They Swarmed Us: What would happen if the Wealthy Rebelled?

What Would Happen if the Wealthy Rebelled?
By Karen E Lund.

(Recap of our 2015 World Food Day Hunger Banquet. Originally posted on Circle of Ignorance on November 2, 2015)

A remarkable thing happened recently. The Oxfam Action Corps in New York City hosted a Hunger Banquet and things didn’t go according to plan.
That’s a good thing.
Spoiler alert: The best way to understand a Hunger Banquet is to actually attend one, no expectations. It’s a participatory event to make issues of hunger and poverty real, and words can’t do it justice. So if you’re planning to attend one in the near future, I recommend you wait to read this after the event. But if you’ve attended a Hunger Banquet before, of if you’re not sure where or when you might be able to, read on!
We had a good turn-out at St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn on October 14, about 50 people in a venue that supposedly holds 70, but still it seemed crowded.
As guests enter a Hunger Banquet they are asked to pick a ticket from a basket. Those tickets describe hypothetical people all around the world, divided into the high-income group (about 15-20% of the total), the middle-income group (about 30% of the total), and the low-income group (about half the participants). These represent the global demographics of rich, middle and poor.
The general program of a Hunger Banquet is simple:
  • Some introductory remarks and a little “global socioeconomic musical chairs;”
  • The banquet;
  • Discussion afterward.
Several Oxfam Action Corps volunteers shared the emcee role, and I got assigned the “musical chairs” section. So I promoted a few of our low-income participants to the middle, and demoted a few middle-income participants to the bottom. They were good-natured about it, even though being demoted means giving up a chair to sit on the floor.
At a Hunger Banquet, the low-income participants sit on the floor.
At a Hunger Banquet, the low-income participants sit on the floor.
Yes, we make the low-income participants sit on the floor! The middle group gets chairs, and the high-income group gets chairs around a table.
When the introduction is complete, dinner is served. As with the seating arrangements, the differences are stark. The high-income group gets pasta with tomato sauce, a salad, bread and butter, and a nice drink. The middle-income group gets rice and beans and clean, clear water. The low-income group gets rice and our own special “dirty” water (not actually dirty, entirely safe to drink, but made to look authentically dirty and gritty); they don’t get dishes or utensils.
I was self-assigned to the kitchen, and for convenience the high-income group was seated close by to make serving easier. So I had a perfect opportunity to hear the discussion at the table.
As the food was being passed around, before anyone had taken a bite, one woman asked, “What are the rules here? Are we allowed to share our food with the others?”
People at the high-income table wonder what the others are doing.
People at the high-income table wonder what the others are doing.
Startled silence from me and Jennifer, the one Action Corps member sitting at the high-income table. We’ve had people ask this before, but never so early. The question, if it is asked at all, usually comes about half-way through the dinner portion, when the high-income folks realize that there is more than enough food for them, but the low-income people have only rice–and no utensils!
Jennifer said that the rules were fairly open and they were permitted to share if they wanted.
“Well then, let’s share,” somebody said. And the whole high-income table got up from their seats and went to the middle of the room, where the low-income people were still trying to figure out how to share their pot of rice without bowls or utensils.

“They Just Swarmed Us”

When we discussed it at the end of the event, one of the low-income participants said, “They just swarmed us!” High-income participants at the table swooped down carrying bowls of pasta, sauce and salad, plates of bread, plates and utensils. They proffered bowls or spooned food directly onto plates. Because the amount of pasta we’d prepared was predicated on a small percentage of the total attendees it ran out, so some low-income participants got tomato sauce spooned over rice. They stretched out the salad and bread as much as possible.
People from the high-income table serve the low-income group.
People from the high-income table serve the low-income group.
Me? I watched in amazement from the kitchen and almost forgot to get some food for myself. This was my fourth Hunger Banquet (one as an attendee, three as an Oxfam volunteer) and I’d never seen anything like it. Neither had any other Oxfam volunteer. Eventually I grabbed my camera and took a few photos, then took a little food.

What If the Rich Rebelled?

Ever since witnessing this most unusual Hunger Banquet I’ve been wondering: What if the wealthy rebelled? What if, instead of the poor and hungry demanding a fair share of the world’s food, the well-off demanded that their consciences were relieved by sharing the bounty?
Of course the world’s problems are not as easy to solve as this. For one thing, rich and poor rarely sit (physically or metaphorically) so close together. It’s not as easy as standing up from the table and walking across the room. The poor and hungry are often hidden from our view. Homeless people on the streets of New York City, many of whom are mentally ill, can appear scary. And many of the world’s poor and hungry live in places like Syria and Afghanistan, which aren’t safe to visit. The logistics of hunger reliefare more complicated than a Hunger Banquet in a storefront church in Brooklyn.
But are they impossible? No.

It Started with a Question

One thing we can all do is speak up. Every great social movement started with a few people who questioned the fairness of the status quo. Sometimes it takes years, even decades, before that changes and justice is done, but it starts with a question.
“Is this fair?” “Is it just?” “Does it have to be this way?”
“Just what are the rules? Who made them and why do we have to obey them if they are unjust?” That’s essentially what happened at our Hunger Banquet, and minutes later everything had turned upside-down. The rich were serving the poor.
Perhaps this is what the inventor of Hunger Banquets had in mind all along?
I’m still working out the finer points of what this means, trying to get past the metaphors that don’t scale from a group of 50 people to the world’s 7 billion. (You could say this has pushed my Circle of Ignorance a bit farther than usual.) What are the questions I need to ask? What’s been bugging me that I need to speak out about?

And you? What’s the question you’re dying to ask, the injustice you want to point a finger at?

Huge thanks to St. Lydia’s Dinner Church for hosting us! And special thanks from me for the opportunity to cook on their gorgeous induction cooktop; if I could I’d have taken it home in my tote bag. I’ll gladly cook for you again!

You Are Invited!

We will be hosting a Hunger Banquet in honor of World Food Day. For those of you not familiar, a Hunger Banquet is an interactive event that brings hunger and poverty issues to live. Just like our resources and opportunities in life, it's the luck of the draw; will you sit with the upper, middle, or lower class? Will your status be the same by the end of the night? Join us for this memorable event and find out.

When: Wednesday, October 14th from 7:00pm - 9:30pm
Where: St. Lydia's 304 Bond Street, Brooklyn 
Cost: Free, just come with an open mind and please rsvp for an accurate headcount 

Geeks Who Drink Bar Trivia

In collaboration with Geeks Who Drink, a national group that brings trivia to bars across the nation every week, we will be holding a bar trivia fundraiser to support Oxfam's relief efforts in Nepal. 

Date: Thursday, June 11th
Time: 6:00pm 
Location: Bar None (98 3rd Avenue between 13th/12th Street)
Cost: $5
-Teams can be as few as one person or as many as six. 
-Come solo or come with friends. You don't need to have a team ahead of time, join up and make friends when you get there. 
-You don't need to be a genius or awesome at trivia, it's at a bar...
-Yes, there are prizes

Red Nose Day

A huge thank you to everyone who purchased a Red Nose from Walgreen, helped promote the event, and tuned into NBC for some laughs on the 21st. It was a huge success. $21 million was raised in total. This money will be equally divided among the 12 amazing charities that were selected. And who said you couldn't laugh away poverty :) Can't wait to do it again next year!

Oxfam Jams at Piano's

The Oxfam Action Corps NYC's 2nd Annual Oxfam Jam hit the stage this Thursday night at Piano's Upstairs Lounge.  This all volunteer curated event is part of concert series to fundraise for Oxfam's work and create awareness of hunger and poverty issues around the globe.

The night kicked off with the amazing songstress, Dyllan who enchanted us with her beautiful voice and melodies.  Next on stage was a wildly creative set from Tattoo Money.  Not only did his set bring every last person on the room who wasn't already standing to their feet, but his stage graphics created a visual experience unlike no other concert.  Corey Cambridge rounded out the night with a high-energy set that got the whole room jumping.  Corey was definitely a crowd pleaser, performing practically in the audience.  Talk about crowd participation - we love it!
Of course we can't forget the incredibly talented Laura Brooks who live painted throughout the night.  Her beautiful painting was part of our raffle and given to one lucky winner at the end of the night.  The raffle also included pieces from our favorite Action Corps designer, Lysa Ann.  This brand new clothing line creates unique pieces to let every girl express herself and is focused on fit.  Most importantly, pieces are "green," being made from either vintage or upcycled fabric, all to benefit nonprofits or others in need.

The night was a huge success with high energy and good vibes flowing throughout the night with a diverse mix of music and art.  We shared the night and Oxfam message with approximately 125 people and raised almost $250 that will go directly to Oxfam's work.  To put that number in Oxfam perspective, $250 can buy: 1 water pump for clean water in communities that would otherwise have to walk miles, 1 treat mosquito net to protect a whole family against deadly disease, buy school supplies for two students, and irrigate a farmer's land for 2 months. Thanks for making a difference!

Big thank you to everyone who made this night possible and for everyone who came out!

Photos below:


 Tattoo Money:

 Corey Cambridge:
Laura's Painting Almost Finished:
Oxfam Crew:

Interrobang Rocks Oxfam Jam


This Tuesday, Interrobang took the stage at Rockwood Music Hall to rock Oxfam Jam, and rock they sure did!  With a full set consisting of beautifully reworked covers, you felt as though you were part of a little secret watching their wonderful musicianship unfold throughout set over a variety of diverse tunes.  Covers ranged from 60's favorites such as  The Temptations, The Beatles, and The Monkees all the way to the 80s. 

Proceeds from the night went directly to Oxfam's work.

Check out some photos and videos below of Interrobang's Oxfam Jam by Sam Teichman:

"Don't Look Back":
"Life's About to Imitate Art":

Reminder: It's Time to Become an Action Corps City Organizer!

Hello Everyone!

Let's talk about Action Corps: it is awesome. Period. No two ways about it. And luckily, it is once again that great time to join this amazing group of individuals as an Organizer!

Check out our page for more information about our locations in 16 different cities, the job description, and the application! And look below at what other Organizers have said about their experiences...

"This is leadership in practice. You can't just read a book on leadership. You have to put it into practice." --Jill Mizell, Researcher, New York

"Oxfam Action Corps has given me a ton of confidence... Gaining knowledge and being able to speak to people about the issues." --Amy L., Business Operations Analyst, Des Moines

"This has become one of the best parts of my life... I can't express enough how satisfying it is to be organizing with people who are just as committed and dependable and passionate. It is so great to have the support from the Oxfam America staff, and I've been really impressed by their accessibility, competency and friendliness." --Isaac E., Educator, New York City

Ready to join them? Apply to be an organizer or if you aren't ready yet, consider volunteering with any Action Corps in efforts to help Oxfam fight hunger and social injustices! Remember, Oxfam is here to Right the Wrong so come join us! 

People’s Climate March: Oxfam Ready for Action, in New York 2014, Paris 2015, and Beyond


By: Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford

In the words of Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, “The world needs a strong civil society now more than ever."

On September 21st, hundreds of Oxfam supporters heeded this call and responded, from all over the world. They came from varying walks of life but shared one common purpose: to tackle climate change.

The Oxfam contingent in the People’s Climate March included staff, interns, volunteers, CHANGE program leaders and alumni, college students, allied groups, activists, donors’ relatives, friends, and children. The group represented Oxfam well.

Evidence of support came in all forms, as long-time Oxfam America Action Corps volunteer Fatima Sambo-Schoenfelder captured in photographs.

Supporters publicly pledged their commitment to tackle climate change and its impact on hunger. Supporters gathered at 10:30AM at the line-up on Central Park West at East 72nd Street. Soon the group grew exponentially as we became crammed in our block, not able to move. Somewhat hungry, and a bit fatigued, our participants had journeyed from states such as Oklahoma, Boston, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and from other countries across the ocean. Nonetheless we stood relentlessly and steadfast from 10:30AM to 12:30PM, chanting messages like: “Climate change: Right the wrong! Right it now!" and "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Climate change has go to go!"

Supporters received messages from Tim Gore, senior climate change policy advisor for Oxfam International, and from Isaac Evans-Frantz and myself, both Oxfam America Action Corps volunteers.

Our message was that extreme weather continues to cost lives, ruining crops and leaving millions more people at risk of hunger. Supporters were cognizant that world leaders alone have not done enough to protect our communities and our children’s future, but that if leaders left New York with the voices of the hundreds of thousands New York with the voices of the hundreds of thousands who marched there will be heard.

Supporters were asked to participate in the #FoodFight: What food would you miss most? Corn? Wheat? Peas? Fish? In the end, we shouted we would miss them all.

As we walked through the crowd to monitor our supporters, we heard screaming. It was former Vice President Al Gore. The crowd started chanting, “Thank you, Al,” in honor of his work on climate change.

After waiting for two hours, supporters raised their signs, ready to march for climate justice. At 12:58PM, everyone held the hands of the people beside them, above their heads, in recognition of those who are already feeling the burden of climate change around the world.

This was followed by loudness--an alarm to the dangers of climate change.

I was proud of the diversity in age of participants – people in their 70s walking to the end, and my son, Nicholas Horsford, age 12, who showed up at 8:30AM and held his sign until the end of the march at 4 p.m.

Even with the strongest supporters, there were challenges. Some left early because of overcrowding, others faced different challenges. However, as we continued to reach out to our marchers, the consensus was clear: Oxfam supporters are anxious to tackle climate change. Climate change is about people, and yes, it will affect us all. And it is hurting people living in poverty first and worst. Here in New York we have first-hand experience of the effects of climate change. Everyday we wake up to the lasting effects of Hurricane Sandy, one of many in a series of increasing climate disasters.

That’s why Oxfam supporters are staying strong working together to right the wrong. The People’s Climate March is on record as the biggest climate march in history, but for Oxfam, we have on record 500 people who put their name on our petition at the march, pledging to raise their voices to stop climate change from making people hungry.

Where do we go from here? Check out a round-up of policy developments and Oxfam statements from the march and related UN summit at this blog post. Keep a strong eye on the events leading up to the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change 2015 (COP21) in Paris.

Volunteer Concert Report: DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist at Irving Plaza

Last weekend, the Oxfam Action Corps had a wonderful opportunity to volunteer two nights in a row at Irving Plaza as DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist spun tracks exclusively from Afrika Bambaataa's famed 42,000 piece record collection.  The show was a true treat, throwing it back to old school hip-hop complete with turntables and vinyl scratches. 

Our volunteers were ecstatic to talk to so many interested fans about Oxfam and it's current campaigns around food and climate issues.  At the end of the two nights, we collected over 160 signatures urging major corporations to do their part to stop climate change and help women farmers effected by it.  We also recruited new volunteers and spread the word about the People's Climate March, the world's largest climate change march taking place in NYC on Sept 21st.  Sign up to march with Oxfam here. And if that wasn't enough, our volunteers even got to meet or shake hands with the performers!  Check out a photo of our volunteer Zoe with Cut Chemist below!

Thank you to everyone to stopped by the table, signed up and listened to our message.  Thank you to Irving Plaza for your amazing hospitality. And a big thank you to DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist for having us at your shows!

Oxfam volunteer Zoe with Cut Chemist at a show in NYC.

Check out a video of DJ Shadow's trip to Kenya with Oxfam below:


Oxfam Action Corps says: "Time for bold action: March with Oxfam Sunday, September 21st!"

Click here to walk with Oxfam in the People's Climate March.
By Isaac Evans-Frantz

I recently read some advice: Make a to-do list every day with 1 big task, 3 medium tasks and 5 little tasks. My 1 big task on Labor Day was to support Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford, Oxfam Action Corps NYC organizer. She had invited me to walk in the Caribbean Carnival Labor Day Parade in Brooklyn to promote the 9/21/14 People's Climate March in Manhattan. It was a day of progress and a day to remember!

We walked with elected officials, representatives from Avaaz, the Brooklyn Food Coalition, Sierra Club, and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality. We held a banner Jennifer helped make that says "PROTECT OUR ISLANDS." As we marched, I realized something I have in common with people in the Caribbean: We all live on islands. We chanted, "The planet, united, will never be defeated," and "March with us, September 21st!"

Our contingency passed out 4,000 postcards, about the People's Climate March, that said:

"We have the right to remain. Water shutoffs. Disasters. Land Grabs. People of color in the US have experienced these injustices for generations, and there is no relief in sight. Extreme weather. Heat. Hurricanes. Floods. Our families in the global south have been the victims of these and can only anticipate more environmental injustice of disastrous proportions. We have a right to clean air and water, to walk the streets without fear and to lead full lives! Join us on September 21 to raise your voice: We have the right to remain!"

Most of the young people I spoke with along the parade route had heard of climate change in school, but many of the adults had not. The adults were aware, however, of increasing floods and hurricanes, and the impact on people of color. Several of the people I spoke with said they planned on coming to the march.

After the parade we stopped to refuel. We had some finger-licking spicy West Indian cuisine and lots of water. Then we set out on another mission. It was time to mobilize potential supporters to march with Oxfam. To our surprise one of the first groups of people we approached said that they were Oxfam supporters. We were excited they were excited, and felt motivated to keep talking with people. We were so happy we forgot that we were tired and that our feet were sore. It was Oxfam outreach all the way.

I invite you to join me, Oxfam supporters, and thousands from around the country, to march in the People's Climate March on September 21st. It will be the worl'd largest climate march ever, happening at the same time as the UN Climate Summit. It is a chance to tell the world's leaders we want action on climate change now. RSVP and details: Oxfam at the People's Climate March - Click the "Register" Button to Join!
Oxfam at the People's Climate March - Click the "Registe...
In September, heads of state are coming to the UN in New York City for a historic summit on climate change. On the Sunday beforehand, Oxfam will be joining with o...
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