Walk A Mile in Your Shoes
December 10, 2003 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Walk A Mile project brings policymakers and people on assistance together. One of their programs is Living on Food Stamps, where policymakers try to eat for a month on the same amount of food stamps regular people receive. Here's how it went in Oregon, and some lessons learned by legislators.
posted by amberglow (16 comments total)
What a terrific concept. Often politicians who create policies and programs don't understand what the needs of the poorest people are, and this seems like a really good way to bring them back into touch. Even if they grew up poor, they they've probably been doing so well for decades that they've forgotten what it's like and/or they don't realize that things have changed since then.
posted by orange swan at 7:59 AM on December 10, 2003

This is excellent. What a great program. Thanks for the links, amberglow.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:07 AM on December 10, 2003


I'm on the advisory board for Walk a Mile, which was started at the University of Washington about 9 years ago by Natasha Grossman and still flourishes there. The entire thing is run by 2 women at the U of W, on an incredibly small budget - nothing short of a miracle, I'd say. Every year they manage to recruit more and more agencies from all over the country to participate and it's an amazing thing to watch.

I got involved as a MSW intern, and worked on the Washington State project in 2000 - I helped to recruit the legislators and low-income participants, match them together, monitor the progress, and report on the results. My experience is that while the food-stamp aspect is probably the most radical and potentially educational, it's VERY tough to get legislators to do it (shocking, I know). I don't think any of them did the year I helped organized the project, actually, which was really too bad.

The experiences I heard about from both the low-income folks and the legislators, though, were really extraordinary. If any of you work with low-income people and are interested in having your agency participate in WAM or want to learn more about it, please email me (it's in my user profile).
posted by tristeza at 8:48 AM on December 10, 2003

Very, very good. " WAM does not endorse any individuals or policies. Our belief is that greater personal understanding between these two groups empowers governments and communities to find genuine solutions to the problems of poverty." No axe to grind, just making a point of view concrete.
posted by weston at 8:49 AM on December 10, 2003

I would be glad to be a participant in this program just to try, for a day, to live the life of Donald Trump. I wonder if I could learn to sympathize with the super rich if I had to make the hard decisions they have to deal with every day.
posted by faceonmars at 8:53 AM on December 10, 2003

Somebody had to say it.
posted by faceonmars at 8:57 AM on December 10, 2003

Wonderful post, thanks. And such a fitting name for the concept.
posted by yoga at 9:48 AM on December 10, 2003

Excellent post, amberglow. And thanks for the added info tristeza - just goes to show the power to change that a few motivated, creative individuals can have.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:01 AM on December 10, 2003

This program is extremely helpful to Democrats that are facing Republicans in state- or national-level elections. A Democratic candidate can get great press for living as if on food stamps while the Republican candidate (often an incumbent, at least around my parts) inevitably refuses to do so. I understand that this is not explicitly the point of the program, but it does suit their goals to see people in office that understand the needs of the less-fortunate.
posted by waldo at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2003

I wonder, though, if any of the people who would benefit most from being forced to live as the people their policies affect do would ever actually agree to participate in this program. It seems as though they wouldn't give a fuck about it in the first place. I think Waldo makes a good point about using it to humiliate them, though. Humiliation is wonderful.
posted by Hildago at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2003

Be humble or be humiliated. I like it. ;)
posted by weston at 1:16 PM on December 10, 2003

I wonder, though, if any of the people who would benefit most from being forced to live as the people their policies affect do would ever actually agree to participate in this program.

Yes and no - I'd say that MOST of the legislators that participate are the ones who are least likely to benefit - that is to say, the ones that already understand the issues and are interested in helping the poor. But not all. The challenge the organizers have is trying to get those who really NEED to be in the program (i.e. conservatives who still use phrases like "welfare queens") into the program without being selective. We ask ALL the legislators in WA, for example, so as not to be biased or selective. We HOPE that the ones who need it sign up. It's not a political program, so it's very important to be impartial in that way, or its legitimacy is sacrificed.
posted by tristeza at 1:38 PM on December 10, 2003

One more thing then I'll shut it: one of the most incredible benefits of Walk a Mile isn't even in terms of legislators and policymakers being educated and working harder to relieve poverty - it's the number of low-income women who participate and have their eyes opened to the power of advocacy and being involved in politics. So many low-income participants have entered WAM as very angry and politically apathetic citizens - and why sholnd't they be? They've been crapped on and ignored their whole lives.

Many, many of them, however, leave the program with a completely new understanding of how politics work, and that they really CAN make a difference in the system, either by writing their Congresspeople or testifying on legislation (lots of them end up doing this on behalf of legislation that their "match" works on as a result of WAM), or by volunteering, etc etc. SO many of them come out of it saying "you know, I never thought anyone would listen to me 'cause I'm just a poor single mom, but now I know that if I write a letter or make a phonecall to my Senator, they really will listen to me, that's their job." It's quite amazing, and really inspiring. A lot of them end up working for political advocacy groups afterwards - it's just incredible.
posted by tristeza at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2003

The apparent power of this on both sides of the Match is truly exceptional. Well done to the people who are making this happen.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:53 PM on December 10, 2003

I think this is such a wonderful idea, and thanks for the firsthand knowledge, tristeza--I want my billionaire mayor to give it a shot (actually, I'd be happy if he could even identify with us middleclass folk)...I wonder if we could get one of the Dems running to give it a shot during the campaign?
posted by amberglow at 3:23 PM on December 10, 2003

This is great. Thanks amber!
posted by dejah420 at 5:08 PM on December 10, 2003

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