Last week I was a part of Bread for the World’s National Gathering and Lobby Day. It was an unbelievable busy and crazy and exhausting week but extremely fun and fulfilling.
Monday was the day of “listening and learning” that started with worship followed by numerous speakers, some with status, some with expertise, and some with incredible personal stories. As part of the organizing department, my job was to connect with the people from Massachusetts, and generally mingle and talk to a lot of people, which was a lot of small-talk for this introvert to handle. It was also a lot of fun; the Bread staff is wonderful, even under stress and pressure like coordinating an event for several hundred people, and Bread members are passionate, engaged, and intelligent people of faith. The main topics were immigration reform, mass incarceration and returning citizens, and sustainable food security, along with foreign food aid reform, which is Bread’s offering of letters campaign this year. After soaking up as much information as possible, and meeting a lot of interesting people, we celebrated Bread’s 40th anniversary (it was founded by Art Simon in 1974) over a fancy dinner where both Art and the current president, David Beckmann, spoke, along with music and prayer. It was a celebration of everything Bread has been a part of and made happen in the last 40 years. And that’s a lot. Along with looking back, we looked forward to ending hunger in 2030, which is Bread’s goal for their Bread Rising campaign.
Tuesday started even earlier as the famous Lobby Day, something I’ve been looking forward to my whole time here with Bread. After a brief briefing with the government relations folks, we started the day with worship to remind us of who we are, whose we are, and why we are lobbying Congress on behalf of hungry and poor people. What sets Bread apart from other nonprofit and social justice political advocacy organizations is faith– it’s the source and reason for their power. After great speeches about the day’s topics– immigration reform and food aid reform– and why as Christians we should care about these issues and why it’s important to be a voice for the voiceless, it was game time. We split into regions, then states, then districts to plan the visits with our Senators and Representatives. I was in charge of the Massachusetts delegation, about 10 in total. We planned who was going to say what and what issues we were going to stress, grabbed lunch, and got on the shuttle to Capitol Hill. The energy in the room and on the shuttle bus was pretty palpable; everyone was excited, nervous, and ready to go– and the rushed, hectic nature of the day just added to the electricity everyone felt.
As we were riding on the van, it hit me– on streets full of charter buses and tourists, here we are, a group of Christians, all different kinds, from all over the country, coming together because our faith demands that we act when we see injustice, poverty, and hunger in the world, and that’s exactly what we were doing. It felt empowering, exciting, and important. One of or mottoes of the day was- “if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move Congress,” and that’s exactly what we were going to do.
The only problem with Massachusetts is that most of the Congresspeople are pretty progessive when it comes to these issues, and usually vote with us. So we mostly thanked the staff and asked that they champion these issues fighting poverty and hunger and told them about specific legislation we were interested in. First we had a great meeting with Senator Ed Markey’s aid, who was very attentive and responsive and helpful.
Next we met with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s staff, who listened but wasn’t as interested in these issues. After that we split into Congressional districts and I went with two other women to meet with Representative Clark’s office. She is pretty new to Congress; she moved into Sen. Markey’s office when we moved to the Senate. We had a great meeting with an aide, and even got to talk to Rep. Clark for a few minutes and take a picture! It seems so rare, but it’s so important to meet with our elected representatives. We put them into office and it’s our responsibility to tell them what we think . Their job depends on us, let’s use that power.
After all of the lobby visits the day ended with a reception honoring retiring members of Congress who have leaders on hunger issues and there was more schmoozing and mingling with Bread staff and members and some representatives and their staff. After that there was a small worship service where people shared where they experienced God during the day and in their lobby visits. People raised up all of the hard work of the staff, the community among the members, the feeling of accomplishment and civic responsibility after meeting with Congresspeople and advocating for people who can’t pay for lobbyists.
I left feeling so inspired about and committed to this work of fighting hunger and poverty, encouraged about working with this wonderful staff, and grateful for this opportunity.