Admittedly in this season of hope my heart skipped an even faster few beats when I recently happened across the headline, "Long Silent, Oldest Profession Gets Vocal and Organized," in the New York Times.
After viewing the results of the recent presidential election and the fact that farmers played a large part in George W. Bush's victory I've been pretty pessimistic that the majority of farmers in this country will ever rouse themselves and organize and get vocal on their truly fundamental bread and butter issues, rather than the so-called "value issues" that have little or nothing to do with their day-to-day lives.
Unfortunately, however, as I read the aforementioned article I realized it was not reporting on the current plight of family farmers, but on the lives of prostitutes.
My confusion was perhaps reminiscent of another ag "journalist," Les Nessman -- the erstwhile news editor for television's hilarious WKRP in Cincinnatti sitcom and winner of numerous "Silver Sow" and "Golden Cobb" awards.
One year, Les, desperate to make an impression on his fellow broadcasters, decided he should have a date to accompany him to an awards banquet where he was again to be honored for his deft reporting of the daily farm commodity and livestock prices.
Station ad manager Herb Tarlek arranged that Nessman's date would be from one of the city's professional "escort" services. Les, unaware of the very attractive woman's background, was immediately smitten and made more out of their relationship than was really there.
When the station's beauteous but worldlywise receptionist, Jennifer Marlow, tried to warn Les about the situation, the following exchange occurred:
LES: Are you trying to tell me that I'm not worthy of Lorraine?
JENNIFER: No, I'm trying to tell you that Lorraine is not worthy of you.
LES: She cost $200.
JENNIFER: No, she charges $200. Les, I'm talking about the oldest profession.
LES: Lorraine's a farmer?
While, on one hand, one can appreciate Les's reverence for farmers, the fact remains, given family farmers' current state of affairs, he might be on to something. As the aforementioned headline suggests, one could make the case that for decades family farmers have been been screwed without intercourse -- and without even recompense by corporate agribusiness.
For example, Nebraska's Mike Johanns, picked by the Bush administration to be the new secretary of agriculture, sought while the state's chief executive to repeal his state's strong anti-corporate farming law (I-300).
Then there was the Senate Republicans placing Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, a strong supporter of "Freedom to Farm" legislation, as head of the Senate ag committee to make way for Kansas's Sam Brownback, an outspoken conservative, to take his place on the important Senate Judiciary Committee.
Likewise, the USDA, long promoting trade as an economic panacea for farmers, is now projecting that the decades-long US trade surplus in agriculture will evaporate in 2005. Imports of agricultural products are forecast to increase from $52.7 billion in 2004 to $56 billion in 2005, equaling exports -- the first time imports and exports have been in balance since the1950s. Imports of agricultural products have increased from $39 billion in 2001. Exports are expected to decrease from $62.3 billion in 2004 to $56 billion this year due to lower prices for wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton.
So while farmers are brainwashed by the Bush administration's palaver about "moral values," they are not only being eaten out of house, home and land by that same administration's corporate paymasters, but scorned by the Democrats -- busily immerged in recrimination, quarreling and contemplating their own navels -- who for over a century championed their efforts to achieve economic and social justice.
Regular readers already know what I think of this hapless political duopoly and the need for family farmers to speak out, organize and band together in creating a powerful new progressive movement, devoid of political affiliations.
As one reflects on history one can see, from this country's founding, the vast majority of its social and economic progress has come from powerful movements, not political parties. It started with the farmers' movement, which led to our independence; then the abolitionist movement, the co-op movement, culminating at the end of the 19th century with what Ralph Nader frequently describes as "the country's most fundamental political and economic reform movement since the Constitution was ratified" -- the farm-led agrarian populist movement.
In swift succession then came the progressive movement, the labor, the women's, the civil rights, the civil liberties, the peace, the environmental, the gay and lesbian, and the fair trade movements, all of which have fashioned or are seeking to fashion and shape this country, often in direct opposition to the platforms and agenda's of our two major political parties.
Thus, in instigating a modern progressive populist movement, if progressive populists are to replace today's corporatist culture, they must adopt an ideological framework built on aggressive advocacy and create a "movement culture," characterized by an evolving democratic ethic in which people can see themselves working together and aspiring to a society conducive to mass human dignity.
People need to clearly see the imminent dangers of our "corporatist" culture and educate and work to bring the corporate state under democratic control. Rather than isolate and attempt to concentrate on a myriad of different "issues," 21st-century populism must focus on the system, for the system has become the issue.
We must develop horizontal communication between such groups of people and individuals both within our own communities and nations as we begin to build an international progressive populism.
Twenty-first-century populists, in alliance, can create an institutional means, not necessarily a political party, whereby new ideas, shared now by the rank-and-file of a mass political, social and cultural movement, can be expressed in an autonomous political way -- "the movement politicized."
The hour is late, but the start of a new year is always full of resolutions and hope, so in that spirit family farmers should take the words of the legendary labor organizer Joe Hill to heart:
"Don't Mourn, Organize !!!"
A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes the Agribusiness Examiner; email firstname.lastname@example.org; website www.electricarrow.com/CARP/.