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Beyond the Beltway: Chips, Salsa, and Child Soldiers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of


Revealing his distorted view on the relationship between faith and politics, at the recent National Prayer Breakfast President Obama exploited Scripture to justify increasing taxes on those he defines as rich.  Years spent under the teaching of Jeremiah Wright apparently produced a confused theological mix of Karl Marx and St. Matthew.  Next time the president fundraises in California, he might stop in Boyle Heights or San Diego to see how conviction born of faith is actually effecting change, and producing hope.   

Boyle Heights is one of Los Angeles’ rougher neighborhoods.  In 1988, Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles, saw a problem there and created a solution. The problem: recidivist violence and hopelessness of the gang lifestyle. Father Boyle’s solution: Jobs for A Future. Now, a slogan defines a movement. “Jobs not jails” is the motto of Homeboy Industries, Father Boyle’s initiative that rescues gang members from lives of crime by providing them with counseling, tattoo removal, and, most importantly, work: cleaning up graffiti, and making, among other things, chips and salsa, which are sold across California. The salsa Fresca is incredible. But don’t take our word for it.

According to the LA Times, in February of 2011, Homeboy Industries’ chips and salsa were the fastest selling snack items in a major Southern California supermarket. According to the Times, in the salsa’s first week on the market, 10,287 units were sold. Watch out Paul Newman: Homeboy has its sights set on salad dressings next.

Two hours south and a world away from Boyle Heights, San Diego is one of California’s nicest beach cities.  It’s also where Jason Russell calls home.  In 2003, Russell, a young American traveling in Uganda, saw a problem and helped create an organization that is working for a solution. The problem: over 30,000 children abducted from their families and forcibly conscripted to serve as mercenaries in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Russell’s solution: Invisible Children.

Now, from its San Diego headquarters, Invisible Children spearheads a multifaceted movement that spreads the message of the “invisible” children, fundraises for the schools it has built in Uganda, and seeks to topple Joseph Kony, the fugitive terrorist leader of the LRA. Invisible Children has created an army of its own to defend the defenseless in Uganda.  Yet its army doesn’t fight with assault rifles, but with the clicks of a mouse.

In just a few days, Invisible Children’s mini-movie, “Kony 2012,” has racked up over 20 million views. First-world solutions meet third world problems. The movie and movement seek to make Kony so “famous” that citizens will demand their governments take action to arrest Kony, in the hopes that he can be tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

More practically, Invisible Children successfully lobbied for an American military presence in Uganda and created an early warning radio system to notify Africans of impending attacks by the LRA.  Social networking has become social action, with real results.  The mustard seed of faith and the mouse click are powerful tools, when wielded properly.  

What these success stories reveal is what works.  Homeboy and Invisible Children both rely and thrive on the potent mixture of faith, charity and entrepreneurism. Faith informs their mission, charity sustains their efforts, and entrepreneurism has made them tangible and dynamic.  Both have a creativity, ingenuity, and penchant for risk-taking born of a conviction to work for moral change and, equally important, freedom from government.  Pay attention, Mr. President.

No one at the Department of Health and Human Services or the State Department controls these organizations.  No one from government dictates their mission or the means by which they change lives.  This is how the private sector can work to address systemic problems in ways government never could.

As the election approaches, the takeaway is clear. America needs a president who champions policies that help the faithful, and removes government obstacles to their programs. The current president does neither.  For the sake of Homeboy Industries, Invisible Children, and the thousands of similarly situated groups, this November’s election cannot come soon enough. 

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