What Can We Do ?
excerpted from the book
Betraying the National Interest
by Frances Moore Lappe', Rachel Shuman, and Kevin
published 1987 - by The Institute for Food and
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
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
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
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
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.