RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Decision Made

If I put a sticker for each of my issues on my little car, I wouldn't be able to see out. For starters, I'm for local farmers, solar energy, ending the death penalty, saving the air waves, saving the coral, saving the Alleghenies, eating pastured beef, enjoying acoustic music.

So I made a deal with myself and leave my bumpers clean.

Until last weekend, when, after much agony, I put a Kerry/Edwards sticker on the car, then took it off, then put it on again. And I put a sign in the yard. And I'll work hard to defend my choices, OK. But just until the day after the election. Then I want results.

I've sort of liked the Democrats, but then Kerry started talking "more troops" and Edwards started talking "more sanctions" and that's not the kind of foreign policy I want to see. Troops and sanctions result in more anger, more enemies for the US, further generations of military buildup all around the globe. Yes, nuclear proliferation is the big danger for the next generation -- let's figure out how to defuse it.

Backing Kerry/Edwards became easier when I decided to take foreign policy off the table. Painting ourselves as civilized and everyone else as primitive is a big part of the problem, but that approach reveals how little we know about ourselves. Less than 100 years ago, American women went around in long, black, shapeless dresses with veils. Women couldn't vote or get educated. For reassurance in the grim early days of settlement, we sought the comfort of religion.

Sixty years ago, American industry used child labor. There were few labor standards and kids had some of the most dangerous jobs. Forty years ago, blacks finally gained equality under the law. Thirty years ago we began to take the environment seriously.

What has advanced America? In large part, our story has been about the success of machinery. Machinery freed women to work on gaining rights. Machinery freed industry from using the power of kids, and left kids free to pursue an education. Using machines, we replaced human labor with mechanical labor.

Seeing how well we could do by harnessing the power of the horse, we harnessed the horsepower contained in engines and oil. Why has the Middle East stayed in the horse-and-cart era? Their power has been, since discovery, exported to advance peoples in other lands. When they are able to enjoy the fruits of modern life, their women will liberate themselves and their religious clerics will lose power

So, putting foreign policy aside, I considered the Nader factor. Nader has few fans more enthusiastic than I. Since his early days as a seatbelt activist, I've thought he was brilliant. Reasonable, too. He's right that we need more access to the ballot. We need to disengage money from politics, and religion from politics, but the 2004 election could decide the very future of the planet. Nader was on Democracy Now! on Oct. 4 and a friend, listening with me, used the word "fossilized." I had to agree. Nader's campaign tackles the wrong issues, at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

I base my 2004 election choices on other differences between the candidates. They diverge on farm policy, for example. I want recognition that our food supply should stay independent and local and Kerry/Edwards have spoken forcefully about the influence of the ag giants on the USDA. Can they fix it? Well, nobody can fix it if they don't think it's a problem, and the Bushies don't think it's a problem.

And, on education, I want strong, local schools rather than vouchers for private schools. And, I want real answers to the health care crisis -- a policy that will protect my self-employed friends on the farm as well as it protects the dwindling number of people with full-time jobs. And then there's energy and the environment. We need to chart a course toward sustainability and avoid future wars over oil.

Then there's the Supreme Court. They're already pro-business, increasingly happy to rule against individual rights if their decision can help an industrial pal. We've seen John Ashcroft toss them important cases on genetic engineering and federal sentencing. They're convinced they know what God thinks, so they know when life begins and who should marry whom. Good-by, Roe v. Wade. Hasta la vista, gay rights.

To make my decision, I made a list of the things I care about, googled the candidate platforms and recorded their opinions. Kerry/Edwards came up with way more agreements -- maybe 90% -- than Bush/Cheney -- maybe 0%.

John Edwards says there are two Americas. Make that 102, or a million and two. Two sexes times two (or more) sexual preferences times (choose one) rural/urban/suburban living times every gene pool on the planet.

So your list may be different than mine, but take the process seriously. All those space missions we send out from Cape Kennedy come back with one answer: Earth is the only planet supporting life. If we screw up, well, then we've really screwed up.

Then put the sticker on your car, the sign in your yard, and start working to convince your friends.

(For links to the presidential candidates' view on agriculture and rural development, see John Kerry on farming or George W. Bush's Rural Memo.)

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

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