Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I had planned to devote this month’s column to the high philosophical concept level of who we are as a country, and who we want to become. I will still go there, but first, I need to update you on the conversation we just had on the weekly GOAT (Getting Our Act Together) call.
To refresh your memory about GOAT; this is the weekly conference call (and annual D.C. convening) where people from across the country check in with one another about policy that affects the daily lives of community residents.
This afternoon when we convened via conference call, the first item of business was an update on Congressional activities now that they have returned from a week long break.
We had been preparing for tough negotiations on the appropriations process.
But we should probably not have been surprised that Congressional leadership announced a vigorous agenda to cut spending on entitlement and other programs.
Specifically, we are told to expect $20 billion—and that is billion with a “B”—cuts to the SNAP program, allegedly by trimming down the number of people eligible for SNAP/food stamps benefits.
As Ronald Reagan once famously said, “There they go again!”
We really have to finally have the conversations about what we value in our country and where we put our money—what programs should be funded, which people should be served by our government, just exactly who is entitled to healthy food, and so on and on.
Doesn’t it seem time to hold our legislators accountable for their actions, at least when it adversely affects those most needy in our communities?
(We have an idea about that; just keep reading this message.)
I for one think we all are fortunate that participants in the GOAT process will be holding the annual convening in Washington, D.C. next week.
Farm worker and farmer groups like the Rural Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition, and Federation of Southern Cooperatives will meet with policy focused groups including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Center for Social Inclusion, the San Diego Hunger Coalition and hunger activists, SAWG members, and others from across the country to address the latest attempts to cut benefits to farmers and members of our communities.
Maybe this time we can get the word out to those members affected, and they in turn will contact their legislators’ district offices.
We think it is critical that community members build on the relationships they have with local District Congressional staff to speak up for the programs that protect the health and well-being of community members.
GOAT partners have already stepped up to advocate on their behalf with Members of Congress in D.C. We will be in D.C. while Congress is meeting next week.
Now, while we are in D.C., we need you and your neighbors to weigh in on the forthcoming program cuts.
Check back here, or on the CFJC website, or click on the links provided to other GOAT participating organizations, to stay on top in real time of just how much Congressional activities are going to affect the quality of life in your communities.
It is sad to think that perhaps our best chance of avoiding devastating budget cuts is the Congressional majority party’s never ending internal squabbling.
But we can’t really count on that, can we?
I want to get back to the original idea for this month’s column.
We will be unveiling a new CFJC program at the GOAT convening next week. But, as with all CFJC activities, we are not following the script of how to launch a new program.
Instead, we want to share with you now, because this is something in which you can participate. In fact, if the program is going to be successful it really must be transmitted by word of mouth.
The distribution model for this program is CFJC’s Kitchen Table Talks, or KTTs.
The KTTs were launched in 2011 as part of the 15th Annual Food Justice Conference of the Community Food Security Coalition, held in Oakland, CA. The idea was simple; with funding from The California Endowment we supported small gatherings of people around food, around “a kitchen table.” All we asked was that they talk with one another.
It’s true, what Cesar Chavez said, that: “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with them…The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
Happy Birthday, Sr. Chavez.
The KTT idea really took off and to this day we hear from the interns and others that come to work at CFJC from across the country about the local version of the KTTs in their community.
This new idea is also yours to adopt if you are at all interested. You should send an email with questions, but after next week the project will be unveiled for everyone.
So what is the new idea? To what was I referring in the opening paragraph, when I wrote “I had planned to devote this month’s column to the high philosophical concept level of who we are as a country, and who we want to become.”
Next Monday CFJC will launch the New Bill of Rights Project.
It’s about time, right?
Again, more details to follow, but the idea is something that each and every one of us can adopt—or not.
For more than four years I have been asking the rhetorical question, “What are our shared values?” The question has always been sincere.
In meetings in D.C., I would ask Congressional aides more than once, “How can your boss vote against food for children and families?” And the answer was based on an honest belief that religion, or something or someone else was responsible for caring for our communities, and not government.
So yes, it is time to define exactly what our values are, what we have in common, and who we want to be.
I think this positive step can do much to heal what ails our country, because sometimes the best answer is also the easiest.
My brother Cesar noted that by breaking bread with one another we come to know one another. And coming to know one another, we begin to see one another fully, perhaps for the first time.
The New Bill of Rights project came about because after five years of working on public policy—which we will continue to do with vigor—the limitations of the process are obvious.
Even at CFJC, we are limited by the positions we can take on public policy because of restrictions on nonprofit advocacy and lobbying activities, but also because we are part of the Public Health Institute.
Just like everyone else who works for a living, we have to take PHI’s laws and governance into account when working on public policy.
Not so with the New Bill of Rights.
In your conversations about a New Bill of Rights you represent only yourself.
What is of value to you? What is your bottom line?
All of us have been preparing for this process.
In community grass roots process we set ground rules, or community norms, or normas, in Spanish speaking communities.
Religious gatherings set their own rules of engagement.
Corporations set their own governing principles.
Families establish the rules by which they interact with one another, even if the process and rules themselves are conducted in silence.
And even Congress sets the House Rules that govern how they conduct their business.
The New Bill of Rights is not that process.
This is about you.
We will have a lot more to say about the New Bill of Rights Project, but for now, thank you so much for reading to the end of this message.
We are truly living in interesting and exciting times, and it is an amazing time in which to be a “grown up.” Which means that we are responsible for what we leave the future.
Let’s start with manageable chunks. Like the appropriations and budget reconciliation processes just launched in earnest in Congress.
We will get back to you later about the New Bill of Rights.
Again, on behalf of the CFJC Steering Committee, staff and everyone at CFJC, thank you for supporting the efforts of so many people and organizations working every day on your behalf.
If you are so inclined you can also contribute here so that CFJC continues the work as well.
All the best.
Y. Armando Nieto