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From Constitution Gardens, a lone voice: 'I still love farming, but there's no way to make a living at it.'

by A.V. Krebs
The Agribusiness Examiner

(Wednesday, March 26, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Last week with the nation's terrorism alert light flashing Code Orange and the U.S. and it's "coalition of the coerced" in the initial stages of a war against its "axis of evil," a lone North Carolina tobacco farmer accomplished what Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein has failed to do --- he "managed to tie up the center of the free world" for nearly 72 hours.

Sitting on his John Deere tractor in the Constitutional Gardens Pool between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, with an American flag flying upside down, a recognized signal of distress, Dwight W. Watson, 50, of Whitakers, North Carolina sought in his own way to say to the American public "I still love farming, but there is no way to make a living at it."

The media made much of the fact that his protest was centered around a cut in his tobacco subsidy, "subsidy" now becoming a media buzz word for farmers being on the government's welfare dole. Yet, at the heart of Watson's protest was the unfair and unjust below cost of production prices family farmers are being paid today whether that be in tobacco, grain, meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, etc.

But probably what was most alarming about the reaction to Watson's protest was not simply the expected media ignorance and public and official Washington reaction to his action, as one can see in reading articles from the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but the total silence and any kind of empathetic support from Watson's fellow family farmers nationwide.

At a time in our nation's history when apathy and silence have no place in our public discourse the farm community cannot afford to expect public sympathy for their plight unless they and the leaders of their organizations are willing to come forth and exercise some "profiles in courage." Their sectional and intra-commodity lamentations ring hollow if they fail to publicly recognize how their plight interconnects with non-farm issues that plague our nation as it seeks to become an imperial power in the hands of a nigh-corporate fascist regime.

Farmers have always been known for their blunt and no-nonsense talk, as Watson himself exhibited during his siege of the nation's capital, so they should have no trouble also identifying themselves with filmmaker Michael Moore's exemplary and courageous acceptance speech upon receiving an Academy Award for his documentary "Bowling for Columbine."

"On behalf of our producers Kathleen Glynn and Michael Donovan from Canada, I'd like to thank the Academy for this. I have invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and we would like to they're here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or fiction of orange alerts we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much."

Moore could well have included in his remarks that the U.S. is also fighting a war to save a fictitious economy, a fictitious economy that family farmers have been shouldering for decades while the people they feed have enjoyed an unmatched period of prosperity which is now beginning to deteriorate around them.

It is an economy that has forced thousands of family farmers off the land, an economy that is destroying rural America and all those principles of hard work, self-sufficiency and family values that our political leaders are always so in love with at election time.

An economy that sees between 85% and 90% of a farm family's income coming from off the farm while farm incomes themselves have been averaging between 1.5% - 2.5% a year average return on investment, an economy where three, four companies control from 65% to 85% of the farmers' market for a wide variety of agricultural commodities, an economy which has turned farmers into "technological junkies" and often the object of scorn by a self-satisfied public and uneducated "friends."

Meanwhile, out-of-sight, out-of-mind rural America continues to suffer a continual number of farm bankruptcies, foreclosures, and forced evictions which have reaped their grim "human harvest" of suicides, alcoholism, divorce, family violence, personal stress, and loss of community.

This was at the heart of Dwight Watson's message and one would have hoped that the opportunity he provided the nation's besieged family farmers to make their case for economic and social justice would have resonated throughout rural America and whether one agreed or not with Watson's tactics the chance to speak truth to power would have been one that was loud and clear.

Instead there was only a deafening silence !!!