Your New Normal is Vigilance…

9 July 2017

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Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I’ve been on something of a hiatus, spending time in the Santa Barbara/Carpinteria/Rincon area writing and attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC). It was an adventure-filled two weeks about which I will write elsewhere. During that time I pretty much ignored the news and didn’t turn on a television set, not once. However, one thing I did do was continue to facilitate the weekly GOAT (Getting Our Act Together) conference call, and it is that about which I want to write this month.

As the result of a side meeting at the CFSC 15th Annual Food Justice Conference in 2011 held in Oakland, California, a group that included members of CFJC, the Rural Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Public Health Institute (PHI), and Food First among many others met to organize a new kind of collaboration to work on the 2012 Farm Bill. Since that moment, and now entering our sixth year of weekly conference calls and annual meetings, the GOAT participants have maintained an evolving and safe space where community members, activists, policy wonks, farmers, and D.C. watch dogs can meet to freely express their views, hopes and frustrations with a surprisingly diverse group of participants from across the country. It is a place to discuss and develop food policy that works for people and communities, instead of just for corporate interests.

One week a highlight might be Alabama farmers in D.C. to advocate for the Farm Bill 2501 program, or an NSAC fly-in of members from farms and communities in California, New Mexico, Iowa and elsewhere with the common purpose of making sure D.C. legislators remember who actually grows the food upon which we all depend.

There are a number of ongoing collaborations and a fair amount of cross pollination of individuals and groups working on food policy issues that also have a presence in D.C. –the HEAL Food Alliance process and Good Food For All come to mind. However, from the outset GOAT has always been grounded on making sure that equity is the basis of all food policy efforts.

Also from the beginning it has been impossible to ignore the other burning issues that are inextricably intertwined with the basic food policy issues GOAT was formed to address. At first it was relatively easy to see how immigration and immigrants figure into the food and agriculture continuum. From there, as GOAT participants learned of the struggles in each sector—farming, food chain workers, agricultural workers, SNAP families, etc.—we recognized the need to simultaneously work on virtually every piece of the trillion dollar Farm Bill.

And then, over the past year, in a world in which the advent of Donald J. Trump and his values had to be not only taken seriously, but in which he could and did become president, we cannot in good conscience ignore the all-out assault on health care, civil rights, women’s and reproductive rights, and voting rights. We are all challenged to be part of expanded efforts to advocate for programs being dismantled by a secretary of the department of education who does not believe in public education; a housing and urban development department led by a secretary who believes people are poor by choice; a USDA led by a secretary challenged with nearly as many ethic violations as his boss; an energy department led by a secretary who changed his mind and now says he believes the department should not be abolished, but who closed the climate technology office; and on and on and on.

When the president decreed that for every new regulation, two existing regulations must be abolished, he institutionalized a practice that is emblematic of his world view. And his world view seems to be that regulations implemented to protect the public welfare are not as important as making it easier for Trump and his ilk to despoil the environment. That regulations to protect the common weal are not as important as making it easier for the privileged to gain more wealth at the expense of workers and human health. That regulations that protect our waterways and public health are not as important as opportunities for a class of wealthy entrepreneurs to privatize public resources. To be sure, the patois of politicians and modern day carpetbaggers is replete with supposed concerns for the small business operator, and freedoms and rights of a working class man (and maybe even a woman). But surely, the evidence of what the Trump administration has already managed to achieve in six short months is self-evident. New policies are not benefiting the common man and woman. The carpet bagger analogy is spot-on.

The president and his family continue to accumulate wealth despite the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. The administration’s embarrassing romance with Russia and Putin despite a growing body of evidence that Russia continues its attacks on our voting process and the relentless attacks on our free press and anyone who dares to criticize the heavy-handed amateur authoritarianism of an administration not ready for prime time day by day makes a mockery of the stature of the office of the president of the United States.

Certainly, we deserve better. But it is also true that the only way we are going to get what we deserve is by showing the administration how government should work for the people of the United States, and by extension, of the world.

I started this column talking about the GOAT process, and I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that what I have written is the kind of discussion in which we engage on the weekly GOAT conference calls. But the truth is, it could be.

Over the past five years GOAT is a place where people come to check in with one another, to find kindred spirits, to see what other communities are doing to take back control of the food system. And yes, to track what Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Mitch McConnell and the Congress are doing to re-order the social safety nets, the Farm Bill, and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. For ten years the Republican party lambasted Democrats and a Democratic president with assurances that when they came into power things would be different. Well, now they are in power and the only good news is that the leader of their party is so out of control that people in communities across the country are so upset that to date, demonstrations and raised voices have not allowed for the repeal as yet of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or passage of the new American Health Care Act (Trumpcare) which would take away benefits from women, health care from 22 million people, and provide $800 billion in tax cuts over ten years for the wealthiest Americans.

Of course, that is just in the area of healthcare. Closer to home for the GOAT process, Paul Ryan has been advocating for years in his Path to Prosperity budgets for cuts to SNAP benefits—another $760 billion entitlement on his chopping block wish list.

The chilling fact is that the new reality for each of us is that we have to be committed to working each and every day for the kind of country we want to believe in. In which we want to live.

Because it is also true that the Republicans do now control government, and they can achieve what they have been promising for a decade if left unchecked.

We live in a world where our president lies without shame, and no one in his party seems to have the decency to call him out. We live in a country where fully 26% of the country, and 39% of those who bother to vote will believe the lies, just because.

The truth is that it is foolish to believe that anything will change if we continue to play the Democratic/Republican politics game as usual. For one thing, F. Scott Fitzgerald was correct. The rich really are different than the rest of us. They have more money. That means no matter how many dollars poor and working class people contribute to a political cause it is dwarfed by the capacity of a class that has the resources to maintain the status quo indefinitely.

Fortunately, that is not the only game in town. Here’s what I have come to believe.

We hold the key to change in two distinct ways.

First, as I noted above, each of us can demonstrate a better way to work and live and govern, by example. Do not be quick to shortchange the impact such actions can have.

Second, remember that 42% of the electorate did not even bother to vote. It is they who first and foremost will be most impacted by the good living and actions you demonstrate in the face of a mediocre and selfish government administration. Remember, our government is not inherently so. We just live in a time where we have allowed the small men to take over.

Consider, the 42% who are disengaged may actually be some of the wisest among us, for maybe they saw the folly in the games politicians have been running long before the rest of us. Or, maybe they just have a lower BS tolerance level. The reason they have disengaged doesn’t matter. We have to accept what is, and who they are.

You know them, they are not some mythical race living “somewhere in the Midwest.” They are the uncle at the family gathering who you dismiss, the granddaughter you discount because of her dress and manners, the cousin who drinks too much, the co-worker who seems to laugh too hard, the “other” who just seems a little off.

Another truth is that one of the secrets of the success of the small men in these times is that we have allowed them to separate us from one another. That is a practice we can no longer afford.

Fairly early on in my tenure at CFJC we came up with three things anyone can do to begin to be part of the change. They are three things that have held up over the years; three things that any of us can do. See if they resonate with you.

First, break bread with someone. We started the Kitchen Table Talks during the 2011 Food Justice and Security Conference. I continue to be amazed by how the simple practice of sharing a meal with people has become something of a lost art. It doesn’t help that our mobile devices have become as much a tableware accessory as a knife and fork. Make a practice of sharing a meal with someone new, at least once a week. But start off slow. Get to know your family, again, first.

Second, grow something. My ex-wife always thought it was a cosmic joke when I became executive director of the Environmental Defense Center, as she like to say I didn’t know the difference between a rock and a tree. But I have learned that as corny as it may sound, it is critical that as in the story of the Lion King, I too must be part of the circle of life.

Third, and this is more true now than ever. Knock on a neighbor’s door, just to see how they are doing. No matter what neighborhood you live in, no matter how affluent or well-heeled you believe your neighbors to be, many people are just one paycheck or one heart ache away from destitution. It is another cycle that we have to take responsibility for breaking.

Most importantly, remember that it is the small steps by which we begin the journey to a new kind of freedom.

It has taken the concerted efforts of generations of small-minded-men to create the state of selfish mediocrity in which we live, but it isn’t a new concept. The Roman empire came up with “bread and circus,” to keep the masses complacent. We can do better. We must do better.

Stay tuned to this space as we chronicle what CFJC, the GOAT process, and members of organizations and collaborations and communities are doing to change the tide in a country that almost lost its way, entirely. It is time to turn the tide. It is time to take back our country. It is time to show the small men what it means to be a patriot. And how to love one another.

If you are at all moved or inspired by these words, then please take a moment to consider what you can do today to be the change we need. And if you are so inclined, to make a contribution to CJFC so that we can continue to do our part in the ongoing struggle.

Most of all, thank you for keeping the faith. As we used to say back in the day.

All the best.

armando-sig

 

 

 

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.

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