Undeniable Human Spirit

21 September 2017


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Wednesday, September 27th I have been asked to speak at a discussion hosted by the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB) on the subjects of SNAP and the 2018 Farm Bill, because, yes, despite the immediate environmental, political and economic challenges, we have to continue advocacy and organizing to effect just public policy. Especially now, when the Justice Department and USDA are trying to dismantle gains from the last twenty years.

In more immediate news, natural disaster has once again provided the need and opportunity for people to rise to the occasion to help survivors of a series of hurricanes that are pummeling the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean communities, and southeastern U.S. mainland. The juxtaposition of individuals helping neighbors and strangers without regard for personal safety, recognition or compensation and the commander-in-chief talking about “epic disaster” and a “great turnout” to greet him in Texas is a stark reminder of what really matters and our core values.

And how out of touch American leadership truly is.

Some people because of upbringing, personal integrity, spiritual journey, or just plain human decency respond to tragedy with kindness and help. For those of us who do so it is natural and a manner of existence that is also demonstrated in how we generally live our lives. Many of us are fortunate to be able to find work in the field of human services, care for the environment, the arts, or public service. Or perhaps to spend off-work hours volunteering for a charitable institution. Others contribute generously to religious and other institutions providing services for the homeless and less fortunate.

It is therefore not surprising that it is hard for decent people to take the Trump Administration’s assertions of care for communities facing devastation by natural disaster seriously when the premise and agenda that administration is implementing at the same time is to deny climate change and slash the budgets of social services, health, environmental protections, and disaster relief.

The current administration, desperately in need of a “win” to offset a series of political and legislative blunders will make promises of immediate and temporary disaster relief. But once the cameras leave, where will the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to rebuild devastated communities come from? Where will the medical relief come from when Trump and the Republican Congressional leadership is hell-bent on repealing those very provisions of the Affordable Care Act when they are needed most?

Just how stupid do they think we are?

It is not surprising that Trump was elected. It was his blatant appeal to white supremacy that assured success, because it motivated his base who had just suffered eight years of a black president. The Republican party helped since, from day one of the Obama presidency Sen. Mitch McConnell promised to block anything on the Obama agenda. Fortunately for all of us, President Obama and his team were not incompetent (unlike the Trump team) and the ACA and other achievements helped bring the U.S. back from the brink of the political (war) and financial disasters of the Bush administration.

As history will attest, none of that mattered to a populace resentful of the first black U.S. president. It is one of the main reasons why there are so many desperate attempts to tear apart his signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.

But today, what should be most frightening to decent people—and by decent I mean non-racists and those who abhor the notion of white supremacy—is that it is likely if the election were held or re-held today, trump would likely win again. Because whether he is speaking at NATO or the United Nations and most certainly at his ongoing campaign rallies, this president is always using the bluster, language and code words of white supremacy to re-enforce and energize the loyalty of his base.

At the same time, the Kobach Commission continues efforts to both legitimize Trump’s assertions that “millions” of fraudulent votes were cast in 2016, and to support voter suppression.

And yet, it is true that most decent people find it hard to believe that Trump could win again.

I am not writing this message as one more “bash the president” article. There are plenty of those and hopefully they will continue throughout the Trump presidency to remind us that we deserve better.

I am writing because although we do deserve better, we will not get better leadership if we continue to act and live the way we have been acting and living.

I am writing to remind us that each of us is a member of a privileged culture that demands our participation—not just when disaster strikes, although it is beautiful and inspiring when we do so, when the undeniable human spirit rises. No, we must bring that same commitment of service to our lives, each and every day.

It’s about democracy. You remember, what we learned about in junior high/middle school. Then it was about Socrates, Plato, and other people with exotic names who seemed to live in buildings and palaces with white pillars. And although I am sure there were as many brilliant women (we learned about Lysistrata much later) then as now, our version of history was notably silent on the subject.

But the ideas and ideals of democracy became something each of us has come to take for granted. We came to believe they were our birthright as U.S. citizens. We came to take them for granted, and in so doing, we fell victim to men with small minds who hijacked the idea of democracy by use of fear and greed, so that we have become a culture of jingoistic patriotism in lieu of righteous pride. Righteous pride in real men and women who achieved greatness, but who also made horrific mistakes—again, usually because of fear and greed. Unlike the current leader in the White House, we do not need to constantly aver that we are the greatest, or the biggest, or the largest, or the most anything. We have the responsibility to do and be better, and in so doing, let the future determine just how great we actually were—and are.

We also have the tools to do better. Remember, we use those tools in response to natural and other disasters, time and time again.

So, why wait for disaster?

Change is difficult. Change is hard. So be it. This is our time, this is our task, this is what we are on the planet to do. This is why we are alive.

We will have challenges unlike any other era. Climate change is already reshaping countries around the world, and much closer to home, both coastlines and island communities from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. How we respond will be a very visible demonstration of who we want to be, and of how we reshape our democracy.

We also have many other challenges as well.

For example, we can no longer stand by and allow our legal system to allow the murder of black men, women and children by our law enforcement. As a former manager of two public interest law firms I understand why it is so difficult to convict a law enforcement officer. But that does not make it just—or right, or righteous. Each of us already knows that.

Our work will be difficult, and tiring. But we must remember that we are working on behalf of one another. We will be struggling against those small minds, in this country using the rubric of white supremacy with all the attendant insidious code language. However, be not afraid.

A first order of business for all of us is to become part of a regular discussion group, a safe space where conversation can flourish.

Please be advised that at times those discussions will be messy. We will at times become emotional. We will at times become frustrated, and certainly, we will at times be bored, tired and discouraged.

But there will also be moments of beauty and peace. And, unfortunately, there will likely be continuing disasters (natural, economic, political) around which human beings will rise to help one another, to provide ongoing inspiration. That undeniable human spirit.

We can do this, as individuals, together.

I want to close with a couple of observations on the article I wrote earlier in September. First, when I wrote about the presidency and white supremacy I did not know about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ forthcoming October 2017 Atlantic article on the first white president. If you think in your discussions you require validation and history I encourage you to read the article. It is brilliant.

The other thing I want to point out is response to the call for donations I issued, about how if every person gave just $10 we would have funding for a year, because CFJC is running that lean a machine. Guess what? I made a $10 donation because I feared the donation mechanism was broken. And yet, although my donation was processed, it remained the only $10 contribution in response to my request. Obviously, we can do much better.

This message goes out to thousands of individuals. Many of you are friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even family. And yet, I am the only person who can make a contribution? Really?

So, here is another chance to contribute. Think of it as yet one more small step in your new commitment to democracy, to keep this space going for all of us.

Please also feel free to write to us with what you are doing in helping to create a new democracy. And as always, let us know what we can do to support the work you are doing to take back our country.


Thank you, and all the best.





Y. Armando Nieto
CFJC Executive Director




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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