RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Bring Back Hope

With all the pomp and gilt, the second inauguration on TV looked like a place where Louis XIV would be comfortable. Much more interesting (and much more American) were the bits of Martin Luther King Day rhetoric peeking through the curtains. Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! chose the cadences, “a true revolution of values,” which picks up with “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

As an English teacher, I don’t like the passive voice — who’s gonna do the conquering? He shoulda said, “... considered more important than people, we cannot conquer the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.” Consumers like us should be on the hook, but, still, some singer songwriter could do something with his words. What rhymes with computers? Looters? Suitors? High-faluters?

They say that Obama will have his hands full with the debt ceiling, immigration reform and gun control. I hope he manages to get the message to Congress that each subject should be handled separately, without all that pork barrel, special-interest stuff tacked on to each bill. I hope, in other words, that Congress puts the future of the nation ahead of their own small constituencies.

In the dead of winter, hope seems remote, and on inauguration day most of the nation was frigid. The TV guys found Americans willing to say they brought their kids to the capitol because history was being made. Still, ideas were scarce if you wanted specifics. So, Barry, here are a few you can use:

Eschew technology and bring back humanity. Hire unemployed grandmas to rock the babies of drug-addled mothers. Pay gifted teachers to move computers out of the classrooms and spend more time talking about ideas and creativity instead of googling answers to win at test scores. If you’re going to put cops at every school, be sure they’re cops that enjoy kids, can talk reassuringly, speak gently to the good guys as well as shoot bad guys.

Fund the programs that actually show America at our best. The Peace Corps. Teach America. Vista. Take the money out of the military if you need a few extra billion. The military is in our high schools every week at least, smart-looking guys in snappy uniforms with video machines and computers to wow the kids. Give the peacemakers the same budget so they can recruit the truly best and brightest to do good on our behalf. And while we’re on the subject of young people and our future, you simply must do something about the college loan schemes. Kids should be able to pay back their college loans in a reasonable amount of time — say 4 years — by keeping the borrowing down. Encourage a gap year between high school and college, a year of service, so that kids can figure out what they want to do rather than entering college as undecided, unmotivated borrowers.

Reform the USDA. Instead of promoting technology, biotech seeds and robot tractors, put farmers to work raising food for their neighbors. When you started the last term, you sent USDA and Department of Justice listeners to the Midwest with the mission of understanding why competitive markets aren’t working any more, why prices are fixed against small farms at less than production rates. Then those listeners went back to D.C. with hours of tape and testimony and were never heard from again. Please, Barry, follow through!

And while we’re on family farms, how about requiring government food buyers — schools, prisons, universities — to spend on locally sourced foods. It’s ludicrous to send billions to manufacturers from the sad, unsupervised growing fields of other continents. We don’t know who’s growing the food, how it’s taken care of, how the people are paid, what kind of chemicals are being applied as it’s raised and transported. Raising and processing food in the heartland could put thousands of people to work.

And, you’ll sign a new farm bill in the next nine months. Do not let the corporations get the right to plant untested and unapproved genetically altered seeds that will contaminate the seed supply. Despite hundreds of thousands of protesting voices, GMO crops are approved without hesitation. The process is already corrupt; don’t give the corporations any more advantages. Then, fix the dairy pricing system. Those guys have been living on credit cards for years, cheated out of making a living because of cheap imports and crooked pricing schemes.

We know, Barry, that you think citizens can help. That’s why you said in your inaugural address, “history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing” and “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.”

You might have added “farmers” to your speech, but don’t feel bad about the omission. Bottom line is, we’re here and we can help. Don’t let us down.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs on “Farming, Foods and Politics in the Heartland” at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2013

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