Dear Friends, Colleagues, Supporters & Fellow Americans:
On occasion our newsletter runs a day late, as is the case this month. We know from analytics that readership is robust and growing, and that typically the E.D. column is most read.
So it is that I wanted to more fully observe and digest the news stories of the past week before writing the column, because intuition and experience tell me that we are at a pivotal moment in the history of our country.
And, we are all in the midst of that defining moment.
At CFJC we know that a food system designed to enrich corporations is only a piece of the story. Despite all efforts to change that system to one that nourishes people instead of corporations—and we must continue efforts—we also know that a value system that recognizes corporations as people; that celebrates greed over the commonweal; that chooses fear over knowledge; and that murders its children, is moribund.
That’s the sad, bad news. But if the shoe fits, then we have to take ownership.
The good news is that every day we can choose to be different. But with choice comes consequences so we should make choices with our eyes wide open.
Ferguson, MO, is making clear what we believe, what we value, what we hold dear as the story unfolds.
Let me be clear.
Collectively, we have been intimidated—we live in a culture where we no longer even hold discussions of race. We are told that we live in a post-racial society. The result is that we are ill-equipped, as individuals and as a culture, to address the insidious aspects of institutionalized racism. And let’s be honest; with regard to the food system, certainly people of color are most affected.
But increasingly, all people in the U.S. are subject to nutrition-less mass produced food products that increase corporate profits and American waistlines, but not the health and well-being of the American public. Because of our focus, in the good food movement we have mountains of evidence to support those assertions, but this column is about race, and what is unfolding in Ferguson.
I want to raise various aspects of the Ferguson struggle, and I know there are many more:
- A young man was killed; someone’s child.
- Civil unrest and first amendment rights.
- Outside agitators.
- Justice and due process.
- Role of the press.
- AG Eric Holder and President Barack Obama.
- Institutional racism.
I cite these aspects because they are the hot-button issues about which the television talking heads are filling the airwaves. By extension, that likely means that public discourse will also focus on those issues.
Except, not so much with regard to institutional racism.
I submit that we don’t even know how to have the conversation about institutional racism, because there has been a carefully cultivated narrative to exclude discussions of race.
After all, don’t we have an African American President?
Isn’t the Supreme Court dismantling civil rights safe guards? On the theory that they are no longer needed?
What about never-ending complaints of “reverse discrimination,” and the dismantling of affirmative action programs?
And what about the shameful destruction of ACORN, which I hope and believe history will honor as a “Camelot-like” moment when poor people actually expressed self-determination?
Admittedly, these are big things, and maybe you despair of making a difference. So, how do we start?
Today, we start with Ferguson.
Where white Mayor James Knowles states there is no racial divide in his town; where five of six council members are white; where fifty of the fifty-three police officers are white; and where the city has hired PR firm Common Ground, whose website boasts photographs of an all-white staff to assist with race relations.
The absurdity of frank discussions of race in this environment should be evident. The difficulties of beginning the process of such discussion can likewise not be minimized.
However, lest anyone gloat over the backwardness of Missouri, or provincialism of Ferguson, let me be the first to say that I am Ferguson.
I am Ferguson, because:
I take responsibility for not stepping forward to bear witness every time a young black man is murdered.
I take responsibility for drawing a paycheck for “do-gooding” while icons of the civil rights movement past retirement and nearing heavenly grace have lived to see the voting rights act eviscerated; to experience racism in the South—but also in the North, in the Midwest, in every part of the country.
I take responsibility for not speaking out when small minded politicians use patriotism as a cloak to mask jingoism, and the culture of fear and greed.
I take responsibility for standing by while political machines use racism to attack our first black president—because they can get away with it. And they already have!
I am Ferguson, and I vow:
To bear witness; here, at CFJC, but also as a leader in the food, environment, environmental justice, climate change and climate justice movements; I vow to bear witness whenever and wherever I see racism cause a young man’s death, or a young sister’s heartbreak—or an old warrior’s final sigh.
I vow to work to create a space for others to dialogue, to begin the discussions that will begin the healing that we so desperately need—in our families, in our communities, and in our country.
And so, because I am Ferguson, I bring it back to what we answer here at CFJC, when we are asked, “but what can I do?”
- Grow something
- Break bread with your neighbors (or family, or friends)
- Knock on your neighbor’s door
Because by growing something we become part of the cycle of life that sustains us, of our communities, and the way we choose to live our lives.
By breaking bread with our community, we create a space for conversation. We see this happen across the country, where the forgotten practice of eating together is helping to re-create community. Where conversations of race, and how we got into the current mess, can take place. And the healing can begin.
And by knocking on your neighbor’s door, we learn how close each of us is to despair, and how much we need one another, and in turn, how important it is for each of us to re-engage in community and self-governance.
Remember, you are not alone.
I am Ferguson.
But, so are you.
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. Today that means Ferguson, MO.
You represent a critical link in that process.
Once again, we ask again that you take a moment to 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.
Yours in partnership and respect.
All the best.
Y. Armando Nieto
CFJC Executive Director