The New Gilded Age…Robber Barons Redux

6 February 2017

ED Letter

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My Dear Colleagues and Friends:

Now that Rex Tillerson is Secretary of State, we need to keep watch on how long until the sanctions on Russia are lifted. Tillerson’s previous job was C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, where the world’s largest gas and oil corporation invested in 63.6 million acres of potential assets in Russia that the sanctions keep ExxonMobil from developing. By comparison, ExxonMobil has 14.6 million acres in the U.S.

With all the sleight of hand and misdirection and daily eruptions from the White House it is not possible for any single person or organization to keep track of the generals’ and millionaire/ billionaire’s progress in dividing up the planet’s natural resources, so I suggest we single out some—like Tillerson’s role in Russia/Exxon’s developments—to keep an eye on what can serve as one harbinger of things to come in our changing world. In the food movement, we will keep track of related natural resources.

Like you, I have been watching all the marches and demonstrations in D.C., around the country and around the world and am so inspired. Finally, for all those young people who keep asking me, “what was in like in the 60’s and 70s when the country marched?” Now they know.

It is also instructive to realize the marches were just one visible part of the movements in the 60s and 70s. We dedicated our lives each and every day to changing the status quo. Our leaders were from all parts of the country and all ethnicities—Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Gloria Steinem and Robert F. Kennedy, and countless more whose names are engraved in the hearts of those of us who survived, if not on marble and monuments and in newspaper clippings.

I am still recovering from surgery so for the first time in my life that I remember, I cannot participate in the marches and I am still learning how I can best be of service with my heart condition. But my physical situation just underscores that perhaps the best way I can participate in the ongoing struggle for justice is by writing and continually calling out support for the new generations who are inspired to speak out for us all.

I am okay with that, and I hope it works for you as well.

Originally, I was planning to use the robber baron graphic for a December-year-end column, but as I have been writing in my weekly messages to the GOAT list serve, I have given a lot of thought to the tone of what I have to say about the new order of life in the United States. In the final analysis, I think it is most important to write so that our ideas are accessible to a broader cross section of people in the country. I didn’t write a vitriolic December column. Especially, I wanted to listen to what women had to say in the new year.

Remember, while the President carried 25-27% of the electorate (and the Secretary 3 million more votes), fully 46% of those eligible to vote didn’t even bother to go the polls. Contrary to conventional political-speak-wisdom, I believe it is not just about winning elections by activating “the base.” Change in this country is about reaching the 46% and giving them something in which to believe again. Like those UFW workers and allies who reached shoppers as they entered markets to purchase table grapes.

We can do that by articulating and celebrating what we have in common. With farmers in Iowa and Fresno, and Epps, Alabama. With blue collar workers in Michigan and Texas, with the families of activists in California and Massachusetts and New York who live in every part of the country.

In other words, let the hate mongers and alternative fact celebrators speak their version of truth, and let them celebrate greed and jingoism. Unfortunately, it is a dis-ease that is spreading across Europe. The rest of us can and will celebrate the values we have in common with each other, and create the kind of country in which we can believe. And be proud of. But we have to reach out to others. Those of the 46%. Even as we continue to strengthen bonds with those of like minds.

For CFJC, we continue to support those values locally in the bay area, throughout the state of California and across the country. It means we provide support for the GOAT (Getting Our Act Together) process, this year with the help of Dr. Garrett Graddy-Lovelace and interns from American University, and farmers and food workers across the country and in Washington, D.C. It means that along with our partners we are watching and keeping track of what Congress does, and what is happening with food policy and the 2018 Farm Bill, and the nomination of Governor Sonny Perdue to be the new Secretary of Agriculture. It means that we celebrate how local and regional communities are already responding to authoritarian edicts from afar.

But please tell me—what exactly is this nonsense of “make America great again?” Please, if you are saying that or if you know someone who is saying those words can you please ask them what it means? I hesitate to offer an opinion because I sincerely want to know where the hearts and minds are of those who want to “make America great again.” So far, what I have seen of the executive orders of President Trump do not make America great again. Strictly speaking, those actions make America “small.” Small in thinking, small in aspirations, and most certainly small in concept of what democracy means. I would be embarrassed for my country if I didn’t think most grownups around the world recognize that the actions are those of a spoiled child, and not a mature statesman. No, I am not embarrassed. I am incensed.

I will continue to speak out in this space, and at least twice a week in the GOAT messages and I encourage you to spread both messages widely. Please especially send to your family and friends who may be part of the 46%. Offer to break bread with them, or if they are distant, to listen respectfully to what they have to say. Remember, this is a long game. We have lost the moment to “alternative facts” and repeated sound bites and—and let’s be honest—hate mongering. We are better than this. It is time to step up, speak up, and be the grownups the world needs.

Women have already shown us the way.

There is no better statement of “truth to power” than how women of the world spoke on January 21, 2017, and yes, the millions of men who joined with them. I understand there will be continued activities through the first 100 days of the Trump administration, and beyond.

I for one am grateful I lived long enough to be part of this movement. I lived through the 60s and 70s and the peace and civil rights movements. I never gave up hope, or stopped working for change. You can check my record, please. Now we all have another opportunity to be part of change, to stand up for the beliefs and values we have in common.

I am humbled and honored to stand with you.

I cannot end this message without paying respects to one of our leaders who passed away this month. Kathy Ozer was executive director of the National Family Farm Coalition, co-founder of the GOAT process, and a dear friend. She will be missed, but also celebrated in the work we continue, and she will always stand with us in our hearts. Her passing reminds us that for even the most valiant heart, life can be a fragile and passing thing. We must always remember the people for whom we are working, who work alongside us. We never forget them, and we can only do our part to honor their lives, their work, and their values. As I honor and value each and every one of you.

All the best and blessings.

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Armando Nieto
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.

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