Drought, Food, and the Politics of 2014

15 July 2014


Dear Friends, Colleagues and Supporters:

It’s summer and we know that because children are out of school, the baseball all-star break is upon us, and back-to-school sales have already begun. With regard to the weather, we have to get used to the changes—what used to be unusual weather patterns are now the norm.

Here in Oakland it has been mostly pleasant. Unseasonably pleasant, with 2-3 days of excessive heat, but otherwise the kind of weather I remember from growing up in Southern California.

Yet, while we enjoy weather in the moment, we also are aware of the toll three years of drought is having on other communities in California; on farming communities and agriculture in general, on the food supply for California communities and communities across the country; and on water supplies for our farms, families and communities.

With regard to the food supply we are told it is likely that prices will hold through the end of the year, but begin to rise precipitously in 2015 as water reserves are depleted.

But long before then—right now, actually—the effects of the drought are pushing some people to the breaking point, both financially and psychologically.

It doesn’t take a medical doctor to diagnose the stress plaguing families dependent on water to sustain this year’s crop as wells go dry.

Nearly half a million acres in California have gone fallow, and barring a miracle the immediate future for farmers and farm workers is bleak. Estimates today anticipate the loss of 14,500 seasonal and full-time jobs in the Central Valley and mandated cutbacks in water distribution for farmers.

We need to pay attention to the kinds of solutions already in the works.

Another sure sign of summer is the up-tick in politicking for the 2014 election in November.

Consider the political environment, today:

  • No hope for Congressional action on immigration, while more than 40,000 unaccompanied children awaiting processing clog border facilities as the passions of protesters in border cities explode across television sets and uniformed officers deny entry to more buses filled with refugee children.
  • After finally passing a Farm Bill, Congress appears poised to stall the appropriations process and we are most likely heading for one more year of government by Continuing Resolution.
  • No matter how many people benefit from the Affordable Care Act, it seems the governors of 24 states will continue to deny Medicaid expansion and benefits for more than 5.7 million people in need and hospitals are shut down.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court continues to give new meaning to the phrase, “activist court.”

Much like climate change and our weather patterns, what used to be the political season has changed, to a never-ending onslaught of political ideology from corporate media outlets. It’s big business.

But there really is a difference in how politicians running for political office behave once the “official” political season begins. For example:

  • Congress no longer even pretends to pass legislation, or to work together for the public good;
  • Misinformation is passed along—and beat into our consciousness—as gospel truth;
  • Self-righteous posturing reaches a level of absurdity, with regard to climate change, health care, the economy and immigration, for starters
  • Relentless appeals for donations feed the corporate media machine, instead of families and children

What is notably missing in all these scenarios is a singular measure of accountability, to the people, to us.

President Obama announced immediate aid to California in the amount of $183 million in drought aid. However, since Congress continues on a path of inaction, the president’s action is in the form of redirecting funds already allocated to California.

My point is that we are well past the time when political posturing serves any meaningful purpose, except as gamesmanship for politicians who have lost their way. More than that, the actions of a Congress vying for the title of most “do-nothing” Congress in history; protest actions against refugee children seeking asylum from violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation; and denying citizens access to affordable health care represents a pattern of behavior that we used to publicly abhor.

To be clear, we used to proudly be accountable for the well-being of people living in our country, and for the people fleeing oppression—remember the Statue of Liberty?

To address the current drought in California we have to be the kind of people who actually care about the farmers and farmworkers being affected right now.

We have to be the kind of people our children can be proud of, once more.

We have to believe that being worthy in the eyes of our children is exactly the kind of value we can all share.

We have to be ready to take action when our Congressional leaders refuse to act; when our political leaders are so far in debt to corporate sponsors that they actually need us to step up and remind them what government for and by the people used to mean—and which we believe our government can mean again.

Which brings us back to the political season and what each of us can do to mitigate the propaganda, mistruths and clamor that politics has come to embody. We can’t just check out, ignore the process, or worse—allow ourselves to fall into the trap that $5, $10, or other donations to political campaigns are going to change anything. At best, we perpetuate a dysfunctional system and then expect different results. We have to do more than just cast a vote.

For me, it helps to put the work in perspective.

I rarely get overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks we face; to change food policy, hold politicians accountable, and help create the kind of world we know we can have. I don’t get overwhelmed or depressed because I know how many people are struggling to do the right thing, all across the country despite the challenges and corporatization of so much of our lives.

Last month we wrote about Charity Hicks, a colleague from Detroit in a coma in New York. Charity passed away July 8th, and we need to celebrate her life and rededicate to the work she spent her life doing. That’s what makes it real for me.

Or in the Central Valley where we get rumors that farmers, who now the wells are dry, are contemplating suicide—yes, suicide—in the face of the loss of their farms. That also makes it real for me.

Or the children turned away at the California border by well-meaning protestors and officers who seem to have forgotten who we as a people really are—I do remember, and that makes it real for me.

And so, with all the evidence of who we are, and what we can be, I get up each morning determined to do my piece to make this a better world for everyone’s children, whether they be immigrants, or farmers, or whatever their political persuasion.

At CFJC we focus on food, because that is the thing that we can all care about, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With the effects of the drought just beginning to come to our general awareness, we can no longer afford to pretend our survival does not depend on one another.

It’s time. It’s time to wake up, to stop the posturing, to admit our mistakes, and pick up the tools we need to continue the work that Charity and so many others have done, to make this place a better world.

It is sobering, isn’t it? When we remember what is at stake?

There is a lot of noise to take our attention away from what is at stake for our families and our communities.

I know we are up to the challenge. That you are up to the challenge.

Remember, you are not alone.

We often say that CFJC connects the dots, between policy at the national and state levels, and the lives of people in communities across the country.

You represent a critical link in that process.

Once again, we ask again that you take a moment a make a commitment to the work we are doing by making a donation, not for a political cause or party, but so that we can continue to work with you and for you every day of the year.

Again, thank you.

Yours in partnership and respect.


All the best.

Armando Signature





Y. Armando Nieto
CFJC Executive Director


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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.

If you believe in these principles JOIN CFJC NOW.

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