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“COMPASSION IS NOT A WEAKNESS”: Congressman Jim McGovern Delivers October Gray Colloquium Address

Posted: October 17, 2012

Seven-term Congressman Jim McGovern, who represents Massachusetts 3rd District in the House, visited St. Mark’s on Tuesday, October 16th, as the second guest presenter in this year’s Gray Colloquium series. The Gray Colloquium is designed to engage St. Mark’s students in an exploration of one complex global issue annually. It has been made possible by the generosity of former St. Mark's Board President and current School Trustee C. Boyden Gray '60. This year’s Gray Colloquium theme is “Global Challenges”.

Before the formal Gray Colloquium presentation in the Class of 1945 Hall, Mr. McGovern had lunch with more than a dozen students in the Hinkle Room. There they discussed the political process, the current political situation, the issues of the day, and how an individual gets involved in political action.

Congressman McGovern has long been a leader in the fight against hunger, both at home in the United States and around the world. This was the focus of his address following lunch. He described to his audience the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program (named for Democratic Senator George McGovern [no relation] and Republican Senator Robert Dole), which he introduced as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus more than a decade ago. Its goal: for every child to get at least one nutritious meal each day and to be able to go to school. “There is not a country in the world, and not a town or city here in the United States, that does not have people suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” he said. “Millions have been helped by this program.” Mr. McGovern noted that McGovern-Dole was made possible because “like-minded people came together in a bipartisan effort.”

The Congressman spoke about his recent trip to Colombia, where he visited a camp for displaced persons. There McGovern-Dole had enabled children to be fed and to be educated. “I’ve come to believe that hunger in the U.S. and around the world is a political condition,” he asserted. “We all know the answers. We all know what we need to do to end hunger around the world, but we lack the political will.”

He noted that “today, October 16, is World Food Day, and around the world non-government organizations, churches, schools, temples, mosques, synagogues and more are engaged in working toward solutions to end hunger.” He was very clear: “Withy more people raising their voices, we can make progress on this issue.”

A key problem, stated Mr. McGovern, is the issue of hunger domestically. “I am a United States Congressman, and I am ashamed that so many people go hungry in this country,” he said. “The worst thing that we can do is turn our backs. Compassion is not a weakness. Ignoring people who are poor or hungry doesn’t mean they go away.” He also pointed out that feeding the hungry at home and worldwide would only help our economy and would have a strong, positive impact on our international relations.

“We can do amazing things,” he told his audience more than 300 St. Markers, “but you need to have the political will.” Addressing them as future leaders, Congressman McGovern told his listeners that “you need to be part of the solution. You are now old enough to know what you believe, and when you leave this place you need to fight for those beliefs.”

Following his address, Mr. McGovern took questions from the audience. He welcomed the opportunity, and said that he would not shy away from controversial questions. “Part of what being at a school like this means is a free exchange of ideas,” he said. “So don’t be shy.”

And the audience certainly wasn’t shy. Questions about the perceived lack of political will, the current state of political discourse, the effectiveness of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the current Presidential debates, the problem of debt, and social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage were all put forward.

To the question of lacking political will, Mr. McGovern responded that to some an issue like hunger might seem overwhelming, while others see not taking a stand as the safer position. Also, he noted, “the hungry don’t have as many lobbyists nor as much money” as other groups. On the current state of political discourse, he decried the fact that “ideology has become an obstacle to discussion.” He called for a “focus on solutions, not sound bites,” and acknowledged that today “trivial issues are argued with passion and important issues not at all.” He responded to all the questions frankly and openly.

Congressman McGovern concluded by saying: “We waste too much time trying to drive wedges between us. We should try harder to come together. That,” he told his St. Mark’s listeners, “is your challenge.”