Feb 15, 2008

Global Poverty Act Senate Progress

As you may already be aware, the Global Poverty Act was considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 13th and we were very pleased to see that the Committee passed the bill this morning!

The Global Poverty Act was originally sponsored in the House by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and it passed there last fall by a voice vote (indicating it wasn't controversial). Senator Obama introduced the Senate version in December along with Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). It has since gathered great support from the development community, and has cosponsors across the political spectrum from Hagel and Lugar, to Feinstein, Biden, and Dodd.

The bill makes two important contributions. First it commits Congress and U.S. policy more completely to supporting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): These MDGs represent the first time the nations of the world, all 190 of them, agreed on a set of eight development benchmarks to achieve by 2015, notably cutting extreme poverty in half. Second, the bill would help coordinate and make the most of U.S. assistance (currently spread over a couple dozen different budget lines). It doesn't add any funding to current poverty related development assistance, but that can only help it pass in a politicized and abbreviated election-year congressional session.

By all the evidence there's momentum behind the bill and it fairly cries out for people of good will to do what we can to help it pass a floor vote in the Senate!

Now would be a great time for a 3-5 sentence postcard, email, or phone call to urge your members of the Senate to vote for, support, and work to pass the Global Poverty Act.

Glen Gersmehl

Puget Sound Millennium Goals Project Forum

It felt like a great ray of hope when on Saturday evening, Feb. 2nd, over 170 people showed up to discuss hunger, extreme poverty, and acronyms.

Seriously, how often do people say, "let's not go to a movie tonight, let's pay $5 each to examine US progress toward achieving the MDGs at a forum sponsored by the PSMGP?" (Right!) Well, does it explain the large turnout to spell out 'Millennium Development Goals?' (Yawn.) or 'Puget Sound Millennium Goals Project.' (Duh.)

PSMGP planning committee of a half dozen people was keen on getting the public and our political leaders to engage a new report on lagging U.S. support for the MDGs by InterAction (the nation's major coalition of more than 160 aid and development organizations). www.interaction.org

But how do you encourage people to come? We'd gotten only a handful of organizational representatives to join us in previous public meetings held monthly to try to build a regional network of groups working on these issues.

So we arranged a panel including Samuel Worthington, president of InterAction from DC (distinguished but little known), Global Poverty Act sponsor Rep. Adam Smith (who two weeks earlier wrote an op ed defending current Iraq War strategy), and Craig Nakagawa, a business entrepreneur turned head of a regional development group (who praised market forces and disparaged "do gooders"). Regional talk radio personality, Dave Ross served as moderator.

The panel discussion and a further hour of comments and questions from the floor was of an unusually high quality. (We hope to post excerpts soon.) The energy and commitment evident in the forum and in conversations around our resource table felt like a ray of hope. Reduce poverty by one half? We can do this!

For help with a forum or offering of letters on hunger, please
contact LPF. For more information on the MDGs see LPF's discussion resource "ONE by ONE" and other hunger and development discussion resources, advocacy updates, web links, etc.

Building for the Future…

LPF's board and staff are devoting time to assess where we are as a network in order to grow in our discipleship. Here are a few highlights organized around several core biblical values.

"…and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:19) Our goal is to be faithful to the gospel call to seek Shalom in all its fullness – peace, justice, reconciliation, community, wholeness…. Doing so has meant continually listening to that call ourselves and experimenting with ways to support our members and church in their response.

"Let us be guided by the Spirit."
(Gal. 5:25) LPF's logo reminds us that our strength lies in the work of the Spirit in and through all parts of LPF: "Many members …One call to be peacemakers."

"Seek peace, and pursue it." (Ps. 34:14, I Pet. 3:11) We have sought to do this in Lutheran congregations, synods, and events. We've focused especially on crafting activities, work-shops, and resources that help Christians explore and act on biblical peacemaking, hunger advocacy, nonviolence, racial and economic justice, etc. National LPF leaders lead an average of 100 workshops annually; an even larger number are led by LPF members around the U.S. and world.
We've adapted materials from many sources and created scores of well-regarded group discussion, computer, and print activities. LPF's regularly revised leaders' guides now number more than a dozen, many in use in far beyond the Lutheran world. Our computer activity on world hunger was adopted by the largest critical thinking project in all of U.S. education, and is in use in over 30,000 classrooms.

"Inasmuch…" (Matt. 25:45) We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and aid those at risk. In our time that means not only community lunches and relief work, but also -- and especially -- advocating for social and political changes that make fewer people at risk from poverty, militarism, racism, and other systemic threats. Much of what we do is in coalition with groups like Bread for the World. Every year or so, we have found it possible to influence legislation or Lutheran activity in ways that have had broad, even national significance.

"Speak to others for their upbuilding…"
(I Cor. 14:3) Leadership training has been a major LPF focus, including over 60 intensive (e.g. weekend) workshops. In 2001 we expanded our youth activities into a fully-staffed program leading workshops for dozens of youth and young adult events annually, offering leadership, and developing needed resources.

"That we may be mutually encouraged…" (Rom. 1:12)
LPF has been blessed with committed, energetic, and skilled board members, staff, and leadership across the country for decades. LPF Peace Partners are an especially important re-source: people who make particular contributions and take on leadership in advocacy, hosting workshops, organizing, and strengthening LPF resources – human, program, and financial.

"…ready to proclaim the gospel of peace." (Eph. 6:15) We are very much aware of the limitations of LPF's being a small organization in a large church and larger world. We've invested serious effort into reaching out with a fresh vision of Shalom in congregations, workshops, events, and print / electronic media.

One result: LPF is among the fastest growing religious-based peace and justice groups in the country. Our membership has doubled and our program has quadrupled in the past 8 years. Thousands of adults and youth have been trained in peace leadership and advocacy – a huge investment for the future.

Similarly, our budget has more than doubled in the past dozen years. If you include programs like trainings operated through the budgets of LPF chapters, churches, colleges, and events, it has more than tripled. Including in-kind support, it has increased fourfold. And this is just LPF's national budget. If activity of our members around the US and world were added, it would of course be far, far larger. And with salaries and some other expenses considerably below the norm we are able to have an impact beyond what our finances might suggest.

While we are encouraged by the above, we are also intensely aware of what we have not been able to do. We are humbled by our mistakes and limits and the challenge of being faithful in a world desperately in need of healing and help. Which leads us back to our task as we see it, and the ways we've begun:

Renew… re-focus… grow in the Spirit

Our national coordinator took an overdue break this past summer, spending two months being with his family, nourishing his spirit, relaxing, living in 'non-scheduled' mode. He returned refreshed and energized (a brief report is available to members).

This past fall, we have stepped back somewhat from program work to rebuild and strengthen our core capacities. Instead of a full-time youth staff person, we've hired several part-time people to support re-focusing and re-building in 4 areas of our work:

With help from Alan Forsberg, former LPF board chair, we're well along the way to completely re-building our web site (the current version of which has topped 850,000 page views!). Our goal is to make it more inviting, visual, and interactive. The project has involved hundreds of updates and changes (take a look at www.lutheranpeace.org and please share with us your reactions and suggestions).
We are re-structuring our office in a larger space, and with help are greatly expanding our computer capacity at modest cost. We have hired Monica Fisk, our superb LVC youth coordinator from 2002-03, to direct and strengthen our
youth program.

We look forward to building on new partnerships that allow us to grow in new ways. We have played a central role in the national coalition "Christian Peace Witness for Iraq" that is sponsoring vigils around the country this Lent and is planning a major witness in Wash. DC in March even larger than last year when we filled the streets with prayer and candles, silence and song from the Washington Cathedral to the White House.
We're working to support "Soldiers of Conscience," a brilliant new feature film for which we helped organize 25 church and college screenings the week before its U.S. theater opening in Seattle. LPF is a key leader in a superb new Puget Sound coalition to improve the educational and political impact of groups working to end extreme poverty & hunger in the world.
We're also investing energy in strengthening and expanding LPF's board as well as other forms of LPF leadership. In all this, we are very grateful for the interest and support of our members these past 14 years, and begin 2008 with renewed efforts to encourage LPF members, chapters, and groups across the U.S. and around the globe.
We invite your prayers, ideas, and support as we seek to be faithful to the gospel call to share God's Shalom in all its fullness: peace, justice, wholeness, community!