Congressional Meetings for a Just Farm Bill: Part 1

Farm Bill debates are picking up in Washington, so now is the time to reach out to members of Congress and share our vision for a just Farm Bill. People committed to AJWS’s work in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago have been organizing other AJWS supporters and activists to participate in meetings with congressional representatives. These meetings are a rare and exciting opportunity to speak directly with elected officials to ensure that our voices heard. Alexa Weitzman shared her thoughts about her meeting with Congressman Turner in Queens, New York…

I’m totally pumped! And the juice I’m drinking is 100% Local District 9 Lobbying Juice!

The road to lobbying last week at Congressman Turner’s office in Middle Village, Queens, started on the other side of the country at the 2011 Hazon Food Conference in Davis, CA. At the conference, I attended a session about the Farm Bill reauthorization, led by AJWS’s Dahlia Rockowitz and the Food Fair Network’s Oren Hesterman. I started to learn a little more about this awkward hulking piece of legislation that determines so much of our country’s agriculture and food policy.

When I came back to NY, my food justice appetite was whet and I sought out a temporary part-time position at AJWS working on Global Hunger Shabbat (GHS). Working for GHS meant I was able to really immerse myself and become fluent in the materials, which included information about the inefficiencies of foreign food aid and powerful stories about communities negatively affected by our country’s polices.

Jewish tradition has a lot to say about tzedakah. Rambam talks about the highest level of giving to a person in need being providing a loan, forming a partnership, giving a grant, or finding a job, so long as the loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer relying upon others. In researching our country’s foreign food aid policy, it became clear to me that the way the US was providing aid was antithetical to the Jewish ethics of giving.

When AJWS’s Ilan Caplan asked if I was interested in lobbying at an in-district meeting, I enthusiastically said YES! And a moment later, I said, “Lobby?! Isn’t that what shady people in suits in DC do to promote various agendas?”

See, I had no idea that I could request a meeting with my Congressperson’s office to talk about something important to me. I suppose I knew that some people have talked to some elected officials about something, but I never really thought it was a possibility for me. Once the option was placed in front of me, however, I decided I was going to get that meeting; I was going to talk to Congressman Turner to explain to him why inefficiencies in our food aid system need to stop!

Our meeting happened on April 2nd. Our small group met a couple of times to discuss our tactics. While we all were passionate about these issues, we each had a different way to approach them, and we divided the talking points among us. When we arrived at the office on Monday morning, we were told that Representative Turner had a last-minute scheduling change and wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting. But Bob Capano, Turner’s District Director, patched in Eugene Patrone, Turner’s Policy Director.

The meeting was a success! AJWS’s Adam Zuckerman did a great job preparing me, and we were able to address all of their questions and concerns. They were receptive to our assessment of the inefficiencies of the US’s food aid policy and understand the need for changes in order to foster-self sufficiency in these communities. They encouraged us to remain in communication with them, and agreed that this is food aid isn’t about Republican or Democratic values. It’s tzedakah in the truest sense—doing what’s right.

I look forward to my next opportunity to get pumped up on lobby juice!

Alexa Weitzman lives in Forest Hills, Queens where she practices Chinese medicine and writes a food blog, She is fiercely committed to food justice and is thrilled to be participating in AJWS’s Reverse Hunger campaign.