Farm Bill and 12 Years a Slave

18 November 2013


I have just returned from seeing 12 Years A Slave. When I exited the California Theatre in downtown Berkeley, I saw a middle-aged black man with a do-rag unlocking the bicycle next to me, so I asked, “How’d you like the movie.”

To my left, a large black man paused, and like the white hipster date with Mr. Do-rag, waited to see where the exchange would lead.

He shook his head, and said, “Was a well-made movie, but…”

I agreed, and said it was hard to take in, and that I have run out of patience with waiting for the world to catch up.

He said, “Maybe we have to wait for the generation to die off,” presumably referring to my generation (I’m sixty-two) for change to happen.

I don’t think so, and said as much.

Because I have run out of patience—for addressing racism, and institutional racism, and how it permeates so much of our culture, these United States, in the 21st century. I have no patience for esoteric discussions pitting everything against basic care for our families, be it the debt ceiling, the size of the federal budget, or whatever false platitude our Congressional representatives drag out and drone on about when it suits them.

In the movie I saw a plantation owner quoting biblical scripture to his slaves, to justify the whippings and other mal treatment, and I couldn’t help but think of the tea party assertions in Congress that the bible says government should not be responsible for the care of the needy in our country—that private entities and churches are the appropriate agency to provide food and care.

What ever happened to common sense? To the common good? To our shared commons?

Two weeks ago the Conference Committee comprised of House and Senate members began deliberations on the Farm Bill. Under consideration are $40 billion in food stamp (SNAP) benefit cuts, and yes, that is “billions.”

Because of provisions in ARRA (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) that temporarily increased SNAP benefits, on November 1st SNAP recipients lost benefits equal to 21 meals a month. Now the Conference Committee pits Senate cuts of $4.5 billion against $40 billion by the House.

Our latest intel indicates that a “compromise” is in the works for $8-9 billion in cuts to SNAP.

But why are we making any cuts at all? It is not a rhetorical question. We need to challenge our legislators, remind them that job one is to care for our people, our country, and not for the corporate interests that provide a non-stop barrage of corporate lobbyists who place corporate profits above the care for our citizens.

  • Nearly 50 million people in the U.S. are food insecure, meaning without help they won’t be able to feed themselves;
  • Because on November 1st an automatic $5 billion cut (as a result of ARRA) translated into the loss of nearly 21 meals a month—even the best case scenario as the House and Senate reconcile the $40 billion and $4.5 billion respective cuts to SNAP paint a nightmare scenario for those least able to care for themselves;
  • Then there is the old saw about “big government” taking over our lives—hello, the U.S. government really is “US,” and if we get the government we deserve, then;
  • We have to hold those now in Congress accountable for the care or lack thereof, of our children and families.

Isn’t it time to stop putting up with the lies and mistruths that are a continuous cacophony from talking heads on radio, television, and yes, CSPAN as they cover Congressional committee hearings?

I worry about a country barely 150 years from the legacy of slavery, which was based on people as property, that now promotes corporations as people.

If Congress and the Supreme Court are so confused, we the people have to stay focused on what we can do for ourselves, and we have to remind and show them how to do their jobs, starting with the Farm Bill.

The GOAT (Getting Our Act Together) process issued a statement for a Full and Fair Farm Bill that more than 430 groups across the country have endorsed. The statement was signed by organizations, but there is something you can do to lend your voice to the effort.

Next Tuesday, November 26th, at 12:00 pm PST, and 3:00 pm EST, the GOAT process will launch a Twitter Storm, and I encourage each of you to join in the effort.

Maybe like me, you aren’t quite sure how to send a “Tweet.” Or, perhaps you aren’t comfortable with writing something suitable. No problem.

Over the next week CFJC will be sending an email with explicit instructions, and sample language.

We encourage our organizational partners to do the same.

And we encourage each and every one who receives word of this effort to Tweet and re-Tweet the message, or derivations thereof: that our farmers and families and food workers deserve and demand a Full and Fair Farm Bill.

Whatever your own family traditions are this Thursday, November 28th, we are all members of a tribe inhabiting this special piece of the earth.

Please give thanks for your blessings. Please accept our thanks for your care for our planet, and for our country.

And please fight for the livelihoods of our families, farmers and food workers.

Please join CFJC and GOAT, and be part of the Twitter Storm on Tuesday, November 26th.

One last piece of reflection to the 12 Years a Slave movie experience.

I cannot know what it was like to be African American then, or now. I cannot even know what it was like to be a white man in South Carolina, or Virginia, or Louisiana, in the times of slavery.

But I do have an inkling of the anguish and frustrations of black and white people seemingly helpless to change the staus quo.

That was then, but now is here.

We do not have the institution of slavery, thank god.

But we do have abysmal working conditions; fully employed Americans who qualify for SNAP (food stamps) because of low wages; family farms disappearing because of policy that serves corporate agriculture instead of beginning farmers; and food and farm policy that does not support local economies.

We must demand a Full and Fair Farm Bill before back room deals are cut and sealed.

Again, please join the Twitter Storm this coming Tuesday, November 26th, at 12:00pm Pacific Standard Time, and 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time.

Blessings, and all the best.

Armando Signature




Y. Armando Nieto
CFJC Executive Director

, , , , ,


CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

If you believe in these principles JOIN CFJC NOW.

Comments are closed.