Written by Jim Weill.
January 30, 2020
I want to thank my wonderful family – Judy, and my children Andy and Jennie. And I deeply thank FRAC’s staff and Board for their commitment, work, support and tolerance of my idiosyncrasies over these last 22 years. As all those of you who run organizations know, we CEOs get more credit than we deserve and less blame than we deserve. And that is certainly true for me.
I’m also delighted that FRAC’s incoming President, Luis Guardia, will be transitioning in over the next few weeks, and FRAC will shortly be in his excellent hands. I hope that you have a chance to meet him at the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference.
It would be tempting to give my views on the great issues of the day, but there is not enough time, and I don’t want to imperil FRAC’s 501(c)(3) status, so instead I will talk, briefly, about what I feel most deeply these days – and that is how incredibly lucky I have been to have spent 50 years immersed in wonderful causes with wonderful communities of social justice advocates.
For starters, I had the good fortune of being part of a generation growing up at a time when we came to believe we could, through politics, the courts and organizing, accomplish the near-perfection of America. It was somewhat delusional, but it was empowering.
Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court when I was in elementary school; Baker v. Carr (one person/one vote) when I was in high school; Griswold v. Connecticut (right to privacy) when I was in college; and the earliest welfare rights cases when I was in law school. President Kennedy’s food stamp pilot program first issued benefits when I was 15. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom occurred when I was 17. I helped levitate the Pentagon when I was 22.
I was one of many in my generation who grew up seeing the vote, the law and demonstrations as profoundly effective tools that we could use to reform institutions that desperately needed fundamental change.
Of course, our hopes turned out to be too high. For one thing, the month I graduated law school – 50 years ago this last June – was the same month that Earl Warren was replaced as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Warren Burger, and the sorry path from Justices Marshall, Douglas and Brennan to Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh began.
But we accomplished much – more than enough to sustain hope and keep us going. We produced real change for the better in every decade and in most years over that 50-year timespan. Tens of millions of people are better off. And the sharing of that experience was personally transformative. The feminist poet and activist Robin Morgan has said “People who get misty-eyed about that period [of the 60s and 70s] drive me nuts because then I trot out all the things that were wrong. But it was also a visionary period in the life of this country, and I’m glad I was part of it.”
And, as the courts got worse, luckily they did so slowly enough that we could rack up a bunch of important wins, and then when Judy lured me from Legal Services in Chicago to D.C., I found work in places – The Children’s Defense Fund and then FRAC – with brilliant leaders and coworkers who taught me how to create change using strategies beyond lawsuits.
And in all these places I was part of communities of like-minded souls – public benefits lawyers; child advocates; anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates – with whom to share a meaningful cause, a common worldview, and close, lifelong personal bonds.
In his book Cats Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut created a language that included the word “karass” – defined as a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, with a spiritual destiny in common. I feel like I have been incredibly fortunate to be a part of such communities over 50 years.
And last, I want to reiterate how important is the work of FRAC and our allies. A decade ago at the FRAC annual dinner, the great journalist Dan Schorr said that “Year after year, decade after decade, the history of America’s conscience is what happens with food stamps. It’s a remarkable history.” We at FRAC are incredibly proud of the work we have done to launch food stamps (SNAP) as a national program 50 years ago, and to protect and grow it over the years. I would add that America’s conscience is not only linked to the gains in SNAP but the sister programs: Medicaid, refundable tax credits, school meals, child care, WIC, and other key nutrition and low-income programs.
I thank you all for your work, your partnership, your commitment to the realization of America’s conscience, and your friendship. I urge you to keep up the fight, and wish for you as much good fortune as I have had.