At our annual No Kid Hungry dinner in Boston last week a supporter who has attended many of our events, came up to me during the reception and said “I hope that in your remarks tonight you are going to get more political”. Like many, he was exasperated by the dysfunction and divisiveness that prevail in our current national discourse.
“Well thanks for giving me so much advance notice to think about it” I teased, knowing I probably wouldn’t deliver enough political red meat to satisfy his appetite. As a nonprofit, Share Our Strength must remain nonpartisan. And that’s enabled us to get governors of both parties to enroll more kids in school meals programs.
But, the more I thought about my friend’s comment, the more I appreciated his plea. With so many fundamental American values and progressive policies under assault, a political response is warranted. But we can “get more political” without being partisan. Such politics, with a small “p”, means at least three things:
First, we make every effort to honor the philanthropic investments of generous supporters by ensuring that the efforts they invested in get to scale. That means educating politicians and policymakers about policies, like school meals and SNAP (food stamps) in our case, to do that.
Second, those who care about kids, and issues that affect them, must be their political proxy since kids can’t vote, lobby, or make campaign contributions. From school board to White House every election matters. Urging our stakeholders to be more involved – as volunteers, donors, on social media, etc. is essential to counter special interests that too often set the political agenda.
Third, we all have a role in demanding that our politics return to at least a modicum of civility. We can’t permit our leaders to demean others, tolerate racism, lie without consequence, or distract us from the real challenges at hand.
If politics means bashing a party or elected official with whom we disagree, then don’t look to us. But, if getting more political means finding opportunities to engage people in their community, to help them to roll up their sleeves and share their strength, then yes we are getting more political. If getting more political means saying often and out loud that racism is wrong, that punishing the poor punishes all of us, that betraying the vulnerable and voiceless betrays those who fight to preserve our values of opportunity and equality, then yes, we are getting more political.
In so doing we can not only end childhood hunger, we can prevent the next generation of kids from becoming hungry in the first place, and ensure we have the strong kids needed for a strong America.