Youth, a Rising Tide, and Our Duty: Executive Director’s March Letter

17 March 2014


This Saturday I was in Sacramento to take part in the largest anti-fracking rally in California to date, not that you would know it from the lackluster media coverage. Two things stick in my mind.

First, I can’t help but wonder how much civil unrest and demonstrations across the country goes largely uncovered by corporate media obsessed with partisan gamesmanship and celebrity gossip.

Second, the speakers who touched my heart most were a pair of UC Berkeley Freshmen who launched Students Against Fracking, and the best means of support I can lend them is to leave them nameless. Because in a culture determined to claim the latest “it” figure, surrogate(s) for the actions each of us must take if we are to change the self-destructive course the U.S. is following, we can’t just sit back and celebrate their courage.

We have to listen to what the children are trying to teach us. And we have to take action.

At CFJC we’ve spent the better part of two years educating and organizing around a Farm Bill, and we will continue to do so as Congress and federal agencies work through the appropriations and implementation process that makes federal public policy and dollars available to local communities.

At the same time we cannot sit quietly and let our communities, our public lands and resources be despoiled by the greed of an industry using and contaminating our aquifers when drought and climate change already threaten our environment, families and children.

I want to take us back to a period in my youth, when we too thought we could and had to change the world, and the course of a country; and we did…

Much has been said, and written and fictionalized in film, television and popular literature of the ‘50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Over time it has become de rigueur to write off the “baby boomers” as an aberration to good old patriotic Americana-ism. I don’t recall a whole lot of protest from those of us who lived through the times, as our accomplishments were denigrated by a class of Americans who made a virtue of greed, and who chose to popularize a sanitized version of This American Life, as opposed to the world in which we actually lived; where we called out inequality and fought for racial and gender equality, and care for the land, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone, and not just for the 1%.

I think the reason we didn’t fight back more strenuously against the sanitized version of This American Life is because we just did not believe thinking people could fall for the lies.

After the deaths and martyrs of the civil rights movement and legislation of the ‘60’s, who would have thought that in the 21st century the supreme court and states across the country would turn back the clock and enact laws to disenfranchise low income, immigrant, and people of color.

And after growing up to stories from our parents and grandparents about the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Fatherland, and Soviet Russia and the Motherland, who’s bright idea was it to begin calling the United States “the Homeland?”

And now, when President Obama is finally winding down the longest war in the history of our country, and old men in Congress are desperately trying to start another, we are also supposed to address climate change and oil dependency by enabling the XL pipeline and hydraulic fracturing (fracking)—are you kidding me?

Any sixth grade student can tell you about alternative sources of energy.

If our corporations have not made arrangements to transition from fossil fuels over the past 40 years, then it is time to get rid of them and invest in businesses that have our health, best interests, the environment and our future foremost in mind.

We can do it today, just as the UCB students and others are saying.

Because we did do it, forty-fifty years ago, when our world and country looked something like this:

Vietnam War—we saw battles on the nightly news. We saw coffins on the television with soldiers returning home for burial. Everyone knew someone who was drafted into military service, and someone who came home in a box. And because the war was present in a way that we are sheltered from today, we rebelled against the continued use of our young men and women to fight the wars of old men.

Earth Day—It was during the administration of a Republican President Nixon that Earth Day was launched, the Environmental Quality Act was passed, and the Clean Water Act enacted. How sad is our partisan political system today by comparison? I most certainly am not saying that politicians of those days were giants, by any stretch of the imagination. President Nixon left in disgrace, after all. But with the exception of the Affordable Care Act, it is difficult to see what Congress has done for the American public over the past few decades.

Unions and the Middle Class—The ‘50’s and ‘60’s were probably the height of the fabled middle class in the U.S. Certainly, ever since then a concerted effort to demonize unions and strip the middle class of living wages has now successfully decimated communities across the country. I remember marching and fighting for workers’ rights. We just weren’t prepared for the long game, for a war on our middle class, people of color, and women.

Hunger and Hungry Children—Much has been fictionalized and dramatized about the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, but it was those young men and women who started the free breakfast program that became the Head Start Program. From DeFremery/Little Bobby Hutton Park in Oakland, California, the free breakfast program that eventually fed 250,000 children was launched, because it was needed. And because young people saw the need, and saw that it was done.

And so on and so on. But you get the picture.

The times of complacency are over, and it is time for each of us to get used to it.

In our work across the country we see families and small groups of people coming together to re-invent our communities. In Detroit, in Washington, D.C., in Seattle, in Atlanta, in New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, and everywhere, there is a rising.

The culture of greed has lost. What we are experiencing are the death throws of a culture of me/greed that has played itself out in a land of plenty, where millions of people, children and families are going hungry.

Enough already.

In this new world each of us has to commit to a different way of life. Yes, it is true.

Collectively, we are in for a world of heartache because such is always the case during times of change. The good news is that many good people are already engaged in the world of change. The better news is that they—and we—cannot do it without your active engagement. Such is the order of our times.

I am sincerely grateful that I have lived long enough to see the beginnings of this change. Thank god. We, at CFJC are doing what we can, filling the role of connecting people, their stories, and the story of the re-birth of a country. We will continue to do the work, to hold the space, for each and every one of you as you find your place in this gigantic mosaic that is the United States. So big in size, comprised of the smallest communities, of families and tribes. We will have more to say as the year progresses.

For now, one very significant way you can take action right now is to take a moment and make a donation to CFJC. You can sign up for a recurring monthly donation—I do—which is automatically deducted from your bank account.

Even a small monthly donation, $10, or $20, makes it possible for CFJC to continue to work on your behalf, and on behalf of people who need to hear the message that they are not alone. We need to keep telling the message that just because freedom and free speech is now equated with how much money you can amass, that does not make it right.

We need to fight back against the mind set that money equals free speech. That just because you can amass an unconscionable war chest, does not mean it is right that wealth can continue to buy our elections and electoral process.

And we cannot wait for Congress, or elected officials to change this warped system. We have to change it now, one person at a time, one vote at a time, one small donation at a time.

I am still in the fight for the long run. Are you?

If so, then, let’s hear from you.

All the best.

YAN e-sig

Fracking Rally Cap.Steps 3.14


Y. Armando Nieto

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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.

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