How to 'Feed the People'...
A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann
"Whereas," said the grim-faced woman with the half- glasses, "the
incidence of death by starvation is growing at an alarming rate." She
stared down at the papers stacked on the table in front of her. Her
hands were clutching the lapels of her waistcoat.
It was a meeting of our block association. In addition to the Council of Residents around the conference table at the front, there were about a half-dozen of the unannointed seated at random in the expansive auditorium.
"Whereas," Grimface continued, "the causes of the unprecedented increase in the number of deaths attributed to starvation have been identified as purely natural and not open to anyone's control."
The meetings are held once a month, in one of the lecture halls of a college near where I live. In general, they're rather better attended by the governors than by the governed. I go because I determined long ago that it is by far my best entertainment value.
"Whereas, it is commonly conceded that a hungry man is not free."
"Here, here!," shouted a boisterous member of the audience. A firm, severely erect young man, his sole ornament a red beret, looked sharply toward Grimface at the other end of the council table. His lips betrayed the smallest hint of a smile. Across from him, another youth, this one bushy-haired, bearded and bespectacled, was nodding vigorously and scribbling something on a legal pad.
"Be it therefore resolved," said Grimface, "that a not-hungry man is free; that all persons should be required to be free by being not-hungry; that all persons should be forbidden to die of starvation; that every nation not confronted by inexplicable and unavoidable natural disasters has an obligation to all starving peoples; and that the East Eighty-Third Street Block Association demands immediate action to feed the starving peoples everywhere!" She finished stridently. There was applause, half tepid, half vigorous. Grim swiped a wisp of hair away from her face, scratched her nose, then plopped back into her chair.
"Very constructive," said the Vigorously Nodding Hair Factory. "Exactly what I was hoping the Association would demand."
"I agree," said the Red Dreadful.
"Except...," the Hair Factory mused, "don't we want to indicate more firmly our identification with starving peoples? That, even though we might live in a nation unafflicted by unaccountable natural disasters, we still know how the hungry feel? That we're sensitive to their feelings...?"
The Red Dreadful's expression was a mixture of amusement, contempt and impatience.
Grimface said, "I agree that we could include language to that effect." Her voice had an edge to it.
At the end of the table there was a prim little woman in a tight-fitting lime green dress and a pillbox hat. Her voice was both high-pitched and droning. "I think that we should say we are acting on conscience from our belief in a just and liberal God. That He would not have created abundance if He did not want His children to have - "
The Hair Factory shot to his feet. "No religious propaganda!"
"I, too, must object," said the Red Dreadful.
Mrs. Prim: "Madame Chairperson...?"
Grim looked to the Hair Factory. He was tapping his pencil against his pad.
She looked to Dreadful. His firmness was absolute.
"...lacking a consensus..."
Mrs. Prim said, "I see." She sat down and began needlessly rearranging the items in front of her.
"But what about pollution?," the Hair Factory offered, acting as if nothing had happened. "Shouldn't we say something about our opposition to all forms of chemical poisoning and industrial genocide...?"
Dreadful gave a quick smile. He said, "And we should stipulate that any aid offered should not be sold at the price of continued U.S. militarism, expansionism, and global domination."
Mrs. Prim's hand shot to the air. She waved it, trying to get Grim's attention.
A reserved-looking old man, seated near the middle of the table, thumped his cane on the hardwood floor. Twice.
Grim's glance shot from one to the other.
She looked to Dreadful, who looked dreadfully firm.
"...that the U.S. will not interfere with the free development of Central America...?" Her eyes clicked over to Prim, who was tucking her hair under her hat.
To Cane Thumper, who looked bored.
To the Hair Factory, who was nodding.
To the Red Dreadful.
He said firmly: "That is unacceptable."
Mrs. Prim looked determined. Thumper had risen painfully.
"C'mon," said Hair Factory, "take it or leave it. You can't have it all your way!"
Red Dreadful smiled with an expression of secret amusement. "All right. Deal."
Grim straightened the papers in front of her. "...there's a lot more language than I'd planned on..." She didn't sound happy about it.
"Yeah...," Hair Factory sighed. "...maybe we should tie it up with some kind of flourish...? Something like: The East Eighty-Third Street Block Association regards 'Feed the People' as a moral imperative binding upon all the peoples of the globe...? That until all peoples are not-hungry, no peoples are free...?"
Red Dreadful raised one finger. He let it drop. Mrs. Prim was smiling placidly. Thumper looked pained, but he didn't raise an objection.
Grim said, "Do we need a show of hands...?"
No one said anything.
"Seeing no objection, the Chair regards this resolution as adopted by unanimous consent. If someone will move to adjourn, we can all go make ourselves pretty. The photographers are waiting outside..."
"Are we getting good coverage?," asked Red Dreadful.
The Hair Factory scoffed.
"The Daily Diary is holding two columns. We're the first Block Association to come out against hunger. Could be they'll print the full text of the resolution."
The Red Dreadful smiled. His expression spoke of quiet satisfaction.
Mrs. Prim was using a small mirror to examine her cheeks.
Thumper wore a scowl of distaste.
The Hair Factory was stuffing his things into a knapsack. He was babbling about a seminar he had to rush off to.
Grimface fought to keep a smile from erupting on her grim face. She used her index finger to push up her glasses. She spoke softly, half to herself, as if in silent reverence: "Feed the People."