Silent No More

By Bill Bolling, Executive Director
Appeared in Foodsharing
Holiday, 2011

The headline in a national news magazine last week was “The Return of the Silent Majority”. It certainly raises the question of where that majority has been since the label was first coined many years ago.

Today, the vocal minority of left and right seem to get all the attention. Even the presidential candidates seem to be talking more to “them” than to “us”. And their simple ideas of more or less government don’t seem, in and of themselves, to resonate as an effective answer to very complex issues. Most of us are considered the “silent majority”. While our actions may have been strong and consistent, our voices have rarely been heard.

Many years ago I was silent, but things changed, and I wasn’t anymore. After returning from Vietnam, and finding a country in turmoil around race, the war, and a different future that young people wanted for themselves, I personally got involved trying to find and raise my own voice toward justice.

Today, we see young – and not so young – people trying to find their voice around what is just and fair. It’s often emotional, unfocused, and exploding on our streets and in the political process. After three years of high unemployment, no growth, and an unwillingness of our policymakers to find a middle ground, many people have lost trust in large institutions – big government, big business, the media, and even the faith community. There is a feeling that something is very seriously wrong, and no one is listening. It has motivated a number of grass-root movements to spring up across the country, and even across the world.

Today, the Tea Party’s rallying cry is smaller government, fewer regulations, lower taxes, and major budget cuts. Let the free market roam – every person for him or herself. At the same time, Occupy Wall Street has spread across the country with the cry to address the dramatically growing gap between the rich and the shrinking middle class, especially the working poor. They want more oversight to keep big banks, board rooms, and corporations in check. They want more justice and more certainty, which translates to more government.

And the traditionally slow processes that operate out of partisan politics are increasingly being rejected. Is there a middle way? Can we find common interests across political differences? Where does the silent majority look for models of cooperation and effective action?

Many people choose to take action to help make things better. Action, it turns out, is the antidote to despair. While some see no alternatives except protesting in the streets, others see the simple act of feeding another person, of listening to their stories, of raising their spirits, as a reason to keep moving forward. Acts like these are taking place in communities across America. While they rarely make the news – being drowned out by a media that relishes conflict over cooperation – they represent the values and commitments so needed today.

If we took stock of the goodness these actions represent, we may surprise ourselves. Goodness growing out of hardship. It’s an old story, but expressed in new and creative ways. Clarity of purpose and commitment to action counters blame and frustration.

Sometimes it takes an unforeseen emergency to get our attention in an over stimulated life full of easy answers and empty promises. Until the silent majority comes to grips with the questions of our day, I don’t think easy answers being promised by our politicians – answers requiring little sacrifice from us – will ever satisfy the longing for a more just society.

It’s not the first time we have faced such uncertainty as a country. Periodically, we face a time of truth, a pivotal moment, and therein lies an opportunity. I think we are facing one of those moments today. We must pay attention to those things that connect people and build trust, that motivate creativity and shared action. We must nurture democratic action that encourages participation instead of fear and cynicism. Our policies must follow our ideals, and our actions must reflect our deepest beliefs.

How we grow, distribute, prepare, share, and enjoy our food can be a catalyst for change. This means that anyone can play a role in fighting hunger. Our calls to action are very clear, measurable, and potentially impactful. When we take action, and let our voices be heard, it multiplies the impact of our work. Often, the actions we take actually require that we use our voices.

Some of us can advocate for hunger programs in the new Farm Bill that will soon be taken up by Congress. In a time when families and children are experiencing hunger in greater numbers than anytime since the Great Depression, do we really want to cut nutrition programs? You can get involved and speak up.

Some of us can join in the No Kid Hungry Campaign to be announced by Governor Deal later this month. It focuses on getting nutrition programs working more effectively, but will take a public-private partnership to ensure success. It’s a way we can stop leaving money on the table and children hungry in their homes. You can get involved and share your ideas.

Some of us can volunteer at a local hunger relief organization or at the Food Bank. Volunteering not only strengthens community, but makes it healthier and more empowered. You can get involved and spread the word to family and friends.

Some of us can help educate our young people, our policy makers, our business and faith communities on their role in fighting hunger. The Food Bank has a Hunger 101 curriculum and teaching guides to support your work. You can get involved and help others learn. Some of us can write, and have a special talent in communicating via social networks. You can get involved and post or blog about issues that matter.

At the end of the day, hunger is a moral issue for all of us. We must honor our elders by ensuring they have adequate food. We must help struggling families access enough nutritious food for their children. One of the most important ways to safeguard the health of our nation is to commit that no one goes hungry. We’re at the tip of the iceberg. Not paying attention to the issue of hunger will surely sink our ship of state. If our children’s health, ability to learn, and sense of self-worth is compromised much further, our country will be headed down a devastating road. We should be very concerned, and our voices should be raised.

Maybe the majority of us have been silent too long. It’s not that our actions have been wrong; it’s that we have not shared the lessons learned and demanded a middle way that includes all of us. Our response is an opportunity to find common ground and common solutions, to be leaders instead of silent followers. But it won’t be easy. Nothing of real value ever is.

Bill Bolling