Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Global Food Systems: Seed to Plate and Everything In-Between

Image: Cynthia with a copy of her book "From Changing
Diapers to Changing the World" at Capitol Hill in DC

Today, I’m back on Capitol Hill with CARE talking about...drumroll please...food security! Although I often lobby Congress about nutrition, usually I’m talking about child nutrition in the first 1000 days of life. That is definitely part of food security, but it’s just one tiny aspect of the great big issue.

Image: Toddler eating carrots off a plate

What is Food Security?

Food security is all about strengthening food systems to help the world weather all kinds of crises. Food systems encompass everything from seed to plate and ALL that happens in between. 

The main legislation that authorizes the U.S. to do its part in protecting global food systems is called the Global Food Security Act (GFSA). In 2016, it put our Feed the Future program - which addressed root causes of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition - into law. That successful program lifted approximately 23.4 million people above the poverty line with its innovations! Yet it will expire soon and must be renewed by 2023. 

Image: Panelists at 2022 CARE conference talk about the 
importance of the Global Food Security Act

The Global Food Security Act focuses on long term sustainability and resilience of food systems. We have seen in the last two years how disruptions in food supply from disease or war can globally affect food access for the vulnerable and food price increases for everyone. Emergency food helps people eat now. Strengthening food systems helps build long term resilience for all kinds of future emergencies. 

Build a Better GFSA

We are at a real crisis point with food security. More people in the world were already food insecure even before COVID-19 and war in the Ukraine started. We need to build up food systems, so we won't be so vulnerable to these kinds of shocks as well as things we can't even yet imagine. 

How does CARE want to make the next Global Food Security Act even better? As always, we know that putting women and girls at the center will improve policies. CARE believes the next GFSA should include:

  • More support for savings groups that help women and girls involved in agriculture become more independent
  • More support for small-scale farmers, particularly women, giving them better access to markets, credits, tools, fertilizer, and other assets
  • Better integration of nutrition into food systems programming, including elevating women as household decision-makers on nutrition. 

How Can YOU Help? 

Call your representative this week and say, “My name is ______ and I’m your constituent living in _____. A new Global Food Security Action will be introduced soon by Representatives Betty McCollum and Chris Smith. I am asking you to be an original co-sponsor to support food systems and help make our world more resilient to disasters like disease, climate disasters, and war. Thank you.

Image: Cynthia with Congresswoman Cori Bush

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Tending and Mending on #MemorialDay

Memorial Day has meant different things to me in my life. When I was too small to understand about war and service, it was simply vacation from school and time with my parents. Cookouts or travel were an expected part of the day. As I got older, it became a day to remember and honor those who sacrificed for our country. I started taking part in parades or acts of service.

This year - partly because I personally know more people with COVID-19 than any other point in the pandemic - I didn’t feel like going to any parades or BBQ’s. After a hard bunch of weeks for activists who care about reproductive rights and gun violence, yesterday had to be a day of tending and mending for me.


Image: A bed of chard in my garden
The school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX broke my heart and made me angry all over again. It came while I was still upset about the impending roll-back of Roe vs. Wade. If there were ever a time to take a step back and tend to my own soul, that was it. I began the day by caring for our backyard vegetable garden. In tending to the garden, I tended to myself. My dear friend Pamela Dolan released a book this spring called Contemplative Gardening. In it, she talks about the benefits of gardening as a spiritual practice. She says,

“When we garden we practice hope, putting our faith in nature’s ability to bring forth life, to create something beautiful and nourishing from the modest ingredients of soil, seed, and time. In other words, gardens are places of health, hope, and healing.” 
—Pamela Dolan  

If you are an activist, I urge you to take time and do whatever you need to do to restore your own light. This quote posted by the facebook page Zen Taoist Buddism Thich Nhat Hanh Dalai Lama spoke to me:

Image: Illustrated boy sitting on a stone with Regina Lake quote

“This my dear is the greatest challenge to being alive: to witness the injustice of this world, and not allow it to consume our light.”

Regina Linke

Do what you can to preserve your light. If you are an extrovert, that might mean sharing and spreading your light to have joy in making more of it. If you are an introvert, like me, it might mean staying home from those parades and parties, so you can cup your hands around a fragile candle flame to protect it from the wind blowing it out.


Image: Hand sewing 
With my family still sleeping, I took on some repair tasks I’ve been too busy to take on lately. I always get great satisfaction in using my own two hands to fix broken things and make them useful again, but I’m not always quick to do it. I went to my sewing machine where my youngest teen’s pants have been hanging for days, unwearable because of a big hole from an especially ambitious stretch. It took about 30 seconds to zip them through the machine and make them whole again. (See my earlier blog about doing the easy task first for inspiration to do a bigger task.) Then, I grabbed up needle and sturdy thread to tackle the canvas on a piece of patio furniture that had unravelling seams.

Image: A large tear in patio
furniture canvas

As I worked, I thought about whether our nation is unravelling and what it will take to fix it. I had let this patio task go far too long and there were many sections two feet and longer needing repair. If I’d gotten to it sooner, it wouldn’t be so bad now. That seems like a metaphor for America today.

I heard someone on the radio say that on Memorial Day we honor those who gave their lives to preserve our freedoms and our American way of life. Hmm. What is our way of life in this moment? Being scared of shooters at school? Being forced to carry a child to term, endangering a mother’s mental or physical health? Being afraid of a police traffice stop simply because of one's race? Seems like the best way to honor those heroes is to create an America free of those fears.

Our democracy needs many hands to mend what’s broken. By writing my book From Changing Diapers to Changing the World, my intention was to train more activists to take their first advocacy actions and inspire the current advocates to keep going. Working alone at my big canvas tear, I thought about the saying, “Many hands make light work.” For America, it’s going to be heavy work no matter how many hands are working at it. But we must have more helpers. No doubt about it.

It’s clear to me we will have to have many hands working at many kinds of tasks. Of course, it will take activists working on lots of different issues. But it will also take people of strong character running for office and teams of people to get them into office. It will take citizens holding the line to prevent voter suppression through unfair redistricting and intimidation. It will take boldness from those already holding office. And, yes - whether or not we like it - it will take donors and money.

What’s next?

For me, now that I’m feeling a bit more restored, I’ll be taking actions to mend our democracy. I’ll do it to honor fallen members of the military who protected our democracy with their lives and in honor of the 19 children and two teachers who died at Robb Elementaryand the 20 children and six adults who died at Sandy Hook Elemetary 20 years ago…and the 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High…and so many others I could list. I’ll be donating to candidates I believe will do better than their opponents at mending and tending our country.

If you would like to join me in advocacy actions against gun violence, here are some suggestions below. I wish you all strength and peace to mend and tend. Don’t allow the world to consume your light.

• Send a message demanding your senators take action gun safety legislation → https://bit.ly/hold-lawmakers-accountable
• Get involved with your local Moms Demand Action or Students Demand Action groups → https://bit.ly/join-chapter
• Find a Wear Orange event near you → https://bit.ly/find-wo-event
• Make calls from home with GSAN → https://bit.ly/make-calls-at-home
• Join our Summer Series to get texted 1 action a week → https://bit.ly/series-summer

Image: Five actions (listed above) to take to help end gun violence

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

5 Things I Do to #KeepGoing After a School Shooting

Here we are again. Heartbroken. Sickened. Angered by the repetition of another school shooting in America. This time at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX. To paraphrase something I saw on facebook today, “The most disheartening word in any news about a school shooting is ‘today’s.’” Lord help us, we know this won’t be the last American school shooting. With that heavy knowledge, I’m struggling to get through the day. I see many of you are, too. So, I thought I would take a look at what I'm doing to get through it and offer practical suggestions for how to keep going in the fight against senseless gun violence the day after a school shooting. Because we must keep going.

The first two suggestions are for everyone. The others are for those that have emotional capacity to act on behalf of those who need more time before getting back into the fight. It's important to realize that some in the movement are victims and survivors who are deeply triggered by every fresh tragedy.

1. Get Dressed

Image: Moms Demand Action t-shirt
I know the feeling to call in sick and stay in your PJ’s with your head under the covers is strong. I feel it, too. But get up and get dressed anyway. Wear something that usually makes you feel strong even if you're not feeling it standing at the closet. 

If you have a red Moms Demand shirt or a Wear Orange shirt, wear it. As you move about your day, you may bring comfort or inspiration to those around you. Someone may see you and think, “I feel better knowing she’s out there fighting to change this.” Others might even think, “This is the last straw. I’m gonna finally join.”

If dangle earrings or a big necklace makes you feel better, put that on as well. For me today, it is the little silver octopus studs my youngest gave me a few years ago. Their cuteness makes me think of how much she loves me and knows what makes me smile. The love of my kids gives me strength for this work. So, yes, it is an octopus earring day.

2. Take care of yourself

This looks different for everyone, so do what works for you according to your physical abilities and mental needs. When I need extreme physical activity to burn the anger away, I head to my punching target downstairs (an addition during pandemic frustration). Today, I was more sad than angry. I went into nature to smell the loamy earth, surrounded by the sound of wind in the leaves high in the trees. I contemplated the resilience of grass and honeysuckle in the park. No matter how much you cut it back, it always grows in thick. That’s why they call our kind of work “grassroots advocacy.” The roots are deep and the grass always comes back.

Image: A single red blade of grass 
I noticed one odd blade of grass that grew in as red among the green. I thought that was strange. Then, I turned the corner and saw a field full of red ones. That reminds me of how it is when I wear my red Moms Demand shirt alone and then walk into an event where a whole crowd of people are wearing them. I’m not alone. You’re not alone.

I also had a good cry. A sobbing, loud ugly cry thinking of the terror of all the children and the parents who were going about their day when they were suddenly told their babies were gone. I cried and cried. Then, I was done and felt I could move ahead for those parents who can’t do that today. It’s okay if you cry. It only reveals empathy. As I cover in great detail in my book, From Changing Diapers to Changing the World, a mother’s empathy can be her advocacy superpower. The ability to understand someone else’s pain and explain it to someone else is extremely powerful.

3. Take an easy advocacy action

Take an action that is comfortable for you. Sharing someone else’s tweet or Insta post about it? Writing a tweet or facebook post?  Calling your U.S. senators and reps, state senators and reps, or governor? Writing a blog? That’s what I did. You’re reading it right now. You can share it if you want. 

Here's an easy online action to contact your senators asking them to pass bold gun safety legislation.

The easy action is a warm-up for the next two things on the list. It builds confidence and inspires us to do the next thing. Don’t underestimate the easy action. It’s not unimportant because it’s easy. Your action combines with many others to make an impact. Also, it inspires others. I posted this image on facebook and a friend of mine replied she is joining Moms Demand. Reading that, I cried some happy tears.

4. Take a harder action

Okay, you did the first action. What’s next? Maybe this is where you’ll call the congressional offices because the phone call is not so easy for you. Can you write a letter to the editor? Newspapers report about school shootings, so you can reply to the newspaper with your own feelings and thoughts about what your elected officials should do. One of the quickest and most powerful ways you can reach them at this moment is to mention their names in the paper. Thank them if they are a champion of sensible gun policies. Call them out if they have done nothing to combat gun violence and death. Remind your community that elections are coming up and we have the power to vote officials in or out.

If letters to the editor are easy for you, try writing an op-ed. The 600-700 word length of an op-ed is always harder for me, but somehow the words come easier when I’m fueled by strong feelings. Here’s an op-ed I wrote about school gun violence in 2018 and one I wrote about home gun violence in 2020.

5. Sign up for an event

Sign up for something that will get you out of the house soon and into a community of action takers. It’s so important to know you are not alone. You are not an oddball for thinking it’s wrong that firearms are the #1 leading cause of death for American children and teens.

Moms Demand Action always has events coming up whether it is a monthly information meeting or something special. At the time I’m writing this, we’re just about a week away from Wear Orange day, a gun violence awareness day, on June 3, 2022. It's a Friday that kicks off Wear Orange weekend. There will be events and activities all across the country. Find one here. Sign up. Can't get to an in-person event? No problem. Here's a virtual event tomorrow 3:30EST with Everytown.

I’ll end with a story from the horrendous storms St. Louis had about a week ago. The torrential rain and booming thunder was so bad it kept waking us up all night. I felt like I barely slept at all. At 5:26 AM, the biggest boom of all shook the house. I know the time because I sat straight up in bed. But something else happened just as the lightning faded. I heard one solitary, incredibly loud “CHIRP!” Some little bird responded to the storm by letting the neighborhood know it was still there and still alive. The first bird of the morning. I got up and discovered the rain had stopped. I stood outside and little by little all the other birds joined in. By 6AM, the cacophony was so loud, you couldn’t even ignore them in the house. So, that’s my metaphor. Robb Elementary was another terrible storm. But we are still alive and still here. This blog is my CHIRP - a tweet, perhaps, when I post it on Twitter - that I add to all the other voices of moms and others saying we’ve had enough of this madness. Let’s be so loud they can’t ignore us in the House or the Senate.

Image: Raindrops on red hibiscus flowers the morning after a storm