As the holidays celebrating liberation and resurrection come to a close, we note that both Passover and Easter are steeped in the symbolism–and the substance–of food. Yet access to food is becoming increasingly unstable, driving refugees to the border and Americans to food banks. A sweeping policy initiative will help feed Americans; elsewhere, putting food at the center will address a myriad of other concerns. Preserving people’s access to food quite literally preserves the future
1. At the border: refugees from the climate crisis, failed US policies, hunger
Severe malnutrition is one reason children and their families arrive at the US border. In Guatemala in particular, there are over three times as many documented cases of acute malnutrition among children in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a report from the Guatemalan government. Seventy percent of Indigenous children in Guatemala have chronic malnutrition. The reasons have to do with failed harvests, a consequence of climate change, according to the Washington Post; a series of (un)natural disasters and an inadequate national infrastructure are also responsible. The Post quotes 12-year-old Oscar, who told an Agence France-Presse videographer, “I came because we didn’t have anything to eat.”
In an interview Salvadoran journalist Roberto Lovato gave to Democracy Now, he explained that the economic crises and violence that children and their families are fleeing in Latin America were caused by decades of catastrophic economic policies and by disastrous military interventions by the very country they are fleeing to, As he puts it, “the border is the ultimate machete of memory. It cuts up our memory so that we forget 30 years of genocide, mass murder, U.S.-sponsored militarism and policing, failed economic policies, neoliberal policies backed by the IMF, the World Bank…The new animal and the new beast in the room is climate change.”
Thinking of the problem of people arriving at the US border as one that the US created–by being an instigator of climate change and a driver of political violence–shapes our responsibility to those people. Kamala Harris could begin addressing the enormous numbers of people attempting to cross the border by providing food assistance to the countries hardest hit by Hurricanes Eta and Lota, which displaced 590,000 people in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, the Hill suggests. RLS
The International Rescue Committee has an explainer detailing the many issues that bring people to the border and the policies that–for better and for worse–are being applied to them. You can use the form on their page to write to your member of Congress.
2. New bill would protect kids in immigrant detention
We’ve spent the last four years hearing horror stories about five-year-old children representing themselves in immigration court. And, even with the change in administration, we are a long way from providing effective care for children in immigration. Pramila Jayapala’s (D-WA) PROKID Act—short for Protection of Kids in Immigration Detention Act (H.R.1238)—would create an office of the Ombudsperson for Immigrant Children in Government Custody charged with preventing family separation; honoring the Flores Agreement, which limits the time children can be held in immigration detention; establishing and maintaining safe, nurturing environments when children are in immigration custody; prioritizing release to and with family members; and advocating for immigrant children. This office would function separately from the Office of Health and Human Services and the Office of Homeland Security, although the ombudsperson would report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Currently the PROKID Act is with the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees. This legislation has only two cosponsors in addition to Representative Jayapala: Delegate [in other words, non-voting House member] Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Delegate Michael F. San Nicolas (D-GU). S-HP
If you think this would be a viable way to help protect children, you can urge swift, positive action on the PROKID Act by the appropriate committees. You can also ask your Representative to become a cosponsor of the PROKID Act if they aren’t already and tell them you want to see them actively support this legislation when it makes it to the House floor. Addresses are here.
In addition, RAICES represents children arriving at the border in Texas. You can support their work here.
3. Biden addressing hunger in America
Before the pandemic, one in ten families in the U.S. did not have enough food. In 2020, that number rose to one in four, according to NPR. (A recent study from Northwestern University explains how food insecurity and food insufficiency are calculated.) More than a million more people would have become food-insecure if a federal court had not allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop a Trump policy which would have imposed impossible work requirements–at a time when jobs were disappearing, businesses were closing, parents had no access to childcare, and 31,420,331 people had COVID-19–on families applying for food aid, Truthout reports. A new Biden initiative will increase funds for food stamps to a billion dollars a month, according to the New York Times, provide more fruits and vegetables to pregnant women and children, and vastly expand summer food programs for children. The long-run difference for Americans will be profound: as the WHO points out, malnutrition in children has severe consequences for brain development and for health, with concomitant behavioral difficulties and loss of earning potential. RLS
Biden is already receiving pushback from critics of these programs, who say that these kinds of programs “increased single parenthood and reduced marriage.” If you believe otherwise, you might send a message of support to @POTUS.
4. Who supports the right to vote in Georgia?
Some corporations have begun to speak out against the recently passed voter suppression measures in Georgia, including Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. In a memo to company employees, the CEO of Delta wrote: “Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping voting reform act that could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote…. The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.” Coca-Cola’s CEO stated in an interview, “Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal. This legislation is unacceptable. It is a step backward and it does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity.”
After Delta’s opposition to the Georgia legislation became public, the Georgia House voted to strip Delta of millions of dollars in tax breaks—a move that will not take effect because the House vote came at the end of the Georgia’s legislative session and could not be taken up by the Georgia Senate. The quick attempt to penalize Delta makes it clear that Georgia is committed to these new voter suppression tactics. If you would like a close-up look at what the Georgia legislation would do, the New York Times has an analysis. Three voting rights groups have sued Georgia over the bill.
The Major League Baseball Association has taken the most dramatic action in response, pulling the All-Star game from Georgia. More corporations need to be speaking out against Georgia voter suppression—and voter suppression efforts across the nation—in the way Coco-Cola, Delta, and MLB have. And corporations, including these three, can go further by refusing to offer financial support to any politicians attempting to make voting more difficult. S-HP
You can thank Major League Baseball for its quick response to Georgia’s voter suppression legislation: Major League Baseball, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, (866) 800-1275. @MLB. You can also thank Coco-Cola and Delta for speaking out against voter suppression and urge them to follow their statements with action by refusing to fund politicians supporting voter suppression legislation. You can also urge other Georgia-based corporations to speak out against voter suppression, not just with words, but with actions that directly affect politicians willing to suppress voting rights. Addresses are here.
5. Biden declares Uyghur Muslims to be victims of genocide
The Biden administration has acknowledged human rights abuses against China’s Uyghur Muslims, declaring China’s actions genocide in an annual human rights report, according the Washington Post. In presenting the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also cited human rights abuses in Russia, Uganda, Venezuela, Ethiopia, and Belarus. The report refers to “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of China’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”
Naming human rights abuses is a minimum response to the Uyghurs’ plight. Legislation in the House would add concrete actions to the administration’s statement. A currently unnamed and unnumbered bill (language can be found here) is identical to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, H.R.6210, passed by the House, but not voted on by the Senate, in last year’s session of Congress. A summary from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) highlights five of the bill’s provisions:
– A prohibition on “all imports from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China unless the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection can certify that the goods being imported to the U.S. are not produced, either wholly or in part, with forced labor”;
– Authorization for President Biden to “apply targeted sanctions on anyone responsible for the labor trafficking of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities”;
– A requirement of “financial disclosures from U.S. publicly traded businesses about their engagement with Chinese companies and other entities engaged in mass surveillance, mass internment, forced labor and other serious human rights abuses in the XUAR”;
– Directions to the Secretary of State to “make a determination whether the practice of forced labor or other human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR constitute crimes against humanity or genocide”;
– Directions for the Secretary to “develop a diplomatic strategy to address forced labor in the XUAR.”
If you want to engage with this issue, you could insist to the Secretary of State that you want to see a response involving actions, as well as words, to the violation of Uyghur rights: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, Department of State, 2201 C St. NW, Washington DC 20520, (202) 647-4000. @SecBlinken. You could also urge your Congressmembers to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Find your Senators here and your representatives here–or you can use CAIR’s online form.
6. Famine in Yemen
More than half the population in Yemen is living in “crisis” or “emergency” food conditions, with 16,500 in a “catastrophic” situation–that is, in imminent danger of starvation, CNN reports. Food aid trucks are lined up outside the border, but lack fuel to enter the country, due to a fuel blockade imposed by the Saudi government. The Saudis blame the rebel Houthis for the situation. Over three years ago, CNN points out, UN Security Council criminalized “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare,” and demanded that “access to supplies that are necessary for food preparation, including water and fuel” be maintained in Yemen.
Medical supplies, too, cannot be transported, according to the WHO, which told CNN that “From March 2021, WHO will have to stop distributing fuel to 206 facilities across the country, over 60 percent are hospitals providing services not available at the already fragile primary level. This will lead to the stoppage of life-saving services, such as emergency rooms and intensive care units, including COVID-19 ICUs.”
The Biden administration is apparently developing a new strategy for Yemen, having withdrawn military support for Saudi Arabia in its offensive; however, the Houthi rebels have since intensified their air strikes, according to the Washington Post. Foreign Policy in Focus has a series of articles detailing the conflict and the American role in it. RLS
Doctors without Borders announced on March 25 that there has been a drastic increase in the numbers of COVID-19 patients. The organization continues to provide care to patients in Yemen, although its hospitals have been bombed. In part because international donors have withdrawn, Doctors without Borders says that medical care and humanitarian aid are collapsing in Yemen, and is asking for funds to save lives. Avaaz is asking for funds to feed the children at risk of starvation in Yemen.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT7.
7. Keeping Black moms alive, supporting all pregnant workers
In March, the number of Black women looking to give birth outside of a hospital setting rose, the New York Times reported. Why? The Times offers two primary reasons: racial inequities in health care and COVID-19—also related to racial inequities in health care. The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal mortality among industrialized nations, largely as a result of racial inequities that permeate our medical system. Black women are four times more likely to die giving birth than white women. In New Jersey Black women giving birth face a risk of mortality seven times greater than that faced by white women.
The Black Maternal Momnibus Act (H.R.959 in the House, S.346 in the Senate) addresses a number of those disparities. Among the provisions of the House version of this ambitious piece of legislation are a housing for moms grant program; investments in community-based organizations addressing Black maternal outcomes and mental health; prenatal and postpartum childcare; support for veterans giving birth; grants to grow and diversify the perinatal workforce; protections for incarcerated moms; funding for data collection, analysis and studies to determine causes and solutions to the race-based differences in maternal outcomes. In the House, this legislation is with a number of committees and subcommittees: Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; Transportation and Infrastructure; Education and Labor; Judiciary; Natural Resources; Agriculture (and its Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Departmental Regulations); and Veterans’ Affairs (and its subcommittee on Health Actions). The provisions of the Senate legislation are essentially similar, though differently organized in places. The Senate version is with the Help, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
The House is also considering Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, H.R.1065, which is currently with Education and Labor, Oversight and Reform, Judiciary, and House Administration committees. The official House summary explains that this bill “prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. A qualified employee is an employee or applicant who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position, with specified exceptions.” S-HP
If you want to support Black moms and pregnant workers, tell your Congressmembers that we need immediate action on Black maternal health and ask them to cosponsor the legislation in their house of Congress. Urge quick, positive action on both H.R.959 and H.R.1065 by the appropriate House Committees. All addresses are here.
8. Potential catastrophe in Florida years in the making
400 million gallons of polluted, radioactive water from a former phosphate plant are poised to flood Tampa Bay. As of Saturday night, evacuation orders for 300 households had been ordered and a state of emergency declared, according to the Bradenton Herald. Under an emergency order, 22,000 gallons of the contaminated water a minute are being released into Tampa Bay, in order to prevent a complete collapse of the storage site. While the focus has been on keeping neighborhoods from being flooded, the nutrients in the water–phosphorous and nitrogen left over from mining–will lead to a red tide that will kill fish or make them too dangerous to eat.
The problem began in 1966, when the Borden Chemical company began mining in the area for phosphate to use as fertilizer, according to the Miami Herald.. Subsequent owners of the property simply added to the mix of toxic waste; the company that bought it in 2006 was supposed to clean it up but did not. Meanwhile, families are being housed in motels and are anxiously waiting to see whether their homes survive the next few days or whether they will be filled with twenty feet of water laden with heavy metals and radioactive particles. RLS
On April 4, Heather Cox Richardson meditated on the response of corporate America to voter suppression, and the panic in the Republican party over what Americans appear to want. See her nightly letters for historical context on contemporary events.
The Americans of Conscience checklist this week suggests that you take just 10 minutes this week and do three things to protect the midterm elections.