Former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, now an anti-hunger advocate, kicked off a grass-roots effort in Minnesota.
Thomasin and Franni Franken, daughter and wife of U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, talked with former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern as he signed books after he spoke at a kickoff rally for a state campaign against hunger. McGovern donates book sale proceeds to a foundation in his daughter’s name to help those fighting alcoholism.
A burst of midday rain delayed former U.S. Sen. George McGovern's arrival at an anti-hunger rally in St. Paul on Thursday, but it didn't dampen his sense of humor.
The former Democratic presidential candidate from South Dakota reeled off a series of one-liners, including a quip about the irony of starving on stage at the Como Lakeside Pavilion in front of about 200 anti-hunger advocates. Because his late arrival from Sioux Falls, S.D., precluded lunch, staff members of Hunger Solutions Minnesota quickly handed him a glass of milk before he appeared at the podium.
"We desperately need more people in Washington with a sense of humor," McGovern said, mentioning Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken, whose wife, Franni, and daughter, Thomasin, sat in the front row.
But it didn't take long for McGovern, who in 1972 campaigned against Richard Nixon on a platform to end the Vietnam War, to raise the specters of war and hunger.
"If we had just one month of the cost of this war in Iraq, we could fund a worldwide school lunch program, and the world might be more peaceful," said McGovern, a World War II bomber pilot who flew dozens of missions over Europe. "It might even have less terrorism than you can achieve by sending our army into complicated places like Iraq."
McGovern, who turns 86 today, and another high-profile former senator, Bob Dole of Kansas, are longtime partners in the global fight against hunger. As leaders of opposing parties in the 1970s, they worked together to reform the federal food stamp program, expand school lunches, and establish the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC. Their school feeding program has gone international, involving 41 countries.
But hunger is very much a local problem, too, said Colleen Moriarity, who leads Hunger Solutions, the rally's sponsor. Since 2000, the number of people using Minnesota food shelves has shot up 62 percent, with 2 million visits in the past year. Hunger Solutions records show growing numbers of middle-class families becoming reliant on food shelves for their meals because of job losses and big jumps in food and gasoline prices.
"This is a struggle," State Rep. John Benson, DFL-Minnetonka, told the crowd before McGovern walked on stage. "I think many people who haven't gone hungry don't realize this is a serious issue."
Benson said he initiated bills in the Legislature to restore food programs for children, including greater state subsidies of school lunches. He said he was shocked that because of cost-cutting, kindergartners no longer get a half-pint of milk in school. "There's no excuse for elderly on fixed incomes or kids to be hungry in this state," he said.
The rally kicked off Voice of Hunger Network, a grass-roots movement to acquaint more people with the extent of hunger in Minnesota and how to better distribute food.
McGovern, in an interview after his speech, said that the world produces enough food to provide each person with 3,500 calories a day, but many countries can't afford to feed their people. Should hunger be eliminated, he said, peace and education would benefit.
"It would change life on this planet," he said.
McGovern also said after his speech that he thinks often of his loss to Nixon in 1972. When he attended Nixon's funeral, he said, he thought about how terrible it was for Nixon to be the only president in U.S. history to resign from office because of the enormous political scandal known as Watergate.
Just months after the Republican defeated McGovern in a landslide election in 1972, investigations into the Nixon presidency began.
"If that election had been held even six weeks later ..." McGovern said Thursday.
Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554