OPINION Farmers are no strangers to crisis but this year the crises keep piling up. Most of us are immobilized in our homes and on our farms, dread-filled and agitated. Others go to work in novel conditions, often at risk of becoming sick. Our democracy is stagnant with a legislature that has largely failed to act in the interest of the people it’s supposed to serve. We’ve seen Midwesterners shot and killed in public and national uprisings to stop racial violence. The world is becoming hotter and more chaotic.
It feels like a structure has given out, one that secured our parents and grandparents if they were born here. It was a scaffold that kept school and health care affordable, helped small businesses and farms compete, protected workers from severe exploitation and gave us a stronger voice. In the isolation of coronavirus the absence of those protections feels more acute than ever. Those of us who are workers need fair wages. Those of us who are employers would like to pay more. Tens of millions of Americans are hungry.
And then there’s the election. Politics these days make us feel alone and divided. If our neighbor sees things differently than us, we don’t even want to begin a conversation for fear of ruining friendships. With a virus and attacks on the post office, even the simple act of voting feels iffy.
But the Wisconsin Farmers Union isn’t sitting idle. Our family-farm organization is becoming involved and we’re doing it our way. The Wisconsin Farmers Union doesn’t try to swing voters off of a certain party or candidate. We’ve known for decades that precious few candidates can be counted on to act in the interest of working farmers and people, no matter their party affiliation.
Instead we talk about issues. Milk prices never seem to increase for long, bogged at less than the cost of production. It’s the same with corn. Agribusiness has consolidated, leaving few places to sell our milk, grain and beans, and slaughter our hogs and cattle. If we grow vegetables it’s unlikely big-box stores will be buying. We need to create our own markets. Money seems to be draining from rural communities like water through storm drains, flowing to distant cities and executive bank accounts. Then it cycles from the lobbying budgets of large corporations back through our political system, which is why few elected officials work to represent our interests instead of wealthy donors.
It’s bad. But on every issue there’s a future we can look forward to if we work hard to win it. We can redraw district maps in 2021 on a non-partisan basis to elect leaders who are accountable to voters. We can continue to advocate for the enforcement of antitrust laws to open new pathways in our farm system. The case for supply management is stronger than ever, and so is the political will. With the deadly reality of climate change so painfully obvious we can work on that. In the remaining two months before the November election we can make critical progress on these issues. We can rebuild the fabric that held us in place.
But this year more than ever we can’t do it alone. Farmers have a long history of banding with unions and other groups to take on progressive causes – and that history is in need of repetition. Cooperation is in our bones.
Just as a healthy farm system is the basis of a thriving society, farms can’t stay alive without a living wage across the whole economy. Farmers have long fought for “parity” – a price on grain or milk that provides an economic return on par with the broader economy. Now workers and farmers have been plunged so deep into the hole, together, that only by helping each other can we climb out. When we advocate for policies that improve the working and living conditions of everyone, our farm communities also grow stronger.
The agribusiness monopolies that profit on trading and processing our grain and milk have taken more than their fair share from farmers. They’ve exploited workers that haul, pack and ring up that produce. We know that to hold those corporations accountable we need a functioning democracy.
So we’re building bridges to fight for a better Wisconsin – with unions, progressive organizations, faith groups, nonprofit coalitions, and anyone who shares our goals and values.
We’ll do that by having conversations and then building on common ground and shared interests. We’re going to be making more noise – about the need for rural broadband, for all workers to have a voice, and to protect our schools, dairy and farmworkers, families, small businesses and more.
Together we can build bridges to bring about the change we know we need. I encourage everyone to take our Farmer Labor Solidarity Pledge and join the effort to win a better tomorrow for family farmers and workers. Visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com/farmer-labor for more information.
See you out there.