“We need more troublemakers to come here and shake things up,” McGovern said.
Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) is an annual conference and lobbying effor in the nation’s capital. Its theme this year is “At God’s Table: Food Justice for a Healthy World.”
Recently, McGovern was part of a group that spent a weekend in Alabama walking through many of the sites of the civil rights movement. He said he was again inspired by the nonviolent movement that brought young and old people together to work for change.
“We can change this country,” he said. “We can change this world.”
Hunger is a particular passion for McGovern. He has taken a leadership role in fighting hunger at home and abroad, expanding the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which provides nutritious meals to children in schools in the world’s poorest countries.
There are 50 million hungry people in the United States; 17 million of those people are children, McGovern said.
“As a member of Congress, I’m ashamed of that. As a citizen, I’m ashamed of that,” he said.
Hunger is not a matter of a short supply of food, McGovern continued.
“Hunger is a political issue,” he said. “It has become unfashionable in Washington to care about poor people.”
The average benefit for a person enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is $4.50 a day, or $1.50 a meal. The Government Accountability Office ranks SNAP as one of the most efficient federal programs, yet SNAP has been cut and demonized, with many policymakers arguing that people aspire to be on the program as an easy way out.
Washington works in silos, with organizations and programs not communicating or collaborating very often, McGovern said. The participation of non-governmental and faith-based organizations is essential in order to work for the common good.
“Hillary Clinton likes to say ‘it takes a village’ and she’s right. But it also takes a plan,” McGovern said.
Hunger costs us dearly and we have a moral obligation to end it, McGovern said, but for those who are only convinced by facts and figures, ending hunger also makes logical sense. Hungry children don’t learn as well and won’t succeed as well in school and later in the workplace. Seniors who can’t afford food and take medication on an empty stomach end up in the hospital, costing Medicare, he noted.
“From evry which you look at it, (ending hunger) is the right thing to do,” McGovern said.
He was born and raised Catholic, but drifted away from the faith after college because he felt disconnected from the rituals and messages. But in 1989, McGovern left the Moakley Commission congressional investigation into the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. During that investigation, he got to know Jesuit priestes and Maryknoll Sisters. They taught him that faith is about more than rituals — it’s about action.
Putting faith into action is a key force behind EAD.
“This group here has so much power, and you need to use it,” McGovern said.