The Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Solutions Based on Science and the Human Experience

Witnesses to Hunger at the White House

August 16, 2012
Witnesses to Hunger at White House


Last week, Barbie  Izquierdo and I were invited to the White House to join a group of national anti-hunger advocates, researchers, public health specialists and foundations to talk about how the new film “A Place at the Table” could help to energize a national movement to end hunger in the United States.

Our colleagues such as FRAC, Feeding America, Bread for the World, Share Our Strength, MomsRising, and foundations such as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PEW Charitable Trusts, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, and several administrators from the White House Office of Public Engagement worked for five hours straight.  We identified and strategized on how to harness the positive driving forces towards protecting America’s food security investments, and how to minimize the negative restraining forces.  It was a dynamic discussion.  Some advocates called for the White House to be more involved and to advocate for the poor when both the Senate and the House passed versions of the Farm Bill that would cut the SNAP program.  Others, including hunger champion Congressman Jim McGovern, stood up and called for some serious action, serious strategy:  a national plan to end hunger.  Some of you might remember I left this same message on the White House wall after the White House visit to Philadelphia.  Click here to vote on that idea.

This was a new space for a new kind of conversation—one that could bring the advocates together using social media and all the social change expertise of Participant Media—the social action arm of a Place at the Table.  Check them out on Facebook.  Or, get this into your own hands, by texting "Food" to 77177.

Two of the most exciting aspects of the positive driving forces that the groups came up with was not simply that there are strong collaborations between the partners and organizations, but that

1)  the facts/scientific evidence show how important federal nutrition assistance programs are to alleviating poverty and improving health, and

2)  the willingness of people who have experienced poverty to tell their stories

Wow!—sounds like the Center for Hunger-Free Communities tagline: solutions based on science and the human experience.

As you can imagine and trust, Barbie Izquierdo spoke eloquently about why she participated in the film, and why and how she became an advocate with Witnesses to Hunger.  I insert her brief film here.  She said she wasn’t sure at first whether or not she should speak out about her situation.  But then she realized that no one was going to do it like she could:

“I thought that Senators and Congressmen could speak for us.  But if they don’t learn from experience, then they can’t really project what we need to be said.” 

By participating in Witnesses to Hunger, and by allowing herself to be in the film about hunger in America, she said she wanted to make a difference so that

“No one else will have to go though what I went through.  They won’t have to go through the pain and the humiliation of not being able to provide food for my kids.”

Yes, those who went to the screening of A Place at the Table the night before were very inspired by the film—but several people seemed even more inspired by Barbie herself. During the reception before the film screening, one of the early investors in the film was so happy to meet Barbie in person.  He said to Barbie, “In your voice, I can hear Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  I hear John F. Kennedy.”

So true!  Barbie is a great American.  A leader.  Her very presence inspires and ignites.

Monifa Bandele from Mom’sRising gave an impassioned speech about what we can do to end hunger, and re-iterated how important it was to involve those who know hunger first hand.  She asserted: “Barbie is the most powerful person in this room!”

Barbie was quite amazed at the accolades; speechless in the end.  She’ll blog about it here, soon.

Barbie's First Photo-KitchenFor me, being at the White House brought me back to those moments of us sitting on the sofa with Barbie in her house.  So intimate; so painful.  The first photograph that Barbie showed us was a photo of her neighbor’s kitchen.  She wanted people to see how hard it is to be a single mom, how things can get to be so bad you are afraid to ask for help, to speak out about the pain and worry.  As Barbie explained,

“Being in this situation you can see how kids can go hungry”

I vowed in those moments that I was obligated to figure out how to make sure her story, her presence, her photographs could make it to the White House.  Of course at the time, I had no idea, and no way of figuring out how to do so.

The genius of Barbie’s voice, her creativity and courage are what got her there.  And she brought along with her the wisdom and grit of all the women of Witnesses to Hunger. In their voices I don’t just hear FDR and JFK, I hear Moses (Harriet Tubman), Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley Chisholm, Dolores Huerta, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

This is the first indication that the Witnesses and women like them will have a place at the table.  So much more to come, and they are already changing the world.


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