Sunday, August 13, 2017

a letter to my colleagues about Charlottesville


Dear Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Partners colleagues:

            When I went to Charlottesville for Share Our Strength at the end of April, having lunch outdoors on the pedestrian mall dotted with bookstores, restaurants and shops, I couldn’t help but think how civilized and gentle a community it was. It will be again someday soon but in the near term our memory of it will be marred by the ugliness we witnessed Saturday.

Our work at Share Our Strength focuses on ensuring that kids grow up healthy, strong and ready and able to contribute to society.  Implicit in that is that the society they will be joining is worth getting them ready for in the first place. When racism, bigotry, hate and discrimination encroach on that society, the focus of our efforts must expand to address it. Otherwise, really, what’s the point?

It doesn’t erode our commitment to nonpartisanship and bipartisanship to assert that the President’s failure to condemn racism for what it is, is a deeply disappointing affront to every American who loves our country and the values it represents. Thankfully many Republican and Democratic leaders were united yesterday in their explicit denunciation of the white supremacists who converged on Charlottesville and who in no way represent the good people who live there.

In circumstances like these, the question is always “what can I do?” My friend Jonathan Greenblatt, who led the Social Innovation Fund in the Obama White House and is now CEO of the Anti-Defamation League has made a number of suggestions over the past 24 hours about what government officials should do, but has also written: “We should not wait for government: businesses and nonprofits, CEO’s, clergy and citizens.  It’s up to all of us to take a stand against hate. You can tweet, march, donate, mobilize, vote. Action can take many forms,. It isn’t bounded by politics. Only limit is your creativity. Ultimately this is not about political resistance. It’s about moral renewal and recommitting to the American idea.” You can follow him at @JGreenblattADL 

My only advice for now: don’t be silent.

Billy

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When All Else Fails, Give Bipartisanship A Try


The collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obama care has led to speculation in many quarters that as a last resort Congress might give bipartisanship another try. Many consider that wishful thinking if not hopelessly naive. But Share Our Strength’s experience with it’s No Kid Hungry campaign suggests that there are times when such bipartisanship can not only work but produce concrete results that measurably improve lives.
 

            Granted that feeding hungry kids is more popular and less complicated than tackling health care. But it’s still dependent on legislation, government funding, and the commitment of state and local officials to executive efficiently and effectively.  For the past 10 years we have won the support of Democrats and Republicans alike making arguments that have bipartisan appeal:

-          That childhood hunger is a solvable problem

-          That children are the most vulnerable and least responsible for the situation they are in

-          That the return on investing in children pays dividends and saves taxpayers money in the long run.

Most important of all, we have resisted the temptation to attack those with whom we disagree. And the battles we’ve fought have been for the purpose of feeding kids, not for the purpose of strengthening our own political prospects.

As I said, that can sound na├»ve in today’s political culture. But the results speak for themselves: 3 million kids added to the school breakfast program, a majority of eligible kids participating in school meals rather than a minority, and childhood hunger at its lowest level in more than a decade.

It’s a sad commentary that in the health care debate, bipartisanship is considered only as a last resort. But at this point there is no other option.  And as we’ve seen in the effort to achieve No Kid Hungry, that can a be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"The promise of more sacrifice instead of more security" - remembering a more inspiring politics


            This Saturday, July 15, is the 57th anniversary of John Kennedy’s speech at the convention in Los Angeles accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for president. That must seem like ancient history, but one paragraph still points the way to the future both for our nation, and for Share Our Strength, given our bedrock belief that people want to be challenged to give of themselves.

 

            The paragraph is worth recalling because of how courageously different it is from virtually any other  political leader who has followed. Four months before his Inauguration Day call to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, candidate Kennedy foreshadowed that message with this passage:  “The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises--it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook--it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.”   http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25966

Most political consultants working today, Democrat or Republican, would consider that heresy bordering on political malpractice. Campaign speeches promise tax cuts, entitlement programs, small business incentives, more benefits for the middle class.  “The promise of more sacrifice.”?  Have you ever heard such a thing?

            More than half a century later, it takes a nearly cosmic leap of imagination to envision such sentiment in our political culture. But this belief in the capacity of our neighbors and fellow citizens to give of themselves remains alive in the DNA of Share Our Strength and goes to the heart of what’s made us successful – challenging people to share their strength, and as we’ve seen most recently via Chefs Cycle, the greater the challenge the better.  

            Deep down most of us know that what Kennedy said was right and necessary then, and now. There are no easy answers. No solutions that can succeed without more from us. Whatever you believe about the size and role of government, citizen engagement, in a democracy like ours, is essential to make it work.

You can read JFK’s words at the link above, or watch and listen @ https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/AS08q5oYz0SFUZg9uOi4iw.aspx  They need no further interpretation from me. But I do have an accompanying plea: that you incorporate the spirit of asking more of yourself, each other, and all to whom we reach out, of setting the bar higher, into all that we do.

Friday, June 23, 2017

When Both Parties Put Party Loyalty Ahead of What's Best For Kids


There are many lens through which to view and judge the health care legislation unveiled in the Senate yesterday and now working its way through Congress.

For example, Jared Bernstein, who works with our board member Bob Greenstein at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities writes in the Washington Post: “please don’t lose sight of what’s going on here: a massive transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars that are now being used to help vulnerable families and moderate-income households to the wealthiest households. The Senate bill solves the problem that the poor in America have too much, and the rich have too little. In fact, it solves that problem even better than the House did. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/06/22/the-senate-health-care-bill-is-even-worse-than-the-houses-version/?utm_term=.ae2411601c5b

            But the most important lens for our purposes is the impact on children. For a better understanding of that, take a look at this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.   "The bill fails children by dismantling the Medicaid program, capping its funding, ending its expansion and allowing its benefits to be scaled back. The bill fails all children by leaving more families uninsured, or without insurance they can afford or that meets their basic needs. This bill fails children living in or near poverty, children in foster care and children with complex health care needs whose parents have private insurance – all of these children depend on Medicaid, and if this bill passes, Medicaid will no longer be there for them.https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/SenateHealthCareBill.aspx 

            It’s hard to believe that both parties put party loyalty so far ahead of what’s best for kids – that out of 100 Senators there aren’t even five or ten who could cross the aisle to work with each other on a less draconian, more compassionate alternative.  I hope that when we succeed in ending childhood hunger, we are in a position to teach them what bipartisanship can do.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

From a Disturbed and Disturbing Nation's Capital


Last night I spent a rare evening in our DC apartment, since Roe and Nate are arriving from Boston this afternoon for a long weekend.  Sirens blare often, a Connecticut Avenue constant, and no more or less than usual, but I couldn’t help wondering if instead of a motorcade or a fire, there was something else going on akin to the morning’s horrific story about a madman hunting Congressmen with a rifle and forever changing half a dozen lives if not the culture of our capital.

            There’s been much commentary over the past 24 hours about political adversaries coming together in sorrow and in unity - from the well of the House chamber to the hallways of the Medstar Washington Hospital Center. An aspect of that is undeniably heartwarming and encouraging.  But it’s tethered to a deeper sadness that this is the best we can do – that this is what it takes to remind a diverse group of basically good human beings to act human.  Still, after years of relentless political warfare, even the briefest of respites is welcome.  Especially if it creates some muscle memory so that in the days ahead there’s a reflex to put caring ahead of accusing, kindness ahead of counting votes.

            By late in the evening some of the usual cable news combatants were already retreating to their corners, tentatively testing whether the appetite had returned for using the day’s events to taint their adversaries. But it was only some – and that’s progress.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Ride of a Lifetime: Chefs Cycle 2017


 


            Chefs Cycle 2017 was bigger in every way than before: more riders (230), more money (close to $2 million), more hills (13,000 feet of climbing), more personal fulfillment, more high performance from our colleagues at Share Our Strength.

            When we arrived in Santa Rosa, the Flamingo Hotel had been transformed into Chefs Cycle headquarters with riders as anxious about meeting up with their shipped bikes as you might be waiting to meet your date on Match.com.  300 miles lay ahead and hills so long and steep that many accomplished local cyclists never ride them.

            We rode out the first morning with flashing red and blue lights of local motorcycle police and California High Patrol leapfrogging each other to control intersections and ensure a safe rollout. Riders quickly self-sorted by skill and speed into groups that would last the next three days: Experienced riders in sleek peloton lines of 8-10 or more. The rest of us struggled and straggled in squads of two, three, or four, often riding alone and silently for long stretches.
 

            Strong riders finished by noon and were showered, changed and finished with lunch as others rolled in between 1:00 and 3:00 or later. Duff Goldman was on his bike for 11 hours one day. Boston chef Andy Husband’s for nearly 10 hours the next.  At the finish Andy’s wife asked if she could take his bike for him and he said “yeah, throw it in the pool.” 

            On Day Three the last hill was just four miles from the end of the ride but the hardest climb of all.  Tom Nelson got to the top ahead of me. When I arrived he was off his bike and sitting on the curb, staring straight ahead.  I laid my bike down and sat next to him.  Several minutes went by in silence. We glanced at each other and shook our heads as if to say please don’t say a word or expect any. We got up and rode on.
 

            Each night chef Travis Flood, after riding 100 miles, cooked dinner for everyone. Driving up I-5 the night before the ride, a gust of wind tipped over the trailer carrying his equipment.  He lost everything.   Jason Roberts, Mary Sue Milliken, and others said “ let’s share our strength” and called vendors, suppliers and others to replace what Travis lost. Standing next to his makeshift cinderblock grill in the hotel parking lot, Travis told me “I came from a divorced family and so memories of Christmas, Thanksgiving and other traditions just represent stress to me. I still don’t look forward to them. What I look forward to all year are these three days – being with this family.”
 

            Alecia Moore Hart, who we know as the singer P!NK, rode the third day along with her husband Carey Hart. She told me during a podcast session that she was struck by something else Travis had told her: “Riding is painful, but we get to get off the bike. Hungry kids don’t get to quit being hungry.” 

            Of many lessons learned, my top three take-aways:
1.      In a nation so politically divided, the desire for community, to share one’s strengths in ways that make you part of something larger than yourself, is greater than ever. Chefs Cycle not only raises money and feeds kids, it builds that community.  Many riders, no matter how successful in their careers, miss that and spoke about it.
2.      Small advances, relentlessly pursued, yield big results.  Last year a rider taught me to conquer steep climbs by thinking, “if I can just pedal to the next tree, then pedal to the next telephone pole, then the next crack in the side walk … eventually …”  The same is true for our No Kid Hungry campaign. If we can get breakfast participation to 60%, and then 64%, and then … we eventually reach goal.  A corollary: little gestures can have large impact. Many riders told of struggling up a hill, about to quit, and then feeling a hand on the small of their back, from another stronger rider who pulled alongside, more encouragement than push, but enough to do the trick.
3.      Mental toughness and determination prevail over the most formidable obstacles. Riders whose bikes, training and physical condition should have left them with little chance of getting up hills passed riders in better shape who got off their bikes and walked.

For 48 hours after the ride, everyone was still comparing notes about hills, triumphs or meltdown stories, making suggestions about what could be done differently next year.  As we were getting ready to leave the hotel the next day, Travis Flood was returning from Home Depot in his pickup truck with asphalt and a blow torch. Nate and I went over to see what was up and help. The cinderblock grill used to prepare dinners for so many of us, had sunk into the asphalt and left a pothole in the parking lot. Though Travis had done so much already, he felt accountable for fixing that too. A sense of community will do that to you.

 
 
    It's never too late to support Chefs Cycle or one of the riders. See @ http://chefscycle.org/  Thanks!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why The American Health Care Act Would Be Devastating for Children


The American Health Care Act passed by the House last week would be devastating for children in this nation.

At its core, this legislation would make it harder and more expensive for low-income families to get the care they need. Our No Kid Hungry work focuses on ensuring that children get the food they need to grow up strong; the projected impact of the House action profoundly undermines this work. Feedings kids improves their health and educational potential, but cutting their access to treatment for ailments like asthma, ear infections, obesity, dental needs or diabetes is like putting gas in a car but denying access to the mechanics and garages necessary to keep it running.

We also know that millions of parents in this nation are struggling financially, forced to make unthinkable tradeoffs each month between medicine or rent, paying the electricity bill or buying enough groceries. Making it harder for these families to afford health care, either preventative or in case of serious illnesses, will put more families in jeopardy, making them sicker, hungrier, and less secure.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We will fight against policies that hurt children and support policies that give them a more level playing field, making sure they get the basic food, care and skills they desperately need. These are our values, and Congress must reject this legislation.

Worth reading: two opinion pieces with analysis of the impact of last week’s effort to end the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.  The first by our longtime friend and ally Dr. Irwin Redliner, CEO of the Children’s Health Fund focuses on the impact on children whose health care coverage is threatened by the House action.   https://tinyurl.com/kfp9nbo
The second by our board colleague Bob Greenstein asserts “I have been in Washington, D.C. for 45 years.  But I have never seen members of Congress vote to so deeply hurt so many of their own constituents.  If enacted, this bill will stand as the biggest assault on ordinary Americans — and the largest Robin-Hood-in-reverse transfer of income up the income scale, from low- and middle-income families to those at the top — in our country’s modern history. http://www.cbpp.org/press/statements/greenstein-house-votes-to-take-health-care-coverage-away-from-millions-and-make-it