OWS, Agriculture and the Re-Democratization of America

Yesterday, I wrote a post on the decay of democracy in the US through the mass handing over of official powers to unelected bodies. Today, reading the reports of the thousands of people that turned out in NYC and the list of demonstrations in more than 15 major cities, I’m given pause to not be so pessimistic.

It’s wonderful to see people this politically involved though disappointing to see the press and our elected officials summarily ignore it. The President himself, has chosen to only hint at the events, which, arguably, have generated more steam than any of the Tea Party demonstrations. In contrast, though, the Tea Party, though co-opted by Republican candidates that differed little form their predecessors, influenced an entire election.

Looking at the broader picture, though, I’m amazed at the level of citizen involvement that has emerged in the past few years. It was a vast citizen turn out that put President Obama in office. Citizen involvement created the Tea Party, however misguided and narrow their goals were (are?).

Now, citizen involvement is creating the mass demonstrations that make up OWS. People of all types willingly risk being the victim of violence at the hands of state thugs, arrest, detention, fines and legal fees, all for the sake of expressing their political opinions and motivating for change. The Tea Party were never so bold, but I don’t think that OWS could exist without the precedent the Tea Party set. I hate to say that, but it’s true.

As a loosely linked aside (which will likely make as little sense as the rest of this blog), I was attending this week’s meeting of NWEAG (New World Ecology and Agriculture Group), a loosely link international group of pinko commies concerned with issues of agricultural policy. Last night, my good friend Gerald Smith presented a short history of agricultural policy in the United States, from Jefferson’s ideas of the “Citizen Farmer” to modern day food stamp policy.

The subject of the possible turn of US agriculture away from large agri-business and back toward smaller, local, family run farming operations. In short, we were speaking of the re-democratization of food. Food policy in the US, heavy on subsidies that reward and encourage big agri-business and corporate farming, encourage the commodification and dumbing down of what we eat. We eat what we are told to, and few questions are asked.

Local farm markets, however, allow consumers to be directly involved in food production, the types and manner of food production, and inevitable, the nature of the market itself. Moving toward small farming operations not only empowers farmers, but citizens alike. Local farming ends the need for subsidies that not only serve to depress food prices, reward big fast food industries and snack makers, and, ultimately, prevent developing countries from being competitive in the world agricultural market.

Big agri-business will not go away, just as Wall Street will never go away. The reestablishment of the citizen voice and the re-democratization of America, whether in the form of OWS protests or local farm markets or CFAs, will, however, move American politics away from the divided extremes that we see today, and ultimately create a more tolerable world.

Or, perhaps, I’m just being overly optimistic.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

3 responses to “OWS, Agriculture and the Re-Democratization of America”

  1. Steve Bean says :

    “Big agri-business will not go away, just as Wall Street will never go away.”

    If enough of the 99%–including you and me–agreed to stop using money, they most certainly would go away.

  2. stumpwater says :

    Big agri-business and Wall Street _will_ go away, eventually. The question is, will it be because people wake up and begin intentionally creating better systems, like the current move toward smaller local agriculture, or will we sit back and wait until it all collapses, taking humanity along with big-agra and Wall Street? I personally prefer the former.

    Regarding the previous poster’s suggestion, I am sympathetic with the sentiment, but that’s really not feasible — there will always be a need for a medium of exchange (paying your doctor with a chicken is not practical in even the most transcendent utopia) But we can certainly devise a better-informed and more equitable monetary policy than we currently have, and we can stop participating in an economy that’s predicated on endless growth and externalized costs.

  3. Steve Bean says :

    Reduction to the absurd is a cop out, stumpwater. Open your mind and think it through without projecting onto others. Many doctors and nurses enjoy caring for people, maybe even most of them do. Likewise many other professionals and certainly the majority of volunteers. Exchange is unnecessary in today’s world. Our system of money exchange is entirely arbitrary and simply a social agreement that can be changed. Feasibility is in our minds only. We already do everything that we do. We could do it–that which we continue to consider worthwhile–without the useless accounting involved in exchange.

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