A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 23, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
WALKING THE DISTANCE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
In the recent decade, there has been one kind of physical activity that we have been seeing more than any other: walking. Walking has gained popularity over the years as a healthy, low-impact way of staying fit. People of all ages are getting out there and moving their feet, whether it be for a 5 minute stroll around the block or a 1 hour "power walk" around the town (frankly, I feel embarrassed each time my 70+ year-old friend, Dick Dooley, goes by my district office at a pace I can only dream about). The activity has received so much attention that now, there is a magazine, "Walking," dedicated to it.
While there are many who engage in the great sport of walking for its physical benefits, there are others who have a different agenda. The late 20th century has given rise to an activity unique to our own democracy: walking for political purposes. People are not just burning calories out there- they are hitting the streets to advocate and raise money for issues that are important to them.
On Mother's Day, for example, 750,000 concerned moms marched onto the Mall at Washington, D.C. to lobby the federal government for tougher gun control legislation. The "Million Mom March," as it was called, was conceived in the fall of 1999 by a New Jersey mom named Donna Dees-Thomases. Donna was outraged by the shooting at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills, California and was determined to do something about it. Her vision of change materialized into the largest gun control rally in history, with overwhelming support from thousands of individuals and organizations.
The political agenda of the Million Moms had already materialized into statute here in Massachusetts due to the overwhelming desire of our citizens to keep our children safe from gun violence. Chapter 180 of the Acts of 1998 is one of the toughest gun control laws in the United States, and all of us here in the State House are extremely proud that we were able to enact it during our terms in office. Because of the efforts of legislators, advocacy groups, and moms like Donna Dees-Thomases, our streets are becoming safer every day.
Another important event that took place in the first week of May was the 31st annual "Walk for Hunger," the oldest continuous pledge walk in the country. Forty thousand participants came out this year and raised $3 million to support food pantries, soup kitchens, food banks, and food salvage programs across Massachusetts. Hunger, as we know, is one most damaging "silent" epidemics in our nation. According to America's Second Harvest, the largest domestic hunger organization, undernourished children may suffer from "irreversible brain, cognitive, and psychological impairment." In order to prevent such unfortunate circumstances from happening, caring individuals from around the state laced up their walking shoes to raise money for the 531,000 Massachusetts residents who are hungry.
While these generous individuals were vigorously marching through Boston and its neighboring suburbs to fight hunger, their tax dollars were fiercely battling hunger through several state-funded food assistance programs. Responding to Project Bread's "Massachusetts Child Hunger Initiative" (MCHI), the state has greatly expanded its already extensive hunger prevention initiatives in the last few years. Recognizing that a nourished child is a productive child, we stood strong behind measures like the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, school lunch service, and Emergency Food Assistance Program.
"Walking for change" is not just limited to federal and state issues. In my district, there are several charitable events that play an important role in strengthening local programs and services.
In Winchester, the Winchester Hospital's just held the 8th annual "Big Steps for Little People." This fantastic event, which always brings out scores of compassionate residents around the town, has been crucial in expanding and updating pediatric services administered by the hospital.
Stoneham is host to the annual "Memorial Road Race," which is dedicated to Safety Officer Al Duff, Jr., who was also member of the Town Day Committee. The proceeds from the race, which is held every Town Day, go towards the local Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.) run by Officer Tom Cullen.
A great tradition in Reading is the "Rotary Road Race," which raises money for the Reading Scholarship Foundation, an organization that assists local students going off to college. Also taking place in Reading is the annual "Lion's Road Race," which brings in funding for much needed eye research.
When the Founding Fathers first established our government, I am certain that they never envisioned walking as a form of political participation. Back then, walking was a prime method of transportation- and for some, the only. Today, Americans are walking to raise money and make others aware of the many great causes that are out there in the world.
These activities are important expansions upon our democracy because they allow people to stand, be counted, and physically participate towards their well-being and that of their community. In addition, by gathering in large numbers and taking their issues "to the streets," people are giving causes names and faces. After seeing concerned citizens marching together, intangible concepts such as hunger and violence become less impersonal, and therefore more "human" to all of us.
The results of such advocacy speak for themselves. Not only does "political walking" improve the mind and body, it also brings about positive change in the community. With the continued help and support of those caring citizens who get out there and march for a cause, all of us are better enabled to "go the extra mile" for those in need.