What Can We Do ?

excerpted from the book

Betraying the National Interest

by Frances Moore Lappe', Rachel Shuman, and Kevin Danaher

published 1987 - by The Institute for Food and Development Policy
(Food First)


What Can We Do? A Question of Responsibility

Responsibility is often a synonym for blame. It is used to point fingers and lay on the guilt. Responsibility also carries with it the notion of a capacity to respond, and it is this positive meaning of the word that we want to stress. Millions of Americans, we believe, want to respond. Especially after the 1986 scandals linking clandestine arms sales to Iran to illegal funds for the contras in Nicaragua, more than ever, Americans see the need to bring foreign policy under democratic control. But how do we respond effectively?

First, we must be regularly informed. Getting key information is essential. In addition to our own Institute's materials we suggest below other periodicals providing the background one needs to take informed action.


Let America Know

... the most obvious and important step for Americans-to let their representatives hear their views. But this is not possible unless Americans know what is being done in their names and with their tax dollars. With the knowledge gained through such educational resources and organizations as those listed below, one can work to awaken Americans to the shame of current U.S. foreign aid.

Many of the public education projects of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (also called Food First) have reinforced our view that Americans will act, once they see the impact of U.S. foreign policy, unfiltered by Washington. One particular experience, however, stands out. In 1985, we cosponsored a project which produced a documentary film for television-Faces of War-on U.S. policies in Central America. Initially, it was banned by virtually all major stations, but through tremendous public pressure, doors opened, and it has now been aired on fifty stations. The film project has become a separate organization called Neighbor to Neighbor.

Organizers for Neighbor to Neighbor are using the film successfully in dozens of communities throughout the nation. It has been part of effective campaigns shaping congressional votes on aid to Central American governments. If you would like to become part of this campaign, write to Neighbor to Neighbor, whose address is listed below.

Our initial difficulties in airing Faces of War remind us that essential to changing U.S. foreign policy is insuring that critical voices-including those most hurt by it-are allowed to be heard within the United States.

During the Reagan presidency, the (McCarthy-era) McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, has been dusted off and used to keep critics and others out, almost 700 in 1984 alone. Noted writer Margaret Randall is now threatened with deportation for her critical views on U.S. foreign policy. Nobel laureates Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been barred from our country, along with the widow of Salvador Allende and high-level Nicaraguan officials. In 1986, U.S. immigration authorities seized, held without charges, and then deported Colombian journalist Patricia Lara who has written critically about U.S. policies in Central America. (Lara had been invited to our country by Columbia University to receive an award for excellence in journalism! ) Abolishing the McCarran-Walter Act is vital because it will allow Americans to understand the impact of U.S. policies.


Alternatives to the Peace Corps

But what about direct work abroad? Can't we do more to help? Our answer is yes, but we must preface our response by reminding ourselves that development ... does not start with outside aid, no matter how well-intended. In every country in the world people are struggling to build organizations in their communities in order to improve their lives.

The Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) publishes a short guide to groups that offer work opportunities with such initiatives. We call it Alternatives to the Peace Corps, which you can order from Food First.

But even if you cannot work abroad, one of the most important steps that any American can take is a step across our borders-a lengthy visit to the third world. Seeing U.S. policies from the vantage point of others offers insights that can shape one's perspective for a lifetime. Several U.S. organizations lead study tours to third-world countries, introducing visitors to local economic and political realities.

In addition, financial contributions can support indigenous efforts, but they must be channeled through groups which are in touch with grass-roots movements and have the sensitivity to help without overwhelming local organizers with outside influence.

Since the I970s, the number of groups and individuals working to change U.S. foreign policy has grown markedly, especially within the religious community. Our hope is that this book will build on these courageous initiatives, so that more Americans will see the need to mold a new foreign policy, one worthy of our nation's highest ideals.


The Long Haul: Working with Youth

... the challenge is not only to change current U.S. foreign policy, but also to rethink our understanding of development, both here and abroad. Vital in this process is reaching out to young people, as their ideas about the possibilities for change are first being formed. Thus, our Institute has produced two curricula, for both grade school and high school, that help children understand the roots of hunger and to think critically about development. The high school curriculum takes on directly the question of foreign aid. For this audience, we also distribute a comic book and a slide show. Please write to us about these resources.

Other groups also offer invaluable tools for reaching young people on such global issues as poverty and hunger.


The Next Step: Linking Up

Alone we can accomplish little. When we join with others, not only do our actions have greater impact, but our energy and hope are buoyed.


Betraying National Interest