adams into a project specifically for WhyHunger. It also allows me to approach a younger artist like Megan Paullet to get involved. It has inspired me to try to live up to WhyHunger’s level of dedication and artistry. When I mention WhyHunger people listen – it gives my words and work some legitimacy.
As a musician, do you feel obligated to be political, get involved in social justice or speak out for those who voices aren’t as heard?
Yes. Music is one of the most powerful and spiritual tools for change that we have. If there is anybody listening, then we need to give them something to listen to. Music is the common denominator between people. It has the capacity to bring different people together that wouldn’t normally associate with one another. It has a power that words on a page don’t. Music has always been a part of or at the forefront of social change because it resonates with people. The terrific thing is that you can deliver a message in a great song that people love and it can inspire them to get involved, too.
If you could perform anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
The Apollo Theater. This is the place where the standard is set for performing. The audience has a reputation for being a bit tough and I think it would be a thrill to go into that room and try to win them over – it is a challenge. Besides that, the list of greats that have played on that stage is humbling. I have tried over the years to perform and record at places that have a place in music history and there is none bigger than the Apollo.
Who/what inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by people who use what they have to help others. There are people in the world that see a situation and instead of looking the other way, choose to try and help whether it be on a grand scale or a small scale. I recently was involved with Jeremiah’s Place, a crisis nursery in Pittsburgh. The people who started Jeremiah’s Place saw a need and found a way to support families and in particular, children, by offering a safe haven during times of crisis. Their journey has been challenging, but they continue to be dedicated to their mission.
An individual who inspires me is Jen Chapin. Jen is not only an amazing musician and mom – she has found a way to carry on her late father’s work and help others. Jen is a very giving person and I was blown away by just how much she went out of her way to perform with me at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh that was not on her tour schedule. She is such an inspiring spokesperson for WhyHunger and somebody I admire.
At a national gathering I participated in with 500 community organizations and food access groups like soup kitchens, food banks, and food pantries a bold, collective statement emerged from the people working on the frontlines of hunger. I look to their experience as a grounding force in our evolving strategies to end hunger. They stated: "Racial injustice and privilege are at the root of economic injustice. Economic injustice is the root cause of hunger. The only way to end hunger is to end racial injustice." This analysis emanates from communities gripped by the harsh realities of hunger and poverty. When I stand side by side with community leaders experiencing their work firsthand and talking with people who participate in their programs, I believe this to be true and bear witness. When Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres founded our organization so many years ago they knew that hunger was a symptom of poverty and social injustice including racism. Today we carry that work forward informed by our partners and inspired by our founders.
Here at WhyHunger, we are deeply troubled by the escalating violence in America and around the world. We need deep reflection and positive action. Now is the time to put in motion the healing we still must undertake to address the historical roots of racism perpetuated by the systems, institutions, and policies that are its legacy and keep us from reaching our full human potential. We must end violence in all forms if we are to create a peaceful future and one that is free from hunger and poverty. We have to ask ourselves why people of color are disproportionately living with hunger and poverty and why their communities remain under-resourced and marginalized. Racial inequity and hunger are deeply connected and addressing these disparities is critical to building a better future for all Americans. We are not free until all are free; we are not healthy until all are nourished.
With support, dedication and an unwavering commitment to social justice, WhyHunger knows we have a critical and unique role to play. We work in partnership with communities of color who are working to achieve land access and ownership to grow and produce bountiful food. You can see some of that work in our "What Ferguson Means for the Food Justice Movement" series, in which Black leaders discuss and analyze the ways in which Black communities are oppressed by our current food system, and solutions led by those communities are lifted up. Together, with thousands of diverse grassroots partners around the world, we are transforming our food system so that it is economically just, environmentally sound and addresses oppression at home and abroad. This journey is long and hard, yet indispensable to a peaceful future. We cannot do it alone. We need the leadership of people most affected by the injustices of poverty, along with grassroots organizations and champions of our work, like you. The change we seek is possible and that more peaceful future is ours to create.