Conflicting and Conflicted Voices

The Editor Notes

Only to the degree that people are unsettled is there any hope for them. 

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cooperatives may not quite be a microcosm of the larger political circus, but they do require leadership that engages in difficult conversations and tries to handle conflict constructively. Meeting such challenges is essential to democratic practice and inclusive solutions.

On handling conflicts, two perspectives are offered here: With an honest appraisal of his communication failures, co-op manager Tim Bartlett offers a useful framework for addressing conflicts. Board consultant Michael Healy discusses disagreements among co-op directors, where acknowledging differences can actually make it easier for the board to gain owner understanding.

For the nation, by contrast, the best approach to its many battles may be to focus on the ones with broadest impact and appeal—such as defending civil liberties, supporting social programs, and resisting conversion of common wealth to private profit. As an onslaught of executive orders—barely slowed by outraged protestors, attorneys, and officials—provokes chaos and legal challenges, a cabinet of billionaires is being approved by a Congress of apologists and disunited opponents. Too few have the political backbone to deny these nominees or to defend the Constitution, which as I write is being undermined by authorities refusing to obey court orders protecting legal immigrants. 

In fact, immigration conflict is unavoidable and shapes our food system—note that the largest-ever numbers of deportations occurred under Obama. Most U.S. citizens are in denial about our deep dependence on undocumented food workers and underpaid food workers. 

Fighting back: at the end of January, over one hundred food justice and farm groups urged against confirmation of fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder as Department of Labor secretary. In mid-February, the backpedaling administration withdrew its nomination of Puzder, who has overseen companies repeatedly found guilty of widespread labor law violations including wage theft. In contrast to these practices, Erika Inwald’s report from Domestic Fair Trade Association highlights avenues toward improved food justice.

This land is your land: other citizens and groups across the political spectrum—from hunters and farmers to conservationists and environmentalists—have mobilized for defense of public lands and to defeat a tragic privatization of common resources. Republicans, having already recently devalued public lands, threaten to transfer millions of acres out of public ownership and disempower the Bureau of Land Management in order to allow extractive and destructive development. (See www.NPCA.org.) 

Food fail: for agriculture secretary we likely will have former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, a big friend of the feudal farm economy modeled by the likes of Perdue Farms (no relation) and Tyson Foods—conglomerates characterized by contract arrangements under which poultry and pork farmers typically go broke. Secretary Perdue’s kind of politics will threaten food security and assistance programs under the Dept. of Agriculture.

Food First: I’ll use the conclusion from their recent report, “Beyond Trump: How will a billionaire’s privatization of the presidency affect our food?” which lists major issues including: 

  • • threats to several million undocumented agricultural workers;
  • • corporate consolidation and control from seed to fork;
  • • attacks on food-security social programs; and
  • • growing financialization of farm land beyond its use value.

“Now is the time for the food movement to evaluate Trump’s rise to power as a reflection of what’s wrong with our economic and political systems. Yes, Donald Trump is an egregious assault on human rights and basic decency—but the problem [is] the system that enabled Donald Trump and others like him, and continues to serve their interests…We need to evaluate the ways in which our struggles for food security, food and racial justice, farm justice, and local economic sovereignty are structurally connected within the capitalist food system.

“This system isn’t broken—it’s working exactly how it was meant to: it consolidates wealth and power and passes off the economic and environmental costs to society. We have a profound opportunity to reflect, and to fight not just for farmers markets, food security, racial equity, or farm justice—but together, for transformation, for an entirely different system built to serve workers, farmers, women, people of color, and more.” 

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