‘Ain’t Got No Wiggle Room’

Poverty is everywhere. More than one in three Americans—106 million people—live below or perilously close to the federal poverty line. If you pick up a newspaper or magazine, turn on the radio or flip on the television, there are countless stories about poverty and income inequality. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are staking their claims to a national anti-poverty agenda. Republican presidential hopefuls like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio have suddenly taken up the issue. And six long years after the Great Recession, Democrats have finally embraced raising the minimum wage. The conversation about poverty is pervasive.

Yet, poverty is nowhere. The men, women and children who are part of the 106 million striving and struggling Americans are invisible and voiceless. They are invisible because the debate about poverty is swirling around them but does not actually include them. They are invisible because they are not recognized as people but rather as a condition or a problem. They are blamed rather than empowered. They are voiceless because they are locked out of the corridors of power where conversations about poverty are happening. At best, their stories serve as useful anecdotes that add color to the harrowing statistics.

It’s past time for people who are poor to tell their own stories so that we can then have a real conversation about what actually contributes to economic success or failure in America.

Pina Orsillo Belgrano has one of these low wage jobs that keeps her struggling. Pina, 58, is a single mother in Seattle who worked as a restaurateur, travel agent and a real estate agent in 2008 until the economy tanked and she lost those jobs. The only job Pina could find was a $12 an hour job in the hotel industry. Pina does not earn enough money to protect her home from being foreclosed.

Pina is unfortunately among the millions of people living in a society where the economy no longer allows them to afford the basics. We have the answers to solve these problems but there is a deep misalignment of power in our society that is preventing us from seeing it and getting there. That must be our north star; building power among people who don’t have it.

And that’s why the Center for Community Change Action (CCCA) is rooting our economic justice campaign in conversations with people who are living on the brink so we can hear how they define their situation and how we can make our economy fairer for everyone.

There are positive signs.  The WASH New York campaign clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of building a movement. After more than a decade of grassroots organizing, the New York carwash campaign helped carwash workers, who are paid less than minimum wage with no additional pay for overtime, fight their way out of poverty. These workers, with the strong support of community organizations, joined together to demand better pay and working conditions.

No one thought they had a chance. The owners are too big, too spread out, and there are too many of them, the workers were told.

These “carwasheros” didn’t let the naysayers stand in their way. Because of their efforts, they now have higher wages, increased job security, posted job schedules and paid leave. They built a movement and they won.

Luis Rosales, who worked at one of the big car washes in Queens for more than five years said, “This is going to be a great change for our car wash. More importantly, we were able to show other workers that it makes sense to fight and win what seemed impossible.”

And now that the city of Seattle has a compromise deal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest minimum wage in the nation, people like Pina will earn more. With the extra money, Pina will be able to meet the income requirements to receive a loan modification so she can stay in her home.

CCCA is working with local partner organizations to raise the quality of jobs (including wages, benefits, and working conditions); ensure that low-income workers and job seekers have a fair shot at those jobs; and reduce barriers to employment that currently deny opportunities for people who have been incarcerated.

Sounds too lofty? Look at what people in America have accomplished when they banded together: equal rights for women, civil rights, child labor laws, voting rights.

In Youngstown, Ohio—a city that was hard hit by the recession and has been battling to come back ever since—I heard one of the best summaries of why we need this movement for good jobs right now. An African American man, Willis, said, “That’s poverty to me…where you ain’t got no wiggle room to enjoy life.”

The rich shouldn’t be the only ones with wiggle room. That’s why we’re building a movement with Willis, with Luis, with Pina. This is the only way we will create an economy that is just and fair for all Americans—especially for those who are paid less than what it takes to get by. And it’s the only way poverty will truly be nowhere.



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Safety Net

A Parent’s Income Should Not Determine a Child’s Future

Childcare is one of the most important issues facing parents today. I know the struggles to find affordable, quality childcare firsthand. I am the mother of two beautiful children, Asyiah, age 6, and Tasir, age 5. My children are amazing, and, just like any other parent, I want to be able to give them the best opportunities in life. I know that for them to succeed, education is key. I have worked hard and tried my best to give them their best chance of success. Despite my efforts, the sheer cost of care for my son—care that would prepare him for school—has become unaffordable.

Until recently, my son attended a childcare program that he and I loved.  He was given instruction and pushed to learn more.  He attended the same program his sister did and has been there since shortly after birth.  Being at the same center gave my son a sense of stability and security that allowed him to excel.  I am a proud mother and I love to talk about how smart my kids are.  I believe that is partly a result of the quality of the care and instruction they have received starting at an early age.

Unfortunately, due to financial reasons, Tasir had to leave his childcare center at the end of the fall.  I lost my job and had to rely on cash assistance to make ends meet but I lost my subsidy that helped to pay for childcare.  It broke my heart to have to move my son from the care he loved and relied on simply because I could not afford it.  Losing my job and then my subsidy not only cost me but it has cost my son.

The loss of the childcare subsidy is not only a snowball effect from a lost job, but it is also an obstacle to getting any other job.

I have seen the benefits of high quality childcare in the education of my daughter.  Asyiah is a smart girl. She wants to learn and do well at school.  I believe this is a result of the instruction and stable care she received in the first years of life.  She has a strong foundation to build upon.

Since losing our childcare subsidy, my son, Tasir, has had nowhere to go. For four months I have been piecing together care with a network of relatives and neighbors while I looked for work.  I know I am lucky to have people to care for my son – otherwise I have no idea how I would be able to find work again.  The loss of the childcare subsidy is not only a snowball effect from a lost job, but it is also an obstacle to getting any other job.  Without care for my son how am I able to find a new job?  It is a vicious cycle that too many families are stuck in.

While I am grateful that Tasir is safe and fed with my relatives and friends, this is not the stable care he was accustomed to and he’s not learning anything.  At his old childcare center, Tasir engaged with children his age and learned new things each day.  Now I am just focused on making sure he is safe.  I want him to excel but right now our situation is not giving him any tools to help him prepare for school next year.   My son cannot redo these last few months. They will always be a time of lost potential.

I know the importance of early education.  I did not benefit from such programs and I do not want my kids to ever fall behind, or feel left behind.  No child should miss the opportunity to learn because his or her parents lack the money to afford it.  My daughter or son could be a doctor, lawyer, or even the next president of the United States, but without education, without a strong foundation, I fear they will not get there.  That my struggles could impact my children’s future keeps me up at night.

Today, I am happy to say that I have a new job.  Ironically I am now working at a childcare center.  With my new job I am hopeful that I will be able to get my subsidy back and be able to afford care for my son.  But there is no guarantee that I can get my son back in the same program, meaning this disruption in his life might be permanent.

No child should be prevented from reaching his or her potential because the caregiver lacks the funding.  I hope that by sharing my story, I can show the need for high-quality, affordable childcare for all families. Asyiah, Tasir and all children deserve the opportunity to reach their potential.




Media and Politics

Poverty in America: Telling the Story

It was one of those arresting moments that transfixed the room: Amy, a military veteran and divorced mother, stood up at the mic and choked back tears as she told her story. She had gone to school to become an elementary school teacher, but wasn’t able to find full time work. With two kids to support, she was earning just $15,184 a year, far below the poverty line for her family. But she was one of the lucky ones for whom there was a lifeline: after obtaining Medicaid and Section 8 housing, Amy was admitted into a program at her local community action agency in her home state of Wisconsin that helped cover the costs of returning to school.  Amy is now a reading specialist with a full time stable job and benefits and owns her own home.

The people listening to Amy’s story were journalists. They were part of an unusual event organized by NBC News, my former employer, that brought journalists and anti-poverty advocates together to do something they don’t do very often: talk to one another. Inspired by open-mic poetry slams, this was called a “poverty pitch slam.”  The pitch slam was part of the NBC News “In Plain Sight: Poverty in America” project, a special reporting initiative supported by the Ford Foundation, which I launched and ran in 2013 (the project, which recently won a George Foster Peabody award, is now in its second year, and – full disclosure – I have transitioned to a new job as program officer in the Ford Foundation’s Media & Justice initiative).

Amy was one of a dozen people who had five minutes or less to pitch their stories to the panel of journalists from around the nation, including reporters and editors from big platforms like USA Today and NBC News, as well as smaller outlets like public radio stations and the Springfield News-Leader in the Ozarks (whose Every Child project has been brilliant and powerful).

The pitch slam coincided with the 50th anniversary of the launch of President Johnson’s “war on poverty,” which generated a flurry of big-media press coverage of poverty, an issue, as Dan Froomkin pointed out last year in an essay for Nieman Reports, that the “mainstream” media tend to mostly ignore.  (A finding corroborated by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), in a new study of the three major network evening newscasts set to be released next month.)  On the January anniversary of LBJ’s speech, however, the Washington Post, for example, presented everything we presumably need to know about the war on poverty, and The New York Times judged the war on poverty a “mixed bag.”  Most of the coverage binge, as FAIR’s radio program, “Counterspin,” pointed out, focused on either methodology – how we count poverty and whether it has gone up or down over the last half-century – or on the deep political and philosophical divide that exists over how to attack poverty in this country. What it didn’t really focus on was the people, like Amy, who can tell the very real stories of what it is like to be poor, and to want to be not-poor, and how hard it is in America 50 years after LBJ’s speech to do what he pledged: to replace despair with opportunity.

But these are the stories that are out there to be told, begging to be told, and I am here to tell you that, contrary to the beliefs and fears of editors and executive producers, these are deeply personal stories that, when told, do captivate the audience of readers, listeners, and viewers.

In the first year of the NBC News In Plain Sight project, the coverage (most of it online) included stories about life on minimum wage, fast food worker strikes, hunger, urban and suburban poverty, childhood asthma in poor urban areas, homeless veterans, the “unbanked,” threats to food stamps, criminal debt, transportation for low-income workers, gays and poverty, the dental crisis for the poor, putting off parenthood for financial reasons, unemployed older workers, the disappearance of “the American dream” – and more – and viewers did not turn the channel or click away from the 100+ stories we presented. In fact, the sharing of stories via social media was robust.

So here are a few more story ideas that I didn’t get around to, but I hope somebody else will. (As Henny Youngman might have said had he been a journalist, take my story ideas … please!)

If you’re so poor…: When many Americans see food stamp recipients who are obese, or struggling families with flat-screen televisions, they wonder how this can happen; same thing when they see a poor kid in an expensive pair of sneakers. Brian Charles, a reporter on the poverty beat in Connecticut, talks about “death by a thousand ‘no’s’.” As he explains it, what people don’t see when they see that kid in the Nikes is that the kid’s mom may have said no so many times that finally, when the kid wanted those sneakers, for once, that thousandth time, she said yes. Tell the story of those moms, and those kids. Explain how flat-screens are cheap but good schools and real opportunity are not. Explain the link between scarcity and obesity. And tell the stories through the experience of the real experts, the people who live them, by connecting with organizations like Witnesses to Hunger.

Welfare-to-work: has it worked? It’s been nearly 20 years since President Clinton enacted “welfare reform” into law.  The new law definitely did end “welfare as we know it,” but did it come through on its promise to move millions of poor Americans to work that leads to good jobs? What is the truth about TANF? There’s some great policy work on this question, but let’s not forget about the human stories – the “success stories” and the failures.

Solutions: Amy’s story is a story about programs that worked to lift her out of poverty. There are other stories like that out there, waiting to be told, and to be appreciated by an audience that wants more than doom and gloom. The Solutions Journalism Network has a lot of really smart stuff to say about how to do this kind of solutions-oriented reporting, and the TalkPoverty story bank is a great resource for people who, like Amy, are willing and ready to tell their personal stories.

I know the people who are launching TalkPoverty.org well—Greg Kaufmann, from his work as a fellow poverty reporter when he was at The Nation, and the folks at the Center for American Progress through their ongoing poverty work.  They are going to bring unique voices to this blog—from people doing cutting-edge work as researchers, advocates, and activists in the fight against poverty, to the people living in poverty themselves.

I hope reporters will keep up with this blog to discover story ideas and people they should talk to in covering poverty.  There are way too many stories that still need to be told.  It would be great if we could get to a point where poverty reporters had to worry about being scooped.  We’re not there yet.




Beyond the Minimum Wage

Of course we should absolutely raise the minimum wage. We should raise it in our cities, towns, states and federally. We should use any public entity that has the authority to raise the bottom—like for federal, state, and local contracts—and we should then demand that private companies follow suit.  Morality, decency and basic economics all call for lifting the wages of the lowest paid workers.

But raising the minimum is not enough, and absent a serious challenge to how wealth and power is mal-distributed in this country, may prove a fleeting and potentially short-term victory. Communities of color lost 60% of their wealth in the 2008 economic collapse. Just this year, Wall Street gave themselves bonuses greater than the total wages of a million minimum wage workers. Since the 2008 economic crash, 95% of the economic gains have gone to the top 1%.  If we don’t have a grander, bigger, bolder vision of what is possible and needed, a newly raised minimum wage could also become the maximum wage for increasing numbers of workers whose pay and standard of living is being driven ever downward.

We know parts of the story only too well. Over the last forty years the economy and politics of the country have been remade. Wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent. The miserably low minimum wage, impact of tax cuts for the rich, and defunding of the government—they are all just part of a much bigger story. The economy is increasingly “financialized”—financial institutions are increasing their size and influence at every level of the government and the economy.  Wall Street—continuously coming up with ingenious ways to extract wealth from every part of the economy—has driven the growing wealth divide in our country.

One way to think about what has happened is that a massive redistribution machine was created and set loose on our country (and internationally). With each passing day it is increasingly sophisticated in finding new tricks, skims and scams to concentrate wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

We need to consciously and systematically use the momentum, energy and excitement generated by campaigns to raise the minimum wage—as the base and launching pad—to expose and slow the redistribution machine.

How does the wealth redistribution machine work?

First, outsourcing and subcontracting: In the 1970’s, corporations were faced with rising wages for unionized workers and the growing success of the civil rights and women’s movements in challenging poverty wages, job segregation, and discrimination. The redistribution machine started experimenting with the most vulnerable workers by subcontracting and outsourcing jobs. By hiring another company to pay and supervise janitors, cafeteria and other low-wage workers, corporations found they could avoid the pressure to promote workers of color and raise wages.  Instead, they cut pay and eliminated benefits, while dodging any legal liability or moral responsibility for their actions. By subcontracting and outsourcing they were technically no longer the employer and could drive wages lower, all while still maintaining functional control of the work.

Second, de-unionizing and disaggregating work:  As a result of mergers, acquisitions and leveraged buy-outs, there is greater corporate control, concentration and monopolization at the top. At the same time, work has become increasingly disaggregated—meaning workers are rarely directly hired or paid by the entity that ultimately controls their jobs and wages. Unionization rates have plummeted.   Practices that were once used to cut the pay of the poorest workers are now the norm, spreading to increasing numbers of workers throughout the economy. Workers who organize unions find the entity that signs their check is often—ready for this?—a marginal subcontractor or franchisee of an outsourced subsidiary of a massive private equity firm, hedge fund, or other corporate entity, that is insulated legally from being picketed by workers. Corporations got the best of both worlds—control and no responsibility.

Third, profiting by driving people into debt:  The brilliance of the redistribution machine is that in sucking wealth out of workers’ pockets, it created a new market through which it could transfer more wealth to the already rich. Short of money to pay bills, tens of millions took out usurious payday loans; communities of color were targeted for predatory home equity loans and mortgages; and credit cards with exploding interest rates and bank overdraft fees drained hundreds of billions from people’s pockets. Forty million people now have $1.2 trillion in student loan debt—115,000 retirees have their social security checks garnished to repay student loans every month.  The redistribution machine’s answer to declining wages is to loan you money.

Fourth, feeding on tax dollars and gorging on government:   The City of Los Angeles pays more than $200 million a year in fees to Wall Street, $50 million more than it spends on street repairs. Nowhere has the redistribution machine’s creativity been clearer than in how it uses political power to defund government largely through corporate loopholes and bad tax policy; and then it turns a profit through complex schemes to finance, privatize, and lend to the very government it helped to defund. There is $6 trillion in government spending every year and Wall Street has used privatization schemes, outrageous fees, interest rate manipulations, price fixing, and predatory public loans products—like the interest rate swaps that helped bankrupt Detroit—to capture and transfer to the super-rich as much of the public’s money as possible.

So what to do if raising the minimum wage is essential but not enough?

We need to consciously and systematically use the momentum, energy and excitement generated by campaigns to raise the minimum wage—as the base and launching pad—to expose and slow the redistribution machine. Minimum wage campaigns can and should be the entry point for a bigger call to not only raise the bottom but challenge the very idea that the elite rich should dominate the political and economic life of the country.

We then need to look at opportunities to go on offense to reverse the massive redistribution in wealth that plagues our country.  For example:

  • Using eminent domain: Cities of all sizes can modify mortgages for homeowners who are underwater, and begin to rebuild wealth in communities of color and working class communities.
  • Refinancing federal loans and eliminating the Wall Street profit from higher education: Wall Street rakes in billions through publicly financed Pell grants at for-profit colleges; interest and fees on private loans; servicing, fees and debt collection of federal loans; and lending to higher education institutions that borrow money in the face of defunding. Refinancing existing loans and getting Wall Street out of higher education could save students and tax payers billions of dollars.
  • Renegotiating with Wall Street: Cities can band together and demand that Wall Street cut what some have estimated as $50 billion in fees that are draining much needed public revenue. Cities pay Wall Street 2 % management fees for managing pension funds (even if Wall Street loses money), they pay for “letters of credit”, “remarketing fees”, the list goes on and on.  Cities could use their combined economic clout to negotiate lower fees and less Wall Street profiting off of tax dollars.
  • Transforming major contract negotiations for the public good: Public sector unions and community groups can join together and use major contract negotiations to demand that cities, school boards and states stop wasting taxpayer money on complex interest rate swaps—and risky pension fund investments in hedge funds and private equity firms—that allow Wall Street to pay themselves outsized fees and deliver minimal returns to tax payers.
  • Holding corporations legally accountable: Cities and states can pass laws that hold corporations accountable for the working conditions throughout their supply chain, including for subcontracted workers, and create conditions that increase the ability of workers to organize unions.
  • Reinventing and reestablishing the strike:  This is the critical weapon workers need to confront, disrupt and force negotiations with the corporations at the top of the supply chain.

There has never been a better moment to challenge inequality.  Let’s learn a lesson from the super-rich: they’ve created innumerable innovations to siphon off wealth; now it’s our turn—to create innumerable innovations to slow, stop and reverse the redistribution machine.




A New Poor People’s Movement Must Have Leadership from Poor People

Imagine if the U.S. women’s suffragette movement had been led entirely by men, and its rank-and-file had been mostly male. The movement would surely have been far less galvanizing and assertive.  American women might still be denied the vote.

While some white activists made the ultimate sacrifice – their lives – on behalf of equal rights for African Americans, had the Civil Rights Movement been led and populated primarily by white people, that campaign would also have been far less passionate, insistent, and effective.  The Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts might still be languishing in Congress.

Likewise, if the LGBT crusade had merely waited for straight Americans to voluntarily grant them the right to marry, they would probably not be able to obtain a marriage license in any state, and certainly not in the 18 states where LGBT Americans can now legally marry.

We should have no illusions about the challenges in building a movement with the strong leadership and engagement of low-income Americans.

In fact, no social movement in history has been won entirely by one people on behalf of another.

Thus it is absurd to believe that any attempt to finally end hunger or poverty in the U.S. can succeed without the significant involvement and leadership of low-income Americans.

Yet for decades, many of the upper-middle-class white activists who have led and populated the national anti-hunger movement have essentially taken the position that if they merely “put a face on hunger” – i.e., tell the stories of struggling Americans and display photos or videos of hungry Americans – then average Americans would be so moved and outraged that they would instantaneously support the public policies necessary to end the problem. While I am thankful that some organizations do give scholarships to allow some low-income individuals to attend anti-hunger conferences, most attendees are still upper-middle-class and white; relatively few hungry people – or even formerly hungry people – participate in these meetings, much less lead them. Can you image an American Federation of Teachers convention without educators or an American Legion convention without veterans? The failure of anti-hunger organizations to more fully include the people we represent has made us so weak that we have mostly failed to counter-act right wing policies that increase hunger.

While we certainly still have more work to do to help middle class Americans understand that it is in their self-interest to decrease poverty and hunger, our greatest single challenge is to mobilize our base, ensuring leadership and activism by many more of the 49 million Americans that suffer from food insecurity.

Imagine the political power behind 49 million Americans acting in unison to fight on their own behalf. After all, if you combined the 4 million members of the NRA, the 11 million members of the AFL-CIO member unions, the 1.5 million members of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nearly 1 million members of the Sierra Club, and the 7 million members of the National Right to Life Committee, that’s still less than half the number of Americans who struggle against hunger.

We should have no illusions about the challenges in building a movement with the strong leadership and engagement of low-income Americans. Our entire society and our political system reinforce the cycles of empowerment for the wealthy and disempowerment for the impoverished.

For the nation’s elite, any activism is consistently rewarded. They vote regularly and donate to candidates.  As a result, elected officials tend to respond to their needs, which reinforces their perception that political activity matters, so they continue their political activism.

Low-income people can’t afford to donate to campaigns, and generally vote less frequently, so they get less attention from elected officials, which reinforces their original, negative, perception that politics don’t matter and their participation won’t make a difference anyway.  Even in Democratic Party primaries, wealthy people vote more frequently than low-income people.

Another challenge is that Americans who are low-income and food insecure don’t want to think of themselves as poor and hungry. In contrast, top goals of other movements were to make African American, women, and LGBT people proud of their identity. Yet the greatest goal of low-income and hungry people is usually to escape their condition. It’s darn hard to organize among individuals whose top goal is to no longer be a part of the group being organized.

But just because such organizing is difficult, doesn’t mean it isn’t both crucial and possible.

Witnesses to Hunger, started in 2008 by Dr. Mariana Chilton, is a research and advocacy project partnering with what they call the “real experts on hunger—mothers and caregivers of young children who have experienced hunger and poverty.” Through their photographs and testimonials, the Witnesses advocate for their own families and others and seek to create lasting changes on a local, state and national level.

In New York City, the group I manage, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, coordinates a Food Action Board (FAB) program to train low-income New Yorkers to lead advocacy efforts. FAB members lobby elected officials, testify at public meetings, and communicate through local and national media.

Our current FAB members are diverse. Darrel Bristow is a father of four who previously served in the Marines.  Mariluz Brito is a single mother of three who is unemployed and struggles against hunger, but even though she immigrated legally, she has not been in the U.S. long enough to qualify for federal SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits. Soraya Diaz is a part-time student at Lehman College in the Bronx, who lives with her elderly grandmother and mother. Ann Jenkins retired from her job as a receptionist at Albert Einstein Hospital and now needs SNAP to feed her family. Oralia Morand is a longtime volunteer in various soup kitchens and pantries who is the widow of a veteran. Jackie Williams is also an active volunteer, a single woman with breast cancer and a SNAP recipient, who performs freelance work when she can.

When these courageous fighters speak with elected officials or the media, the conversation is entirely different than when I do. They speak with an urgency and poignancy that no non-poor advocate can even approximate. They transform policy requests from abstract notions that can be negotiated away over time into flesh-and-blood demands that must be met immediately.

It’s much harder for Members of Congress to explain to a SNAP recipient who is standing right in front of them why they are proposing SNAP cuts than it is to explain it to a mere advocate.  For example, when the U.S. House of Representatives voted in January for a Farm Bill with more than $8 billion in SNAP cuts, two-thirds of House Republicans, and nearly half of House Democrats, voted for the cuts. But, because low-income people in New York City were so vocal in opposition to the cuts, as were local hunger groups, 10 out of the 11 House members from the city voted against them.

Both current events and history prove that direct advocacy by low-income Americans fighting for their own interests can have a massive impact.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., responding to near-starvation conditions found in parts of the U.S. in the 1960s, viewed access to food as a civil rights issue, saying: “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger?” King made the hunger issue a central component of his Poor People’s Campaign. After King’s assassination, the movement, led by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, camped out on the Washington Mall to dramatize the issue and call for the expansion and creation of federal nutrition assistance programs. These efforts generated widespread media attention.

In the years following the encampment on the Mall, the president and Congress jointly expanded the Food Stamp Program and federal summer meals programs for children from relatively small pilot projects into large-scale programs, and created the National School Breakfast Program and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program which provides nutrition supplements to low-income pregnant woman and their small children.

These expansions succeeded strikingly in achieving their main goal: ending starvation conditions in America. In 1979, the Field Foundation sent a team of investigators back to many of the same parts of the U.S. in which they had previously found high rates of hunger in the late 1960s. They found dramatic reductions in hunger and malnutrition and concluded: “This change does not appear to be due to an overall improvement in living standards or to a decrease in joblessness in these areas… The Food Stamp Program, the nutritional components of Head Start, school lunch and breakfast programs, and…WIC have made the difference.”

These efforts proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that, when poor people band together for peaceful actions to push the democratic system to meet their needs, they can have spectacular results. Conversely, over the succeeding decades—when serious organizing efforts among low-income people lagged—our political system outsourced jobs, reduced wages, and cut poverty and nutrition programs, and, consequently, hunger soared.

That is why every poverty and hunger group in the country should begin or expand their efforts to better engage low-income people, whether such activities are modeled on the Witnesses to Hunger, our FABs, or other proven models. Foundations and private donors should also encourage these endeavors by funding them.

The time is long overdue for another, true Poor People’s Campaign. As is the case with every successful movement, the people with the most to gain will always be the activists who make the biggest difference.