For the Common Good

ballotSince Election Day I have wanted to write a post which addresses the social climate of the country, but was not sure how to approach the topic.  I wanted my post to be constructive, not destructive or divisive.  Every time I started to write, I felt like my personal frustration with the current social climate and its accompanying rhetoric got in the way of what I was trying to communicate.  I wanted to add positively to the discourse without resorting to name calling and ugliness.  The result was a virtual trashcan full of wadded up pieces of virtual paper.  Part of the impediment was my own disappointment in the outcome of the election and my need to work through those feelings, a process akin to grieving.  (Just call me Snowflake, even though I’m not a Millennial.)  Then one day I heard a segment of a discussion between Van Jones and  Bishop T. D. Jakes in which they were discussion disagreement in this country and I understood what my approach would be.

In this segment Mr. Jones speaks about the importance of disagreement in a democracy.  He gives an example of two people with opposing views on a problem coming together to craft an approach to solving the problem.  He says that through constructive disagreement and compromise they quite possibly could arrive at solution better than the one either side may have crafted alone.  He also admits, sadly, that this process almost never happens in disagreementtoday’s social and political discourse.  Instead, most parties participate in destructive disagreement, where the main point of the conversation seems to be to tear down or obstruct the opposing side at all costs.  The result of this type of disagreement is gridlock and ill will toward fellow countryman.

Hearing Van Jones’ words brought me back to my original intent when creating this blog.  Crafting a solution to a problem as large as poverty and its symptoms, like food insecurity, can not be undertaken by just Democrats or Republicans.  Neither can the solution be borne solely by governments nor the private sector.  Any successful solution to a problem of this magnitude must come from collaborations between Republicans and Democrats, politicians and members of the private sector.  This blog was created in the spirit of that collaboration, as a place where people possessing all viewpoints could present their opinions, as long as they did so civilly and with respect to opposing viewpoints.  I welcome input from all voices at this table, because all voices are necessary in this democracy if it is to be successful.

 When I first moved to where I currently reside it was quite a shock to me.  Prior to this move I had spent the previous decade living in one of the most homogeneously liberal areas of the country.  Practically everyone I interacted with thought exactly like me.  I knew the area into which I was moving was not as liberal as the one I was leaving, but I was not quite prepared for how different the two places would be.  On reporting this difference back to the friends I had left behind, many of them asked how I could tolerate living side by side with people who were so different than myself.  My response to them was that these new people I was meeting were not all that different than myself.  Sure our approaches to certain issues differed, which affected solutions we might wish to see enacted, but our wishes and desires for life were the same.  We all wanted to be happy, provide for our family, live in a safe neighborhood, send our kids to good schools.  I came to find that the things that were similar between us created stronger bonds than the things that separated us.  I would never have known of our similarities if we had not engaged in civil, respectful dialogue with each other.

neighborhoodSimilarly, shortly after moving to my current location, I started volunteering for my political party at the polls during election day.  My political party is handily outnumbered by the other party in my township.  That first election day a veteran volunteer from my party was introducing me to township members of my party as well as the other party.  The atmosphere among all was very convivial and I was a bit confused, having learned at that point to view the other party as the enemy.  This long serving political volunteer explained to me that we live in a small community and at the end of the day we are neighbors.  We rely on each other and must work together if we hope to accomplish anything for our community.  This was a revelatory statement to me, and while I have never stopped fighting for what I believe is the right path or agenda, I am also willing to listen to and engage in conversation with those who have differing viewpoints.

Those sage words have stuck with me and guide my approach to social and political discourse. They have allowed me to gain insight from trying to understand the viewpoint of someone with a differing opinion, whether that person lives in my community or another part of the country.  At the end of the day, we are all Americans and we must find a way to come together as neighbors and countrymen.  We must once again engage in the art of constructive disagreement and compromise, not to the detriment of our political party, but for the common good of our country.  The magnitude of the problems we currently face as a nation is too great to do otherwise, and the success of our democracy demands it.

A Pause for Reflection

The past few months have been a whirlwind.  When I started out on this venture I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I told myself just put one foot in front of the other and take baby steps.  As the weeks have passed, I feel like the baby steps have become an all out gallop just to keep up with the volunteering, reading of articles and informational texts and writing this blog.  Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem of food insecurity and the little dent I am going to be able to make in alleviating hunger.  Most days, however, I am motivated by the people I have encountered along the way and the response I have received to what little I have done so far.

I have been volunteering in two local food pantries for four months now.  Volunteering in these pantries has educated me as to who is receiving emergency food services.  The clients at the food pantries are young and old, male and female, of all races, and live in large households or alone.   In other words they could be anyone, and I suspected as much before I started volunteering.  Iliving wage have also learned, however, that a majority of people who use emergency food services, like a food pantry, live in a household with at least one person in the workforce.   In households where no one is working, it is often because members of the household are senior citizens or disabled.  A disturbing number of Americans are not able to make ends meet even though they are working.  Knowing that fact abstractly is one thing.  Looking a person who is experiencing it in the eyes while helping her fill her food basket makes that fact very concrete.

I have also learned that no matter how hard these emergency food agencies try, gaps and shortfalls exist and will continue to exist when providing emergency food.  When I started volunteering I thought that clients could come in whenever they needed food.  Sometimes that would be every couple of months, but sometimes that might be twice in one month.  This is not how emergency food works.  Clients can only come in once every 30 days, which isn’t too bad.  But here are some other things I have learned.  Sometimes there is a waiting list for closed signappointments two weeks long.  Food pantries are only open a few days a week and sometimes only during the daytime when many people are at work.  Sometimes clients can’t come when the pantry is open.  Or sometimes clients can’t get a ride to the pantry.  If they walk to the pantry they can only take what they can carry home.  Sometimes the food items run low causing rationing, or run out all together.

Not everything I have witnessed from my volunteering experience has been so discouraging though.  I have worked several jobs which involved serving the public and very seldom have I experienced such levels of appreciation from those I have served.  Additionally, I have enjoyed the warm sense of community and commitment I have found among fellow emergency food volunteers.  Providing assistance through emergency food agencies like food banks and pantries is not the answer to the food insecurity problem that I would like to see, but I do feel like through these pantries I am making an important difference in the lives people who need a helping hand and caring face.  For now, that feeling sustains me, but also pushes me to keep striving for a better solution.

stronger together

Similarly, I have been encouraged by the response to this blog.  In the two and a half months that I have been writing posts, the number of people following the blog has risen to over 190 people.  I have received very positive verbal feedback from several people as well as have had many posts be “liked” by fellow bloggers.  Additionally, I have started to receive some comments on my posts and am beginning to see the formation of the online community I hope to foster.  In that spirit, I would love to see the number of followers of this blog top 200 by the end of April.  If you know someone who is interested in this topic, or even remotely related topics, like cooking or farming, please share this blog with them.  Finally, I encourage you to participate in the conversation.  Leave me a comment, share an insight, point me in a new direction!