Five years ago, Dorsey Lawson taught school, finished raising her four children and agonized ineffectively about the estimated 40,000 children in the world who die every day of hunger.
Today, Lawson has reversed her priorities. Rather than fussing ineffectively about starvation, she has given up the classroom with its mere 40 children to take on the 40,000 who need her more.
When she first got involved in the problem of hunger in 1981, Lawson did about as much as any teacher-mother-homemaker might be expected to do when she invited a few friends to her Pasadena home to discuss ways to alleviate starvation and suffering in Third World countries.
That was back in the days before stars gave concerts that raised millions of dollars for the world's hungry, before there was widespread public awareness of human suffering in other countries.
Working on the theory that only political action could change a problem of such magnitude, Lawson and her friends got together to write and telephone congressmen to ask them to support a piece of African aid legislation that was then before Congress. They were successful.
The result of that meeting was RESULTS, a citizens' lobby whose name is an acronym for Responsibility for Ending Starvation Using Legislation, Trimtabbing and Support. (Trim tabbing, Lawson explained, comes from nautical terminology and refers to the use of small mechanisms to assist the movement of larger ones.)
The little group that met in Pasadena was one of the first of what has become a network of 53 RESULTS groups in 33 states. Lawson is assistant executive director and West Coast regional coordinator.
RESULTS groups are devoted to "generating political will to end hunger," according to Sam Harris, who became executive director last year when the network got big enough to support a full-time paid director.
The groups meet at least three times a month to discuss current and proposed legislation that includes provisions for alleviating hunger, and to write letters urging its passage. Between meetings, they inform the news media about the legislation. Abouyt 1,200 members nationwide pledge a minimum of $10 a month each to carry on the work.
"I was excited to find that citizens could do something," said Lawson after several newspapers, at her urging, had published editorials in 1983 supporting Congressional legislation that increased the U.S. contribution to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
In October, Lawson was one of 10 people honored by the House Select Committee on Hunger when it observed the issuance of a new postage stamp with the legend "Help End Hunger" She received a certificate of distinguished service from the committee chairman, Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), at a ceremony in the Gold Room of the Rayburn Building in Washington.
"Before RESULTS, there wasn't a House Select Committee on Hunger," Lawson said.
Last year, Lawson, 57 and divorced, retired after 12 years of teaching in Los Angeles schools because, she said, "I couldn't do two jobs. This is the thing that needs to be done to make the world work.
"Is there anything more important than that 40,000 children die every day?" Lawson asked. "As long as people are dying from hunger there will never be tranquility and stability. People have to be secure, to have dignity. Can you even imagine the suffering when a woman knows that one of every four of her children will die of hunger or an illness caused by malnutrition? How can we care about each other when there's someone over there dying and we don't care about that person?"
In 1984, RESULTS had a budget of $53,000, Harris said. Last year, with contributions totaling $120,000, Harris rented office space in a Washington basement and RESULTS became established as a citizens lobby.
"Now we have a staff of two," Harris said, referring to himself and Lawson, who earns one day's pay a week even though she works full time on the project from her home. Both Harris and Lawson declined to disclose their salaries, except to call them "quite small."
"Dorsey has been in this right from the beginning," Harris said. "She's one of the first, and one who really hung in there."
As a result of Lawson's urging, Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) is co-sponsoring the Universal Child Immunization Act of 1986, which calls for worldwide immunization against childhood diseases. He has supported other legislation related to hunger, including the Urgent Famine Relief and Recovery Act of 1985.
"Dorsey's really wonderful. She's very good at what she does," said Carolyn Johnston, a staff assistant to Moorhead.
Johnston said one reason Moorhead backs such bills "is because Dorsey is very persistent. That's definitely a contributing factor."
Lawson recently organized new RESULTS groups in Albuquerque, N.M., Salt Lake City and the San Francisco Bay Area. She helped start new groups in South Pasadena and San Dimas last year, and said she plans to develop groups in Nevada.
"I used to put all my energy into teaching, and before that it was my family," Lawson said. "That seems so long ago. It's hard to think back."