In 1993 -- nearly 20 years ago -- I went on a water only fast to protest the lack of conscience of the U.S. Congress towards hungry people.
I was mad that leaders in Washington, D.C. were going to eliminate the only committee that worked with the poor and hungry. So I fasted for 22 days -- water only. It was pretty lonely at first, but eventually 6,000 high schools and 200 universities joined me and the fast really caught on. The media began to publicize it. The results were powerful. I started the Congressional Hunger Center that has trained at least 60 professional hunger workers each year over the last 17 years. The World Bank held a conference after the fast and committed well over 100 million in micro-credit to poor people. These were just some of the results.
Well, today my heart is again filled with grief and pain for the suffering of hungry people because the situation is worse! There are 50 million hungry Americans, 17 million of them children. 25,000 people worldwide will die today from hunger and hunger-related diseases. One billion are malnourished worldwide. More people are living in poverty and hunger than ever before. The prices of food and energy are at all time highs. People are out of work. We do need to cut the deficit and need to get our fiscal house in order, but not on the backs of the poor and hungry. They didn't get us into the current mess, and hurting them is not the way out of it.
In Congress, they propose to cut 50 percent of food aid to hungry people overseas, and our WIC program and Head Start programs here in the U.S. one senator said about the recent legislation to cut the budget, "one half cuts too little and the other has too much hate." The voice for the hungry among our leaders has been silenced.
In the faith community and hunger community, we've tried just about everything, from reason, to letters, to visits, to admonishments. When you face a crucial situation and all the things you've tried seem to fail, a fast signals an appeal for divine guidance and direction. It's time to call on God. A fast has to be first unto God to humble ourselves and unleash God. Your faith is also unleashed when you struggle against injustice. Fasting, when done with the right heart and the right motive, may provide a key to unlock doors when other keys have failed. When you set aside the needs of your body and seek God with all your heart, you're saying, "God, I mean business, and I'm not going to let go unless you answer!" Fasting gives an edge to your prayers -- a power. And it says I do not intend to take no for an answer.
So on Monday March 28, 2011 -- nearly 20 years after my original fast -- I began fasting again, along with a growing movement of friends from around the country including Jim Wallis, David Beckmann, Ruth Messinger, and others.
The stakes are even higher this time around, as many of the proposed budget cuts will cause even greater harm to vulnerable people than the cuts that provoked my last fast. And I need you.
Broadly speaking, there are three central themes for this fast. The first is reminding people about the status of the most vulnerable, here and abroad. The second is to focus public attention on the proposed budget cuts and the terrible effects these would have on these vulnerable people. The final theme is that of a circle of protection. It's all hands on deck this time around, not just me. We are inviting you to join together in prayer and fasting to form a spiritual circle of protection around those who would be most hurt by the cuts.
[This blog post first appeared at HungerFast.org: a growing movement of those committed to fasting, prayer, and reflection to protect vulnerable people from budget cuts that lack conscience.]
Ambassador Tony P. Hall is a leading advocate for hunger relief programs and improving human rights conditions in the world. Tony Hall retired from official diplomatic service in April, 2006, and is currently serving as the executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger which engages diverse institutions in building the public and political will to end hunger at home and abroad. The Alliance has more than 75 members: corporations, non-profit groups, universities, individuals, and Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious bodies.