RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

The Year's 10 Best

In January, we look back on an entire year. Whoa! That's taxing. Then we go on as usual, remembering the events from about 12 hours back and a whole bunch of sports statistics. But, in January, the media are all about the most dramatic stories of the old year: something bad about Michael Jackson, something scary about terrorists, something unflattering about Hillary.

Repeatable as these stories are, the most important events didn't make the front page of the New York Times in the year, incidentally, of the 200th birthday of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The REAL top ten news stories that, as the granddaddy of American self-sufficiency might say, were the "keys which unlock (our) thoughts" appeared way in the back of the paper:

Amazing story #1: G-21 puts a stop on "free trade" talks, which hurt the smallest and most indebted nations. In September, poor countries, organized into a "Group of 21" were able to hold out on enough issues so that the WTO adjourned until December without consensus. Powerless alone, they learned they have power when they work together. (But the big guys don't quit. US Commerce wonks are approaching countries one by one, dividing and hoping to conquer.)

A.S. #2: Grace Factory Farm Project and Free-Range Graphics launch "The Meatrix," a flash film seen by two million Internet viewers the first two weeks it was posted. This brilliant 3-minute explanation of factory farming put all the questions in front of consumers. Laughter is an excellent teacher, and there will be lots more opportunities for humor in the next year.

A.S. #3: Family farmers defeat the pork check off -- again. They've shouted it down, voted it down, and now a federal judge has ruled this unjust, corporation-benefiting tax unconstitutional and against free speech. Will this one, like previous check off lawsuits, go to the Supreme Court? If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try.

A.S. #4: In November, George Soros gave $5 million to in a move to defeat Bush. Finally there's someone with money on the left.

A.S. #5: In February, songwriter Darryl Worley discover that "forgotten" rhymes with "Bin Laden." As in: "Don't you tell me not to worry about bin Laden -- Have you forgotten?" Great timing -- a month later, the Bush Junior War launched itself with plenty of help from media. Worley's rockin' crossover got play on AM stations, NASCAR races and state fairs. So, see, there's proof that National Guard kids went to Iraq as payback for 9/11. You just can't argue with a good rhyme.

A.S. #6: In a related story, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected on a ballot that proved voters don't think, and, for this one, thinkers didn't vote. As soon as his hat hit the ring, media swarmed the actor, netting him millions in free nationwide publicity. All hail the Governator.

A.S. #7: At least the FCC rule changes were blocked. Once upon a time, Michael Powell, son of Colin, wanted to change FCC rules so that media ownership could be consolidated into fewer and fewer hands. With fewer media owners, it would be easier to control the information Americans get to make our decisions. But the Good Guys (maybe including you, dear reader) spoke up and forced the Evil Ones to re-think the situation. Stay tuned -- you'll get to phone in on this again.

A.S. #8: Ashcroft loses in home town. After the Assemblies of God Church headquarters in Ashcroft hometown Springfield, Mo., asked city council to change the name of their street from "Boonville" to "Ashcroft," outraged citizens called city hall and the council voted down the proposal. A church spokesman says the church looked forward to a time when Springfield would find a way to appropriately honor Ashcroft.

A.S. #9: Kids' allergies on the rise. Peanut butter, that high-protein staple for good moms everywhere, poses a special danger, with one estimate that kids with life-threatening peanut allergies has doubled in five years. Which leads to the questions -- is it the peanut, or something in the way it's raised and processed? Something in the mix of peanuts, sugar, soybean oil? What's changed?

A.S. #10: In December, Mad Cow Disease discovered in Washington State. Nobody in the cattle business is surprised. The system is custom-made to import diseases and truck them around the nation. And some research shows that chemicals on the pasture might contribute. Vegans might feel temporarily smug but just months earlier consumers had been sickened by green onions from Mexico.

Let's review the major points:

Little guys can band together and make a point against the big guys. Laughter is good. Organizing is good. Putting money on your principles is good. Speaking out is good. Poetry works. Get to know the people who raise your food

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

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