Sunday, June 24, 2007

Teach-in on the Farm Bill at All Saints

I just got back from a teach-in session at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena this afternoon in which David Gist offered information on the "Farm Bill." Lunch was offered, with a suggested donation of $5 at the door. We sat down at tables and made small talk while starting later than was advertised. David was introduced, and then made some introductory remarks.

One of his comments was, I think, especially important when thinking about this "Farm Bill" thing. He said that it is a poorly named bill. It is not merely about "farms." It might as well be called "The Bill That's So Big We Don't Have a Name for It." The bill, he said, affects just about every person in America.

He asked the audience why we need to care about the Farm Bill and people were whipping out all kinds of reasons. And not just the general "because farming affects us all" kinds of answers. They were saying things so specifically informed that David responded to one woman from the crowd: "You just covered three pages of my notes!"

Then we watched Bread's "Offering of Letters" 15-minute video (which can be found at their website).

After the video, David opened it up for questions. Here are some of the questions that people were asking:
  • It seems like we hear of "breakthroughs" every couple years on these issues, but then later we hear that it's the same old story? Are we really making breakthroughs on these issues or not? (As far as David's concerned, something really isn't a "breakthrough" unless it is in the year when the bill is on the table)
  • Does the Farm Bill discuss water rights? (I think this was about water table usage)
  • Why don't we get rid of all subsidies? (Bread's position is more of a "phasing out" of subsidies, rather than a complete halt of all subsidies)
  • What is the timeline for the bill? (The House is ahead of the Senate. The House will be voting on this just after the Fourth of July, the Senate a couple weeks beyond that. This is why letters to House Representatives are more important than to Senators at this point.)
  • What does "markup" mean?
  • What are some of the arguments for subsidies? (They are kind of self-serving for the lobbies: rice, cotton, corn, etc.)
  • Who is going to be the policing agent overseeing the changes if they come to pass? The USDA? (the gentleman speaking has strong opinions against the USDA: "they are all pigs," he says)
  • Comment: The large farms are a health concern. Think of the contaminated Spinach.
  • What is the relationship between this bill and any link between corn farming and the possibility of ethanol? (David tried to tame this line of questioning, but a lot of people got on the topic and rode it out for the remainder of the discussion)
What interested me was the fact that nobody talked about food stamps. I was the only one. During the "why do we need to care" section of the session, I raised my hand and mentioned food stamps. It was also a significant section of the video. Nobody picked it up, though. I thought a progressive place like All Saints would be interested.

Many of the comments were more concerned with the oppression of some big corrupt group over a large portion of small have-nots. So, many people were demonizing large farms that put small farms out of business, the USDA, etc. Is it that poor people on food stamps have no clearly defined "big bad guy" oppressing them? Is it too complex a problem to rally up a bunch of passion?

The corn and ethanol thing seems to be a hot topic in the news, but you know, the food stamp program still needs our attention. There are a lot of struggling people out there.


Judy Redman said...


Sounds like a fascinating internship. I look forward to hearing more as time goes on.

I just watched the video and am interested in the fact that it "evoked" the range of questions you recorded. Sounds as though a significant number of people came with questions they wanted to ask, rather than people asking questions from the video. It seemed to me to have two main points - that farm subsidies are inequitable and have a negative effect both on small US farmers and those who live in developing countries and the food stamp program needs to be overhauled so that it doesn't disadvantage rural poor.

Patrick George McCullough said...

Thanks, Judy! That's a great comment. I think that would be an accurate assessment.