Government Shutdown is a Crisis for the Right, and Could Be an Opportunity for Small Farmers
It’s an old saying that within every crisis there is opportunity. Recently, journalists have taken to quoting former White-House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s statement that “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Journalist and author Naomi Klein has even written a book about how rightist Latin-American dictators and their US trained advisers forced brutal free-market policies onto national economies by manufacturing political and economic crises. But not all crises are manufactured; many are real, and this one reveals deep-seated problems within our political system. The government shutdown in Washington is a crisis that shows the weakness of the right and their lack of vision of a viable future for this country, especially when it comes to agriculture. We need to make sure that we don’t let this crisis go to waste, and demand not just that the government start functioning again. We urge that it change course and transition from an approach to agriculture that benefits big agribusiness, to one that will build an agricultural economy of sustainable and diverse small-farmers.
It’s been over a week now that a small group of Republican lawmakers are trying to use the federal budget as a weapon to destroy the Democrats trademark healthcare policy, the Affordable Care Act, and force a major reduction in spending as the country nears its borrowing limit. The conservative right in Washington is flexing all of its political muscle, but such a flagrant show of force reveals not the party’s strength but its weakness. The right cannot mobilize a base of popular support outside of a small group of influential investors, and the right’s inability to influence policy beyond acts of pure legislative sabotage makes it clear that the American people cannot be bought by big money politics.
Much of their problems come from the fact that the conservative right does not have an inspiring vision for the future of the country. At this moment the right is screaming crisis, but fails to offer any viable solution besides the same policies that created the so called crisis in the first place. The right refuses to tax the rich, invest in sustainable industry, or support the small-farmers who are revitalizing America’s rural economy, even though these measures would increase revenues and transform our economy for a better future.
In education our students are being short changed as school funding dries up (though the New York Time reports in today’s paper that we lag behind all other developing economies in regards to education). In exchange, the right is offering charter schools and public-private partnerships. These “partnerships” allow companies like Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont to donate funds that create endowed professorships and name university buildings after themselves. They claim that they are committed to higher education, but the reality is that these donations allow agribusiness corporations to curb critical thought and dialogue by slipping clauses into funding contracts that prohibit universities from criticizing donors, even if those donors damage the environment and consolidate their power over the food system.
Most Americans are aware that the right is yelling crisis because its own power is in jeopardy, and it is clear to most them the right’s solutions bolster its own power instead of benefiting everyone. The people who are the most structurally disadvantaged in our society (people of color, women, children, and the elderly) have known this for a long time because even as the right became more powerful in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, inequality increased dramatically in our society.
Now, the right’s strategy to maintain power by shutting down the government is hurting not only the most disadvantaged but a majority of the country as well. It has put in jeopardy the federal program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) which provides nutritional support for 53% of women and children in the United States. The shutdown has also allowed the US Farm Bill to expire, effectively canceling programs such as the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program. These programs help make healthy, locally grown, and environmentally sustainable produce available to consumers, and, undoubtedly, lead to healthier and happier lives. The average person in the United States is now under pressure not felt since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and this pressure is beginning to wake up the rest of the country to the damaging consequences of the far right’s policies.
Waking up is not enough! This moment of realization for most Americans is also an opportunity to transform the country, and we can begin by transforming the federal government’s approach to agricultural policy. We need to transition from policy that bolsters corporate agribusiness power into policy that will build a thriving agricultural economy of small-scale, family farmers. Small scale agriculture provides jobs for our struggling economy because it brings more people back to farming. It ensures that even in times of crisis everyone will have access to nutritious food. And it ensures that the future our children inherit will be built sustainably.
Just because Washington is in a crisis, does not mean that we have to be.