Ron Pollack and FRAC


            New Orleans       I wasn’t sure how I got on the mailing list for the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), but was good with it.   A notice hit my in-mail that there was going to be a conversation with Ron Pollack, FRAC’s founder, triggered by the 50th anniversary of the WIC (Women and Infant Children) food supplement program.  They had me “from hello.”  On the eve of the first run, the Zoom call was cancelled, but I was there for the rescheduling, and hung in almost to the end, despite the fact that the audio from Ron was snakebitten no matter what he seemed to try from phoning in to cutting off his screen.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the crowd.  Neither did it bother me that most of the stories from participants were inside the beltway tales, many from the 70s featuring Hubert Humphrey, Fritz Mondale, Bob Dole, George McGovern and others on both sides of the aisle. Once upon a time, as hard as it is to believe now, some pols cared about American families suffering from hunger.  On the other side of those fights were people like Richard Nixon, as president, Earl Butz, as Secretary of Agriculture, and Daniel Moynihan, all of whom found creative or scurrilous ways to blame the poor for their own hunger.

Ron was a lawyer, so many of the stories on the call were about the strategy and tactics behind various lawsuits that created both WIC and SNAP, still better known as the food stamp program.  It’s probably hard for many to remember when many counties across the country, especially in the South, had no food programs.  Actually, maybe it’s not that hard given how many of these same states still restrict access to welfare whenever they can and regularly attack food programs, whether food stamps, WIC, or even school lunches.

One participant moved out of the main lane of the call in the courtrooms and backrooms to make the point that it was not just the lobbying and lawsuits, it was a network of organizations, advocates, and others on the outside that brought the victories home as well.

FRAC and Ron also understood and supported that, which is why I was on the call.  Ron had been part of the large team of lawyers that worked in concert with the National Welfare Rights Organization, which is part of the reason I knew him.  ACORN was founded in 1970, the same year as FRAC.  In the beginning we cobbled together an organizing staff with VISTAs, but FRAC paid directly for Herman Davenport, one of our first independent hires after Gary Delgado, who helped open our Pine Bluff office.  FRAC and the Children’s Foundation under Barbara Bode put money behind our actions demanding school lunches and other programs being implemented.   Food for All under Grace Olivarez gave us one of first, and for a while, largest grants, as part of all of these campaigns.  They all needed real people to speak to the urgency of these programs, and that’s what organizations like ACORN furnished then and forever.  Our members acted on these issues and were in the Congressional offices making the demands for support.

You never forget the people that stood up for you when it counted.  I haven’t seen or talked to Ron in decades.  He went a different direction, moving money and muscle around health care after he left FRAC, but he was a comrade.  I slept on his couch once in DC in those days.  I never forgot his stories of his time as a civil rights volunteer in Sunflower County, Mississippi, a place I knew too well, because it was where my mother was born and raised, and we spent many Thanksgivings with my grandmother.

Ron Pollock has earned the right to take a bow, and I was glad to have an opportunity to say “thanks.”