Why fight for human needs?
Editor’s note: The following piece was written by Makenna Whitworth, CHN’s Fall 2018 intern. Makenna is a senior majoring in political science at Brigham Young University.
By Makenna Whitworth
Why fight for human needs? Thousands of organizations across the country are devoted to social justice, women and men everywhere dedicate their lives to the advancement of this cause – what brings them to do it? Though each person’s reasons are their own, I can speak for myself and share part of my story as to why I join in this fight.
My advocacy took a personal turn when at age 19, after my first year of college, I became debilitatingly ill with what doctors were eventually able to diagnose as Lyme disease. Muscle spasms, seizure-like episodes and overwhelming weakness and fatigue left me, for a time, incapable of merely walking across a room without collapsing to the ground. Despite my desire to be employed and pursue my educational aspirations, my condition required me to quit my job and take a leave of absence from school.
More than four years has past, and thanks to the support of my family, competent medical professionals, and access to affordable health insurance, I am where I am today, completing an internship here at the Coalition on Human Needs and getting ready to graduate with my B.A. in political science this next spring. But this experience has forever shaped me. I consistently wonder: what would have happened to me if my family hadn’t had the financial means to support me during this time? How would I have ever gotten better if I did not have access to affordable care?
While my experience is my own, it is not unlike those of thousands of others. But unlike me, there are far too many people who lack access to fundamental needs requisite for human flourishing. According to CHN’s First Look report on the 2017 Census Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance data (which I helped compile), 12.3 percent of all people and 17.5 percent of all children in the U.S. live in poverty. This poverty rate is even higher for people with disabilities, at 24.9 percent. And 12.1 percent of working-age adults remain uninsured. These statistics are shocking, but we can take some comfort in knowing that programs such as Social Security, refundable tax credits, housing subsidies, and SNAP lift millions out of poverty.
Yet these programs that ensure basic needs are consistently under attack. Just during my time here at CHN, we have seen debate over unnecessary and harmful work requirements for SNAP included in the Farm Bill and the detestable public charge rule proposal, which would force immigrant families to choose between accepting essential benefits and qualifying for permanent legal status. Not to mention the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cut that has exploded the deficit, which already has been used as an excuse to attack programs that provide for human needs.
The threat to human needs does not stop there. During my internship, I attended several hearings, policy briefings, and advocacy meetings that revealed the myriad of problems the human needs community continues to face: Panelists at the House Democrats Hearing on Poverty with the Poor People’s Campaign shared heartbreaking personal accounts of the immense challenges of poverty; Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha spoke powerfully at the First Focus Children’s Budget Summit on the poisoning of children brought on by the Flint water crisis; experts and advocates discussed CLASP’s report on the “unjustice” experienced by youth of color in our criminal justice system. The list goes on and on.
But there is hope. Organizations like CHN and its partners work tirelessly to ensure that the most voiceless and vulnerable among us are not forgotten. Through the course of my internship, I accompanied lobby visits where policy experts discussed with Congressional staff exactly why protecting human needs is so important and what can be done to do so. I worked with CHN staff to conduct research and prepare template comments to be used by advocates everywhere in expressing opposition to the proposed public charge rule. And I assisted with outreach for the SAVE for All statement of principles (which it is not too late for organizations to sign – read and sign the statement today!) to organize national, state and local organizations across the nation in our united effort to protect human needs.
And we can see that these efforts of advocates pay off. Though there are still many issues that we are fighting for, we can celebrate the fact that the final Farm Bill excluded punitive new rules for SNAP that would have denied assistance to 2 million people, that over 210,000 public comments were submitted for the proposed public charge rule – more than doubling the advocates’ goal, that Medicaid has now been expanded to all but 14 states, and that former convicts in Florida have had their voting rights restored.
If I have learned anything during my internship here at CHN, it’s that we are much stronger together than we could ever be alone. So if you have a desire to protect human needs, please, come join us in this fight. This can be done through formally interning with an advocacy organization such as CHN and spending a career in the service of human needs, but there are many other ways to get involved: Stay informed on the issues. Vote. Assist with election campaigns for candidates that seek to protect vulnerable people. Volunteer at a local non-profit organization that you value. Run for office. Subscribe to resources that help mobilize you to action. And encourage those around you to do the same. There is simply too much at risk for us to be passive. The road may be long, but by uniting together, we can make a difference. So let’s get out there and get to work.