By Donna Brazille, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
More than $6 billion dollars were spent in the 2012 campaign season — making it the most expensive in our nation’s history. If you live in one of the battleground or swing states or had a competitive race for Congress, you had a steady diet of negative advertising, phone calls and mail.
Even if you lived in the reddest of red states or the bluest of blue, you were fed four nationally televised debates and could nosh on daily news and cable coverage of the election. And if you were a glutton, you could feast on the blogs and websites and discussion forums offered by the Internet.
Now think back over the past few months and try to remember hearing any of the candidates mention this word: hunger. Or even addressing the issue of poverty.
There was a lot of talk about deficits and debt and economic indicators and rates of this or that. There was talk of taxes and spending and revenue.
Those are abstract words. It’s easy to toss them around. It’s easy to work them into a debate, to use them to stir up an attack or cook up applause.
But hunger is real and physical. It’s the knot in the pit of your stomach and the gnawing away of hope and joy. Hunger shakes our bodies and our minds; it saps our strength and our confidence.
We did hear the words “economy” and “jobs,” the latter in all kinds of contexts — “job creators” and “shipping jobs overseas” and “manufacturing jobs,” etc.
The hunger crisis is undeniable, and it’s made worse by a fragile economy. In 2010, 17.2 million households — about one in seven — were “food insecure” — a fancy way of saying they went hungry. Last year, 50.1 million Americans lived in “food insecure households.” Well, let’s use the word! Last year, 16.7 million children went hungry. Here. In the United States of America.
Yes, new and more and better jobs will help. Millions of unemployed corresponds with millions who are hungry. Poverty and hunger are partners, or at least cousins.
But millions of those who experience hunger, and whose children experience it, work regular jobs. They just don’t earn enough to make ends meet. The working poor — living in poverty and ashamed because they rely on food stamps and Women, Infants and Children, and other programs. Maybe the shame is misplaced.
As Americans, we take pride in our nation’s capacity to come together in a crisis. I know this first hand. After Katrina, my family and I benefited from the generosity of friends and strangers. Hurricane Sandy affected about two dozen states, devastating large areas of the Northeast. But all of America felt the loss, aching for those who lost loved ones in the storm, or property in the flooding. We chipped in through the Red Cross and other charities. The retiree in Phoenix doesn’t bump into the Staten Island mailman when she takes a walk through her neighborhood, but they share a bond. They’re Americans.
As we celebrated Thanksgiving, millions of our fellow citizens were still picking up the pieces of their scattered lives, struggling to return to normal. As best we can, each of us will perform an act of goodness and kindness, making the word “thanksgiving” real and meaningful.
And, surely, the same part of our heart is touched by the escalating number of people now living in poverty and those who lack the resources to provide for their families. The growth of hunger hasn’t been swift, but it has been steady. And its results are having an impact on families, children, elderly, poor, working and unemployed. It affects everyone — white, black, Latino, Asian — in every region of this land.
They deserve to be in our prayers and they should also be in our minds as we consider how we want to help our neighbors during the holiday season. Through our generosity, our donations, our volunteer time and other efforts, we can provide more than sustenance to those without. We can rekindle hope in a land with so many opportunities still available to all.
President Obama and Gov. Romney were fortunate enough to have armies of volunteers and donors for the campaigns. Theirs was important work, as civic participation makes our country stronger. It warms the heart to see so many young people care enough about their government to become involved.
With the campaign over, I sincerely ask each of them to take another piece of their time to volunteer at the soup kitchen or food bank in their town, donate food or money, or organize a group of their friends to do the same.
Hunger may not have been addressed directly during the presidential campaign, but it is no less a pressing issue. It is an issue that can bring us together, whether we’re in Phoenix or Staten Island.
(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.)