RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

We're Getting Peeled

My husband's friend &emdash; we'll call him Pete &emdash; had pulled his 18-wheeler into a truck stop off I-44 in the Ozarks Rolla and was just dozing off when there was a rap on the driver's side door. The next thing he knew, he was spread-eagled against the cab, surrounded by eight or nine highway patrol cars and barking dogs. "They pulled me out of that sleeper like a banana from a peel," Pete told my husband.

One of the cops was so excited his language seemed to be stuck: "Just keep your mouth shut and stay still," he said over and over. The drug-sniffing dogs, perhaps in reaction to their excited handlers, were barking at the truck's trailer in a frenzy.

Clearly, things were out of control. Pete asked what they were looking for. "If you just tell me what you want, I'll tell you," he said, and those who know him know that he would, in a New-York minute.

"Anything you say we'll use in court," the language-stuck cop moved to another theme, "What do you think would make those dogs go wild?"

By now, the surrounding truckers had climbed out of their rigs and a crowd had gathered. Truck stops are like little communities, and they've been uneasy little communities ever since the war on terrorism became the war on drugs. Drug dogs and their handlers make routine sweeps through parking lots, especially on I-44, the old Osage Indian trail that's been a major path for drug traffickers from the Mexican border to St. Louis and other cities.

The cop repeated "What do you think would make those dogs wild?" Pete waited for a lull in the barking to answer. There were cops under his rig, poking at cubbies and hoses, and one of the cops was just moving to open the trailer gate. Again, the cop yelled, "What do you think would make those dogs go wild like that?"

Pete was probably scared, but he has excellent timing. He answered loud and proud, "What would make those dogs go wild? How about 45,000 pounds of dog chow?"

The crowd cheered, slapped Pete on the back, and took him to dinner. Pete says he told the officer, "If I was hauling drugs, I'd tell you" and those who know Pete believe he would. Pete got back on the road and delivered his load to the warehouse, but his story evidently preceded him. The warehouse manager offered him a case of dog food for his trouble. "My dogs won't eat that," Pete said. It was the kind of dog food that comes pre-wrapped and pre-moistened, and looks and smells like plastic.

When I told my husband I was going to tell Pete's story in this column, my husband said, "Whatever you do, don't blame the cops. They were just doing their jobs. They were scared. I would have done the same."

And, because he's always one step ahead of me, he added, "And don't blame the dogs, either."

My dear husband doesn't blame the dogs if the evidence is piled up on the living room carpet.

Anyway, I was planning to write a spring column in honor of our two old dogs, who are trying to figure out how to adjust to the new puppy in the house. But now, because of Pete's story, this column will be about communities and how people come together. Because that's what's happening. Americans are acting together to take back our government.

And maybe the cops and barking dogs have won some, but the game's not over until citizens recognize each other, and somebody slaps somebody on the back.

In the last couple of weeks, my e-mail In-Box has been bursting with good news. Less than an hour from Pete's barking dogs, citizens in Herculaneum, Mo., led by resolute and tireless Tom Kruzen and Bob Lunsford, are forcing the Doe Run company to clean up the world's largest smelter. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, "For decades, the Doe Run Co. has turned a profit while treating Herculaneum like an ashtray ... About 28% of the children of Herculaneum under age 7 have elevated levels of lead in their blood. That's more than three and a half times the national average ... Dust collected from Herculaneum's roads contained a staggering 30% lead." The forced clean-up means that one of America's richest families will have to face the consequences of exploiting some of America's poorest.

And how about that farm bill? Progressive farm groups were all by themselves on issues like country of origin labeling and a ban on livestock ownership by packers. Now they've been joined by mainstreamers like the Livestock Marketing Association, National Farmers Union and even the American Farm Bureau. Only the industrial commodity groups like National Pork Producers and National Cattlemen's Beef Association are against competition on the open market to set the price for livestock.

This points out what the progressives have been saying all along. NPPC and NCBA are controlled by food processors like Cargill, ConAgra, Phillip Morris, Smithfield, IBP &emdash; I mean Tyson &emdash; they've merged. These greed-driven, consumer-gouging corporations supply meats to Kroger, Wal-Mart, and other grocery store chains.

The law banning packer ownership would mean that processors couldn't own the animals "from squeal to meal." When packers own the animals, animal health and humane treatment &emdash; once called husbandry or stewardship &emdash; disappears. Rather than being treated as living beings, cattle, hogs and poultry are treated like part of an industrial system that focuses only on the bottom line. If those dogs win this battle, they'll dominate the food supply around the world, and we'll all be eating something that looks like plastic.

Progress on the packer ban wouldn't be happening if it wasn't for consumers, who are turning away from pre-packaged foods and supporting people in our own neighborhoods. Every time the consumer dollars are pulled away from the corporates, it makes the corporates more dependent on the w's &emdash; Wall Street and corporate welfare &emdash; did you think I meant George W? This goes back way farther than his regime.

When I started writing for The Progressive Populist, the only way to find farmer-raised meat in your state was to call rural locker plants and ask them for the names of farmers who practiced good stewardship. A few years later, every state has somebody on the world wide web promoting their pasture-raised meats, eggs, and cheeses. To find them, go to your computer, find your favorite search engine and type in the name of your state and "Pasture-raised." Then get on the phone and call the farmers who you find. Ask about their place and their practices. If they host a field day, find out when it is and visit. When you find farmers who are truly excited about what they do, buy from them.

And, Doris Haddock &emdash; Granny D &emdash; has seen a campaign finance reform bill pass in the House, and is working to rally support in the Senate. For more info, look at

Some folks believe this will turn Washington upside down, derail the lobbyists and make it possible for citizens to be heard again. That's a lot of fixing for one little law.

Whatever the outcome, the Campaign Finance Reform movement has gotten some of the cards on the table where we can see them. Thanks to Granny D and her followers, we're hearing which politicians got the biggest donations and which corporate donors gave them. With that understanding, we can separate the barking dogs from the citizens.

"Like a banana out of a peel," as Pete might say.


Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

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