Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Have You Spoken Truth To Power?

“We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,” he said. “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country—the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve. … They are not normal.”
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake


It’s not often that Congress is associated with exceptional political courage and moral clarity. That’s one reason why the evening newscasts led with the “profile in courage” moment of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor yesterday.

“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake said on the Senate floor. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength—because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.”

The speech was widely seen as a challenge to other Republicans to speak out against the excesses of the Trump White House.    But a political analysis of Flake’s speech is too narrow a lens. It is a challenge to all of us whether in the political arena, or in business, the nonprofit sector, philanthropy, the arts, or any other field.  One lesson of history that repeats over and over again it is that silence serves the powerful, but never the public interest. 

Have you spoken truth to power?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What it means to "get more political"?

             At our annual No Kid Hungry dinner in Boston last week a supporter who has attended many of our events, came up to me during the reception and said “I hope that in your remarks tonight you are going to get more political”.  Like many, he was exasperated by the dysfunction and divisiveness that prevail in our current national discourse.

            “Well thanks for giving me so much advance notice to think about it” I teased, knowing I probably wouldn’t deliver enough political red meat to satisfy his appetite.  As a nonprofit, Share Our Strength must remain nonpartisan. And that’s enabled us to get governors of both parties to enroll more kids in school meals programs.

But, the more I thought about my friend’s comment, the more I appreciated his plea. With so many fundamental American values and progressive policies under assault, a political response is warranted. But we can “get more political” without being partisan. Such politics, with a small “p”, means at least three things:

First, we make every effort to honor the philanthropic investments of generous supporters by ensuring that the efforts they invested in get to scale. That means educating politicians and policymakers about policies, like school meals and SNAP (food stamps) in our case, to do that.

Second, those who care about kids, and issues that affect them, must be their political proxy since kids can’t vote, lobby, or make campaign contributions. From school board to White House every election matters. Urging our stakeholders to be more involved – as volunteers, donors, on social media, etc. is essential to counter special interests that too often set the political agenda.

Third, we all have a role in demanding that our politics return to at least a modicum of civility. We can’t permit our leaders to demean others, tolerate racism, lie without consequence, or distract us from the real challenges at hand.

If politics means bashing a party or elected official with whom we disagree, then don’t look to us.  But, if getting more political means finding opportunities to engage people in their community, to help them to roll up their sleeves and share their strength, then yes we are getting more political. If getting more political means saying often and out loud that racism is wrong, that punishing the poor punishes all of us, that betraying the vulnerable and voiceless betrays those who fight to preserve our values of opportunity and equality, then yes, we are getting more political. 

In so doing we can not only end childhood hunger, we can prevent the next generation of kids from becoming hungry in the first place, and  ensure we have the strong kids needed for a strong America.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The "success paradox" and proving improvement is possible

Peggy Noonan’s recent Wall Street Journal column about the need for bipartisanship in health care policy, speaks to what we are witnessing and achieving in our own work:  “America is in trouble, with huge problems. The people are … desperate for a sense that improvement is actually possible.”

One of the most important things Share Our Strength is doing, in addition to relieving the terrible hardship suffered by hungry kids, is demonstrating, irrefutably, that improvement is actually possible.  Childhood hunger has been reduced by at least 30% since we began the No Kid Hungry campaign.  It is at its lowest level in many years.  Adding more than 3 million kids to school breakfast, high SNAP participation, low unemployment, and economic growth have all played a role. 

Last week the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities led by our board member Bob Greenstein reported that child poverty, now at 15.6 percent, is at a record low, half of what it was in 1967. And last month USDA reported that 17.5% of children (1 in 6) live in food insecure households, but only 8.8% of kids (less than 1 in 10) live in a household with at least one food insecure child.

That the American people are “desperate for a sense that improvement is actually possible” underscores the need to emphatically embrace and promote the anti-hunger community’s success.  Organizations like ours often experience a “success paradox” feeling tension between dramatizing the severity of the problem, and showing progress that tells stakeholders the severity has been diminished and they are getting a great return on their investment.  However that is a false choice akin to a winning NFL football team feeling they have to keep the score close or the fans will stop coming to cheer. Just the opposite is the case. Fans cheer victory. Investors invest in success. Besides, the truth is that even though there has been great progress, significant and compelling need remains. 

At a time when our nation, battered by tragedy, divided politically, is desperate for good news, we have some: childhood hunger and child poverty rates are dropping, lives are being saved and changed.  And having proven that we can feed kids in record numbers, we earn the opportunity and responsibility to help prevent the next generation from being hungry in the first place.