From the Spring-Summer 2018 Washington Memo:
A baby birthed the idea for one of the most memorable advocacy projects during my years in the MCC Washington Office.
MCC Iraq service worker Wanda Kraybill visited Capitol Hill in January 1999 to talk about the devastating humanitarian impact of U.S.-promoted sanctions on ordinary Iraqis. Wanda showed pictures of the food boxes that Iraqis received under the UN-administered oil-for-food program, touted by many U.S. policymakers as the reason sanctions were not that bad.
Sen. Patty Murray’s legislative director Ben McMakin, who had just become a father, was outraged when he saw the small amounts of infant formula Iraqi babies were receiving. “My baby couldn’t survive a week on that amount of formula,” Ben fumed.
This interaction hatched the idea of sending a food box to every member of Congress. Perhaps if lawmakers would see firsthand the Iraqi rations, it would make a difference.
During the week of August 6, 1999–the ninth anniversary of when sanctions had been imposed–the MCC Washington Office organized a campaign to deliver a food box to every member of Congress. MCC constituents delivered 170 boxes to district congressional offices. MCC staff assembled the remaining 365 boxes for delivery on Capitol Hill.
Each food box contained a week’s worth of food rations–flour, rice, sugar, lentils, cheese, cooking oil, tea and salt–and a letter inviting members of Congress to use this as their diet for a week.
Almost immediately, we started receiving calls from congressional offices. Some were grateful that MCC had highlighted the flaws of oil-for-food. Sen. Murray circulated a letter urging her colleagues to remember the children suffering under “the weight of sanctions.”
Other offices expressed anger at being confronted with the choice between eating the Iraqi rations and wasting food. “Why didn’t you send the food to Iraq?” demanded some offices, who missed the point that we were targeting a public policy.
To my knowledge, no members of Congress chose the Iraqi diet, but one member did organize a “food boxes pickup” on Capitol Hill so the food could be shared with D.C. Central Kitchen, a local organization that targets the cycle of hunger and poverty.
Congress did not vote to end the sanctions–sadly, that didn’t happen until after the 2003 Iraq war–but using the biblical tradition of visual prophetic advocacy did spark an important debate on Capitol Hill
Daryl Byler was director of the MCC Washington Office from 1994 to 2007.