Who Did More This Year to Help their (or anyone else’s) Country?

What do you do when confronted by a humanitarian crisis? José Andrés did it the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. Buy the book here.

While Marcy’s earlier post comparing and contrasting the destructiveness of the current administrations in the US and UK is important, it is far too depressing a way to end 2020. Don’t get me wrong: we absolutely need to be aware of the specific problems induced by, exacerbated by, and enabled by Trump and Johnson, but as critical as that examination of the mess is, we need one thing more.

While Donald and the Grifters were doing their worst this year in DC/Mar-a-Lago, and Boris and the Bunglers were doing the same in the UK, there were others doing other things that were absolutely spectacular. They were spectacular on their own, but in contrast to the elected national leaders, they were even more amazing.

Over in the UK, while Boris was fiddling over Westminster and worrying about deficits, a young footballer (US: soccer player) named Marcus Rashford decided he’d had enough. Marcus grew up in public housing, and was quite familiar with being short of food growing up. One reason his mom fought to get him into a football academy/boarding school at age 11 was because he was good at the game, and another was that it meant he’d get fed decently and allow her income to feed the rest of the family.

Rashford has never forgotten what a difference a decent meal means to a young child, and his efforts to address childhood hunger have grown as he has moved from being a teenage football phenom into one of the stars of the Premier League. A year ago, he led a big local effort in his hometown of Manchester to provide food to the hungry over the holidays; this past year he has been leading the effort to do the same with kids all over the UK — and doing so in the teeth of policies put forward by Boris Johnson and the Tories. In a powerful open letter to the members of Parliament last June, Rashford wrote:

This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling like we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?

The next day, after a couple of abortive attempts to defend themselves in the face of huge public support for Rashford’s letter, Boris Johnson and the Tories announced a U-turn and set up a program to feed hungry kids over the summer.

But Poor Boris just couldn’t learn. In October, as COVID-19 continued to ravage the UK, Rashford and others asked Parliament to set up a meal program that would feed poor kids over the Christmas holiday break when there would be no “free lunch” meals at school. Rashford pushed, but the Tories in parliament held firm (or firm enough) to reject a motion to pay for these meals, and so Rashford pushed some more. Two weeks and much outrage later, Boris caved again.

What is so powerful about Rashford personally is that it’s not just about food with him — it’s that he sees real people struggling with real problems, and he works indefatigably to address both the problem and the person. For instance . . .

In February 2020, Rashford received a letter from a young fan, who invited him to be a judge at his school for a poetry competition.

“Dear Marcus Rashford, please will you be our judge for our World Book Day poetry competition?” read the letter.

“The deaf children in Manchester will write poems. Please can you pick your winners! And give our prizes if you can? Please let us know if you can before Feb 7th.”

After agreeing to judge the competition, Rashford then started learning sign language in preparation for the meeting the kids.

The England international has vowed to hand out the awards in person when the current lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Thank God, Marcus Rashford is not alone.

Based out of the US, world-renowned chef José Andrés has been doing the same kind of work. It began when Andrés saw the absolutely inept response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He gathered a bunch of cooks, called on his network of suppliers, and set up a huge field kitchen operation to feed both those responding to the emergency but also the ordinary folks who live there. His work to organize a response meant jobs for local restaurant folks who provided the bulk of the workforce alongside his emergency crew members, and this became a juggernaut in the disaster relief world: World Central Kitchen. Since then, WCK has gone into Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Florida and the Gulf Coast after US hurricanes, and all kinds of other locations suffering from disasters, man-made and otherwise.

And then came COVID-19.

As pandemic-related lockdowns ravaged the food industry, Andrés devoted himself even more strongly to turning the devastated restaurant industry into a powerful force for feeding the growing numbers of folks in need of food. “It is WCK’s intention that by working directly with restaurants and providing demand for the restaurant business, we can get meals to those who need them most while also uplifting an industry that needs all of our help to keep their doors open.” Andrés sums up the mission of WCK quite simply: “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people may eat, we will be there.”

And they are.

The key to the work of both Rashford and Andrés is that they see themselves as partners with those in need, not as saviors who swoop in and do their thing, take a bow, and then leave. This mindset of partnership stands in stark contrast to Trump and Johnson, and the way in which the broader, non-political community has gotten behind folks like Rashford and Andrés is a challenge to politicians, as Johnson’s Tories learned not once but twice.

This afternoon, Rashford tweeted this out (paragraph breaks added for readability, but punctuation from the original):

I’ve got a game tomorrow so I need to sign off here but before I go I wanted to reflect on what has been the most challenging year. I’ve been so proud to see people coming together to help those in need and that same compassion needs to continue into 2021 because it’s people like you that make this country great and there is still so much more work to do. We have shown the difference we can make when we unite.

Don’t look back on this year thinking you haven’t achieved anything, you achieved everything. You survived 2020. Your strength was tested and you made it. Give yourself a pat on the back. I’m hoping in 2021 I get to celebrate in the crowd with you again, I really just miss that, I can’t believe none of you got to be with me for the Leipzig hat trick but hoping there will be many more.

Everything I have achieved this year has been our achievement I couldn’t have done it without your support. Let’s aim and hope for an equal playing field for all in 2021. Love to you all. Be safe and a happy new year. MR x

[That Leipzig hat trick was amazing – he came off the bench in the second half and scored 3 goals in just 18 minutes. But I digress.]

Back in late 1970s, in the face of anti-gay activists like Anita Bryant and the politicians like John Briggs who sought their votes, Harvey Milk brought his own community-based political approach to the streets of San Francisco. While he was withering in his critique of those who put the big money powers first, of those who lived to oppress others, and those who preached a “go slow” approach to seeking change, he knew that was not enough. When speaking to his supporters about reaching out to others, he told them that beyond criticism, one more thing is needed: “You gotta give ’em hope.”

That’s what Marcus Rashford does. That’s what José Andrés does. That’s what countless of less famous others do on a smaller, more local level. As I said at the top, Marcy’s earlier post was necessary, but going forward we need signs of hope.

But Rashford is right: there is still so much more work to do. As we come to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, as we mourn the efforts of Trump and Johnson to push their countries into hopelessness, who gave hope to you and your corner of the world?

36 replies
    • Zinsky says:

      Amen. Dolly Parton is a national treasure and has shined like a real star through this horrible pandemic in the U.S., contributing a million bucks for vaccine research and helping food banks in Tennessee feed hungry Americans. However, giving her a Medal of Freedom makes the one Rush Limbaugh received appear even more grotesque and macabre. Dolly has also been a solid supporter of LGBTQ causes over the years,

      Apropos of nothing, other than a little New Years Day comic relief, here is my favorite Anita Bryant video:


    • gmoke says:

      I believe that the best gift, the one award Ms Dolly Parton would appreciate more than any other, is the Gershwin Prize for songwriting. She identifies herself most strongly as a “songteller,” as her recent book puts it, and her work has surely earned her that reward.

      A Presidential Medal of Freedom, if it hasn’t been entirely devalued by Trmp, would also be in order.

      But give her the Gershwin Prize too, please.

      My notes on her autobiograohy are at http://hubeventsnotes.blogspot.com/2020/11/dolly-parton-is-real-deal.html

  1. Ollie says:

    ‘Don’t look back on this year thinking you haven’t achieved anything, you achieved everything. You survived 2020. Your strength was tested and you made it. Give yourself a pat on the back. I’m hoping in 2021 I get to celebrate in the crowd with you again, I really just miss that, I can’t believe none of you got to be with me for the Leipzig hat trick but hoping there will be many more.’ Boy did I need to read this. Great work Peterr

    Happy New Year everyone!

  2. Nehoa says:

    I am amazed at what the people developing the vaccines were able to do. Especially those who developed the mRNA vaccines.

  3. timbo says:

    Thanks for reminding us all that food and shelter are more important than all the garbage foisted on us by capitalist financiers that get off on feeling like they’re some how better than the folks who have nothing.

  4. e.a.f. says:

    thankfully he is doing a wonderful thing for the children of G.B.

    It is hard to understand how in some countries children actually go hungry. How in a country as rich as the U.S.A. and Canada, U.K. etc, there are children who go hungry because their parents don’t have the money to buy food and the government refuses to. You wonder how those politicians can actually look themselves in the mirror. They aren’t human. Its like they don’t care or don’t want to care or are too interested in ensuring their political supporters get as many tax deductions as possible, thereby defunding the government. A defunded government simply doesn’t have the money to feed hungry kids. when one considers the U.S.A. has 50M people who are food insecure and then all those billionaires paying little to no tax, you do have to wonder.

    Thank you Mr. Rushford.

    Happy New Year! Lets hope next year will have less hunger and COVID and more caring for other humans.

  5. Bay State Librul says:

    Peterr, thank goodness you wrote this post.

    “… a vision of American goodness in sharp relief to the bleak unravelling of the last several years.” from the Guardian on Bruce’s 2020 album A Letter to You.

  6. Jenny says:

    Thank you Peterr.

    Americans should be receiving one plate a day of hot food. That’s not too much to ask in America. An MRE is very expensive for the American taxpayer. A hot meal is more affordable, it’s cheaper. It’s what people really need, it’s what people really want. They feel all of a sudden that you are caring for them, that America is caring for them.
    Jose Andres

  7. Chetnolian says:

    Can we add from them UK end Lewis Hamilton? It is difficult to exaggerate the amount of effort he must have put in to place Black Lives Matter before an audience who would normally resist it.I I have just enough insight into FIA to realise how much resistance there must at first have been. He must first have persuaded Toto Wolf to back him and then to go on to get the whole F1 grid to either participate or show respect, and to get the Mercedes “Silver Arrows”painted black. To do all that and at the same time show the world how his day job should be done is pretty amazing.

    • Peterr says:

      Indeed. Sir Lewis was the complete package on and off the race course.

      You know that when the “talent” has the clout to push the organization and the sponsor to shift like that, the “talent” is doing something really powerful.

      See also Patrick Mahomes et al. pushing the NFL in the same way. Roger Goodell’s hostage video was something else – not for the video itself, but for the fact that the players had the clout to force it to be made. The NFL and F1 have a long way to go, but they are being pushed in the right direction by folks like these.

  8. What Constitution? says:

    Dare I venture to nominate “mere actor” John Krasinski for his weekly YouTube videos “Some Good News”, boldly if capriciously seeking to raise lots of people’s spirits half an hour at a time even as the COVID environment merciliessly pounds on daily life about the head and neck. The guy enlisted the cameo help of his privileged circle of famous friends, who seem uniformly sincere in trying to support the vibe (Brad Pitt’s regular “weather today” appearances as but one example, and it doesn’t hurt that his wife is known to every kid as Mary Poppins), and each show is just plain “uplifting” at a time where that, in an of itself, is an achievement. That “big ticket” sponsors seemed regularly to materialize out of thin air to provide material support for “good deeds” being rewarded by this innocuous internet bit (first responders invited to throw out “first pitches” for the Red Sox being an example) made it clear that the “don’t give up hope” message resonates. Then Jack Ryan gets out of his emcee chair to leave the room, in a suit jacket, tie and something like a tutu each time. We found ourselves waiting for the next episode to drop with every bit as much anticipation as a new Star Trek. Small things can make a big difference. Better than watching the President of the United States suggest drinking bleach, or trying to figure out if that’s any kind of a standard.

  9. BobCon says:

    Not that any decent person needs reminding, but Fauci has been remarkable, in a way that others like Birx and Redfield have fallen short.

    I think a critical piece of his success is that he is an institution builder. He has refused taking advantage of the revolving door, taken the long view, and put an emphasis on integrity over short term wins.

    A lot of superficial Machiavellian wannabes would never follow his path and think about everything in terms of 24 hour PR cycles and transactional ethics, but their reputations are all headed for the dumpster of history.

    • LeeNLP says:

      “…their reputations are all headed for the dumpster of history.”

      History is often invoked as a witness of present injustice. I don’t know what history will record, especially given that the winners write the histories. And I understand the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality, the under-reporting of kindness and courage in the media. But I hope you are right.

      As for those who strive and sacrifice for the good of others, I hope it turns out as CS Lewis said: “What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well; and where present experience saw only salt deserts memory truthfully records that the pools were full of water.”

      • ducktree says:

        My understanding of Lewis’ “pools … full of water” metaphorically referred to the people who were traversing or settling and cultivating the salt deserts.

        Latter-Day Saints and all that… but not exclusively that group, just the human ethos.

  10. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    Stacey Abrahms – without her, we wouldn’t have a fighting chance in Georgia. Plus she developed a model that can be replicated elsewhere.

  11. earthworm says:

    i ask myself over and over:
    what is the use of being “the richest, most powerful, best armed nation on earth,” when US has the levels of need, hunger, and despair that are present in our country?
    what about the lady in this story?
    Where is her medal? I bet she doesn’t even want one.

    (edited to strip out the tracking stuff [everything after and including the question mark] from the link)

  12. Eureka says:

    I just saw photos from the memorials of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg and flowed into tears.

    John Lewis. RBG.

    What they did for us in 2020 was move along our hope (that what we did could matter), nudge us towards each successive finish line with the honor of their histories.

    They each hung on for us as long as they could, they knew where we needed to go.

Comments are closed.