You – we – can make an impact in the way our government spends money and passes laws that affect the poor. From time to time, we’ll be sending our Advocates emails to let you know actions you can take (everything from sending emails to visiting with a congressman) that will influence how the US responds to world poverty. We’ve asked Pete Howard, Food for the Hungry Director of Public Policy, to share with us his thoughts on political advocacy and why it’s important.
Pete Howard led efforts in tsunami-ravaged Indonesia in 2005. Now he is taking on another enormous task: political advocacy in the U.S.
What is political advocacy?
Pete: Political advocacy is using the influence we have as American citizens to speak out on behalf of the poor and or those who don’t have a voice. America is the most powerful nation on earth and the policies that our government (through Congress and the White House) designs and implements have huge ramifications all around the world. Food for the Hungry’s focus is on the poorest of the poor in places like Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. The people in these countries don’t have a voice in our government, but US policies impact them. For example, with the droughts and the international food crisis, farmers and communities throughout Africa are impacted directly by US trade policies – which can be helpful or harmful depending on US subsidies and barriers as well as by US foreign aid – which can be very helpful if it is administered well. As Christians from the wealthiest nation on earth we at Food for the Hungry believe that we should make sure that US decisions on international aid and trade policy should be fair to the poor – even if they don’t reside within our borders. God’s heart for the poor extends beyond US borders and our desire is that our hearts do, too. One way to do that is to make sure US policies help rather than hinder our brothers and sisters in places like Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Bolivia.
Can you name any examples of political advocacy that have had results for issues we care about?
Pete: Food for the Hungry was very involved in advocating for a generous US policy around HIV/AIDS. Thanks in part to the work of FH and other Christian relief and development organizations that formed an HIV/AIDS alliance, the US Congress passed under Bush the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a multibillion dollar program which is leading the world in responding to AIDS in countries like Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, and Haiti. FH worked with Congress and others from the Christian community to make sure that this program was “Christian friendly” and that it would allow organization to use Biblical principles in response to the AIDS crisis.
What can advocates expect to hear about political advocacy?
Pete: FH is tracking important legislation and issues in Washington. Some of these include legislation around Hunger (i.e. Food Security and Agriculture), Child Survival and Maternal Health, Water, Gender, Climate Change, etc. When there is an opportunity for Advocates and other friends of FH to join forces with partners like World Vision, World Relief, etc. to encourage Congress or the White House to “do justice” through legislation, we will be asking Advocates to make visits to their members of Congress or people in the Administration, make phone calls, write letters or send emails. The fact is, not many Americans advocate on issues for the poor around the world, so the voices of FH friends can make a big difference and people in Congress take notice.
What would you say to someone who thinks they shouldn’t get involved with issues where they’re motivated by their faith, because of “separation of church and state?”
Pete: The Scripture is full of examples where Godly people partnered or worked with a secular state to bring about God’s purposes. The most obvious examples are Joseph serving in Pharaoh’s court, and in so doing saving the Israelites from starvation; Daniel serving as a friend and advisor to the King of Persia; and finally King Cyrus of Persia financing with secular money the rebuilding of the temple through Nehemiah. I like to think of Food for the Hungry partnering with the US government kind of like a freeway system. FH and the government can share the same freeway even though we may exit at different destinations. The government exits early, focusing on physical hungers whereas FH stays the course longer focusing on physical and spiritual hungers; but for a time we can share the same road. In the field this looks like the government providing food or medicines and FH providing the Christian staff who implement the food or medical programs with the love of Jesus.
What is one issue that FH is really interested in right now?
Pete: The issue that I am most excited about is the Global Child Survival Act that is in the House of Representatives right now. We are working with other international development organizations on this bill to ensure its passage. The context is that every year, more than 9 million children under age five die, mostly from preventable and treatable diseases, while over half a million women die from pregnancy related causes. Yet there are proven, cost-effective interventions can save the lives of millions of newborns, children, and mothers each year. Our goal is to get the US Congress to pass a bill which will provide resources and money to FH and other development organizations to aid us in our fight to save the lives of among the poor around the world. The House has strong bipartisan support for this bill and the Senate will soon be coming out with its own bill and we are hopeful that this next year we will see passage in both the House and Senate. This could truly benefit the ministry of FH. Currently we run a Child Survival Grant in Mozambique that is estimated to have saved the lives of 6,316 children and reduced malnutrition by 42% after just 2 ½ years. Carolyn Wetzel, our Child Survival Coordinator, says that “currently the US government is only able to award 10 of these types of grants per year for the whole world. The passage of this bill would allow American taxpayers, through FH and other grantees, to increase the number of these grants and subsequently help many more families make household level changes that will allow their newborn children to live and grow and become strong and vital members of communities.”