Sunday, June 22, 2014

'You Look Like that Guy Who is the Travel Writer!'

Chatting  with Sen. Tom Harkin at  Bread for the World's Lobby Day reception

(Rick Steves, travel writer and host of a travel show on PBS, welcomed participants to Bread for the World's National Gathering in Washington on June 9  He also introduced Bread for the World President David Beckmann. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Steves' remarks).

Welcome to the 40th Anniversary of Bread for the World. My name is Rick Steves, I'm a travel writer, and some of you might know me from my public television show about traveling around Europe. Someone [sitting at my table], said "You look like that guy who is the travel writer..." A lot of people say that...

Right now I'm one of thousands of Christian Americans who really see Bread for the World, not as a charity but as a service. Together, we want to fight hunger, and Bread for the World represents that, and does our work right here in Washington, D.C.

I'm honored to kick off a day that promises to be exciting and inspirational. In the morning, we're going  to have talks by David Beckmann, John Podesta and other inspirational leaders, the theme being Working Together to End Hunger, and how that's actually realistic.

In the afternoon, we'll have a series of three TED style lectures on compelling and timely topics. One of them is immigration and what that has to do with hunger. Another is returning citizens--this idea of mass incarceration in our society, and how we can prepare ex-felons to rejoin our community and not fall into the ranks of hungry people, which is such a big problem these days. Another very timely topic is sustainable food security in the face of climate change.

A conversation with  Bread advocate Sandra Joireman 
A Bread member for 30 years
For 30 years, I've been a member of Bread for the World, and I just think it is so interesting how people manage to get involved and caught up in the excitement of Bread for the World. We're a nation of 300-plus million people. There are a lot of good and caring people, and right here we have quite an elite crowd.

What is it that gets us involved in recognizing the value of Bread for the World? I happen to be a travel writer. I've spent one-third of my adult life living out of a 9-by-22-by-14 inch carry-on-the- airplane suitcase. I've spent a lot of times far away from the United States looking back at our country. What I find interesting is that we can learn a lot about our country by leaving it and looking at it from another perspective. We are a compassionate nation, but we often have a tough time grappling between the gap between rich and poor, between the well-fed and the hungry. And a lot of us are conveniently blind to that reality.
"We can learn a lot about our country by leaving it and looking at it from another perspective."
The influence of Art Simon's book
I was one of those people. I was blissfully ignorant until two things happened. When I was a student somebody gave me a copy of Bread for the World, the book by Art Simon. And then I spent a lot of time traveling.

I had a feeling deep inside of me that something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I wanted to know what was the economic foundation of structural poverty, and Bread for the World explained that to me. There is enough food on this planet to feed everybody. Every country produces enough food to feed its own people.  But there are challenges. There are structural bases to poverty. There's cash cropping: the whole notion that if you're a rich elite in a developing country, and you want to get a return on your land, you don't grow rice and beans to feed local people, you grow fancy stuff to sell to rich countries. And then your local people don't have rice and beans. This is very fundamental, but beyond the grasp of average Americans.

Posing with New Mexico advocates
There's Third World debt. I'm happy to work hard and prosper. But I don't want to prosper on the backs of desperate people. Forty countries on this planet have a debt that is so big that half of their national budget goes to paying interest to the First World. That's the slavery of our generation. I want to know about that. It's not convenient, but I want to know about it. I learned about it from Bread for the World.

There is the reality of unbridled capitalism. I am an enthusiastic capitalist, but I know that if you have capitalism not bounded with government and compassionate regulation--it causes a lot of trouble. In unbridled capitalism, my domestc cat has more buying power than some child in Guatemala. When you travel, you meet that child in Guatemala, and you understand that there is a reality here. When you travel, you see the reality, you recognize that suffering across the sea is just as real as suffering across the street.
"Forty countries on this planet have a debt that is so big that half of their national budget goes to paying interest to the First World. That's the slavery of our generation."
Globe at Library of Congress
Travel as a political act
Something interesting and striking to me is that there is a lot of love on this planet. And love across the sea is just as beautiful and real as love across the street. One of the most powerful experiences and revelations I had on my travels was on my very first trip. I was 14 years old visiting relatives in Norway with my parents. I was in Oslo behind the Great Palace, in a garden filled with Norwegian families. And I looked down and I saw that garden was filled with parents loving their children just as enthusiastically as my parents were loving me. And then it occurred to me, Wow!, this world is filled with billions of people who are children of God. That is a beautiful revelation. And when you study, you realize that half of those children are tyring to live on $2 a day. And when you travel, it humanizes that reality.

For me, travel can be a political act. After my travels, and after my studies of the issues presented by Bread for the World, I step into a voting booth with the notion that I'm not going to vote for what is good for my short-term financial interest. Instead, I want to vote as a a compassionate Christian, voting for what's important for struggling and desperate people. And I do so with the knowledge that whoever wins this election has a greater impact south of our border than it does on me. That's not noble, that's just enlightened. That's Art Simon enlightened.

People will tell you that there is not just not enough money [to address global poverty]. That is baloney!  There is more money than ever, but there are mixed-up priorities. That's something we can share with our legislators, that's something we can share with our neighbors and loved ones.

1 comment:

Elainevc said...

Rick Steves is the guru.