Sunday, December 16, 2012

Which side ???

Friends have asked, regarding my letter to the West Marin Citizen11/15/12,  "Exactly which side are you on? Was that Letter To The Editor simply another, ‘Why can't we just get along? Kumbaya?’"  Maybe...but really, it's a plea to shift gears. Here in West Marin, two groups fought an internecine struggle while mutually engaged in a shared vision for sustainability, biodiversity, low carbon footprint, healthy farming practices—these two groups have divided themselves into what I’ve come call the Agriculturati and Wildernistas.

As I said, I’d been on both sides of the issue, but now that the decision has been made by Sect’y Salazar, my feelings have settled like silt in a pond and now, I’m profoundly sad about how this went down. Families with children are affected, the Lunny family who has put heart and soul into this endeavor is affected, we are all affected by the loss of a viable and rich source of sustainable food. Food. Not only food but also, the mighty oysters function as nature’s kidneys cleaning the estuary. 

Judith, my wife, and I were in DC early this fall to give a presentation at the NEWSEUM about plastic pollution in the ocean. We were put up in a hotel used mainly by out-of-town lobbyists. During our stay we kept running into large, blond, thick-fingered folks speaking with dipthonged A’s—the accent we heard in the movie Fargo. They all had big yellow buttons saying “Ask me about the farm bill.” We did. 

They were in DC from North Dakota, Iowa—Midwestern farmers lobbying for an extension of the Crop Insurance Act, a program that allows family farmers to compete with big agribusiness. The Cargills and ADMs of the world can absorb the vicissitudes of weather and pricing, but family farms, always at the edge of financing, have a harder time. The farmers told us the thrust of not allowing crop insurance has allowed the agri-giants to absorb family farm after family farm. Bad news for the environment especially as the chemical industry is in the business of making farming drug-dependant—the pushers are Dow, Monsanto, Bayer, BASF—getting farmers hooked is their idea of better living through chemistry.

Disinformation abounds, just last summer the nationally distributed report from Stanford that became a media meme, said organic food wasn’t any better for you than chemically farmed food. Hmmm…. who supported that report and pushed its distribution? Although Cargill had no traceable link to the funding, they fund the department that did the study. And a group from the UK, using the same data came up with opposite results. The crucial and unspoken issue was not the food itself but what “conventional” farming does by destroying the soil, increasing dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

In January of 2009 the Supreme Court acceded to the Citizen's United case. However, corporations are not people or alive, they are robots whose only purpose is to maximize profits. The "good guys" in the contention are all of us who value the complexity of living systems. The "bad guys" are entities who have little at stake save a quarterly report. And they are not "bad," per se, there is no evil 007 bad guy working the levers—corporations are simply mindless automatons, disconnected from biological life. Although Lunny was figured in some press reports as a corporate giant, he’s a family farmer, a neighbor and a vital member of our community.

Specifically, here in West Marin we have the opportunity to be a little more free of the burgeoning corporate food business and blessedly free of the corporate "fun" business of a Leisure World Theme Park. Handmade cheese and lettuce that doesn't kill the soil goes a long way in my book. Let's be a model of acting like an organism and feel our way through this. So, which side? What I’m for is creative solutions to our problems like Peggy Rathman and John Wick’s Marin Carbon Project. Lunny actually tried to DO something about the environment, raising food with sensitivity while doing an admirable of tidying up the mess at Johnson’s. Kumbaya? There are some scary forces at work, I’m just sayin’, “lovers of the biosphere Unite!”

Having just seen the terrific new movie Lincoln, I'm reflecting on the history of the passage of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery — how congressmen basically on the same side, were blocking passage because they weren't getting exactly what they wanted. And, how Lincoln was masterful at making a coalition to get the bill passed. And Lincoln, as a model for making tough legislation work was also a prescient follower of money interests. Before his presidency Lincoln was an early version of a corporate lawyer, defending the interests of the mushrooming corporations. His specialty was railroads so he knew the danger of the growing giants.

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
The passage appears in a letter from Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864

Today, we are poised at another history-changing moment, easily as momentous as ending slavery. It's clear our environmental problems need another Lincoln—our relationship to the natural world must be corrected or we're finished. And, maybe, in the end we can even get the vote for Harbor Seals.

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