Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Liberty – Our Duty to Agitate

Empower Missouri has repeatedly called you to action during the past year to oppose proposed regulations from the Trump Administration. Another dangerous proposal has been published in the Federal Register, open to public comment, so we must call you to stand in solidarity with families that are food insecure yet again.

We recognize that The-Little-Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf principle is at play. After months of a Cut-Cut-Cut litany around funding for the safety net and a Smash-Smash-Smash drumbeat to human rights protections of the most vulnerable in our society, it is easy to want to tune it all out. It would be so easy to just turn on the World Series, pop open a brew, and skip filing a comment to the USDA this time. Instead, we’re asking that you consider what is at stake and what we are really challenging when we speak up to the attacks on families with low incomes.

Many of us have heard the slogan “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” but most of us do not know the rest of the quote or who said it. It is often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, but the real source of the quote is Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist. Speaking to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1852, Phillips said:

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten…..only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

Submitting a thoughtful and respectful comment to the USDA, writing your legislators, attending a rally or a hearing on behalf of our neighbors with low income, you are participating in that agitation. Unintermitted agitation does not require hostility, but it absolutely requires consistency.

The latest USDA proposal to change the rules around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) would cap the Standard Utility Allowance that accommodates the differences people experience in utility rates and costs. If the changes are made, 19 percent of SNAP households, nearly one in five, would get lower SNAP monthly benefits. This change would disproportionately impact elderly people and people with disabilities, and a national net cut to SNAP benefits amounting to $4.5 billion over five years is projected.

A huge, poorly-structured tax cut was delivered in 2017, benefiting only those with the highest incomes. The wealthiest among us had a windfall, and now the one in seven Missourians who depend on SNAP to put food on their tables are asked to tighten their belts. This is not just, and therefore is why we must protest by using the FRAC comment platform to send our comments to the USDA. 

Speaking of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), have you registered for our annual conference on November 9 in Columbia yet? Ellen Teller, Director of Government Affairs for FRAC, is the luncheon speaker, and Rep. Crystal Quade of Springfield and Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman of Arnold are closing speakers. They will share their experiences with SNAP, whether receiving their benefits in real life or by walking a mile in the shoes of another through the #MOSNAPChallenge. You also may interact with Ellen informally at a reception on Friday night, November 8, at the Holiday Inn Executive Center,  2200 I-70 Drive Southwest in Columbia, beginning at 6:30 p.m. RSVP’s to [email protected] are appreciated.

We cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. Please come gather with other advocates who believe in food and housing security for all. Learn from each other and encourage each other. Together we can sustain the “unintermitted agitation” needed to keep power from taking food from the tables of the most vulnerable among us.

In solidarity,

Jeanette Mott Oxford (JMO)
Executive Director

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