The Grammy-nominated recording artist Moby has joined forces with MoveOn.org to put together a video about the nationwide budget fast in which activists present their reasons for fasting in brief sentences adhered to empty plates.
Thus far, 30,000 people have announced their intentions to participate in the rolling fast to protest what they call the immoral budget cuts. The movement’s official website HungerFast.org recaps how Congressman Tony Hall fasted for 22 days back in 1993 in response to budget cuts that would have devastated poor people at home and abroad. Now, Hall is fasting again in solidarity with the vulnerable who will once again be negatively impacted by austerity.
Among the cuts are a $500 million slashing of WIC, the federal health and nutrition programs for women, infants, and children. The program was estimated to serve 9.3 million people this year, according to Reuters. Over a billion dollars will be cut from HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, STD and TB prevention in addition to a $600 million reduction in the funds for community health centers. Transportation and housing and urban development also suffered a 20 percent cut, and another $194 million was cut from foreign food assistance, including food aid donations and a global meals program.
All of which is a lengthy way to say in the era of “shared sacrifice,” the poor are the ones who will suffer. The House Appropriations Committee reports that cuts to the Agriculture Department totaling $2.6 billion will be extremely detrimental to impoverished families who rely on the USDA to provide food stamps and school lunches.
In the midst of talk about the need for tough choices, certain programs managed to avoid Congress’s scalpel. Washington has allocated $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, a program that has been criticized for its high cost and questionable effectiveness.
While some Pentagon programs were cut, there will be a $5 billion increase in several defense accounts that will bring more business to defense contractors like Raytheon, BAE Systems, Electric Boat, and General Dynamics. The budget also includes $157.8 billion for “overseas contingency operations to advance US military missions abroad,” so the Forever Wars will remain well-funded.
As I’ve written throughout the week, the support for this kind of peaceful resistance is growing, and prominent individuals are joining or expressing solidarity with the movement. Several DC leaders, including Mayor Vincent Gray, were recently arrested during a budget cut protest, twenty-eight members of Congress have joined the fast, and last week Congressman Jim McGovern stated his support for the cause.
Fasting participants are posting moving testimonies on HungerFast.org’s front page. Here is Sharon Thornberry, Community Food Systems Manager at the Oregon Food Bank, explaining that she was hesitant to participate in the hunger strike—not out of apathy—but out of wariness of returning to hunger.
Thornberry’s first husband was a Vietnam vet who suffered from PTSD. Their family was extremely short on money and soon they were in serious trouble.
We were far from family and friends, living in a remote location without a car. I had been poor a lot of my life, but I had never been hungry. I still cannot find words three decades later to describe how I felt when there was nothing to feed my children. I had been rationing food for days, only eating a little each day myself, and then the day came when there was nothing. My children were two and five.
Thornberry eventually dressed her children in their best clean clothes (“to prove I was a good mother”) and walked to a neighbor, a nurse, who Thornberry hoped would help them. Thankfully, the neighbor fed them and informed the family about a program called food stamps. With WIC and school lunch programs, Thornberry and her family were able to survive, and now she sees those very same programs are under assault.
It is inconceivable to me that Congress can so casually and in many ways maliciously write off these programs as wasteful and out of control. Why is it that the most vulnerable in our population are seemingly blamed and punished for circumstances far beyond their control?