Congressional Meetings for a Just Farm Bill: Part 2

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. Benjamin Singer shared he thoughts about his meeting with senators in Chicago…

Two weeks ago, I accompanied three rabbis and several other community members to meet with the Chicago offices of U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. We went to ask for their support to Reverse Hunger by reforming the U.S. Farm Bill. It was a rewarding and invigorating experience!

We were all inspired in the meetings by Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue, who set the stage by explaining the significance of Passover and the phrase “Let all who are hungry, come and eat.” He then shared moving accounts of his experiences on a recent AJWS trip to Haiti. Particularly memorable were the stories of temporary walls in the tent camps constructed of empty burlap food bags from the U.S., and what happened when a member of his trip asked a woman living in one of these tent camps, “How do you all keep your shirts so white?” She responded that just because they had lost their homes, they had not lost their dignity.

Even though Sen. Durbin’s senior advisor, Mike Daly, was unavailable for our meeting, we had a lovely conversation with another aide, Cynthia Bajjalieh. To Cynthia, we made our case clearly and convincingly (at least we thought so!), and demonstrated that many of Sen. Durbin’s Jewish constituents care deeply about this issue, and would support Durbin if he were to stand with AJWS. Cynthia said she’d send the meeting notes and materials from the district office to DC.

We then went upstairs one floor to Senator Kirk’s office. Sen. Kirk is recuperating from a stroke (our prayers are with him), but he would be proud to know how vigorously his staff is continuing to work on his behalf. Our group had a terrific meeting with Robert Johnson, who works directly on agriculture issues for the Senator. Johnson admitted that the farm lobby hadn’t brought up the issue of foreign aid in the Farm Bill. He was receptive to our appeal and eager to learn more about the issue and which senators support our position. He was also eager to brainstorm ways Sen. Kirk could be helpful. Robert had downloaded and read AJWS’s Reverse Hunger Policy Paper before we arrived and asked if he could meet with Ruth Messinger when she comes to Chicago in late April.

We left Sen. Kirk’s office feeling like we had really reached someone who wanted to invest in fighting for a just Farm Bill and could potentially be a true advocate from an important state. Whether Senator Kirk and his staff’s interest lies in his support for building sustainable foreign economies, support for international development assistance, or creating more cost-effective and efficient solutions to achieving big goals with a shrinking budget, we felt that the door was open to continue our conversation and hopefully increase support for AJWS.

Too often, we are disheartened by the overwhelming power of narrow interest groups at the expense of responsible policy for all. But by really educating our representatives, it’s clear that we can make a difference. You can even help Reverse Hunger. Sign the Jewish Petition for a Just Farm Bill.

Benjamin D. Singer is a specialist in catalyzing positive social change through community organizing and mass media. His experience includes political campaigns, environmental advocacy, Jewish education, and producing, directing, and writing social-issue films and documentaries.