We passed a big milestone this past weekend marking the third anniversary of the shared-leadership model between NAMA and the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC). Another big anniversary is around the corner, too: the day we took off on a two-month, 13,000 miles trek across rural America.
Although the aim of that trip was to help me get grounded in my new role of connecting our sea and land food systems, the trip taught me a lot more than I expected.
What was happening on the national stage back in 2018 had led me to think that rural communities were made up of racists, sexists, xenophobic, or otherwise prejudiced individuals. Deep in my heart I knew that wasn’t true. My visit to 67 primarily rural farming, ranching, and fishing communities made me realize that rural communities aren’t a monolith and we cannot simply dismiss the concerns heard from a wide range of the population based on our own assumptions. Many of those crying out are feeling genuine pain resulting from neoliberal policies and corporate dominance of our social systems, and the longstanding failure of the mainstream political parties to address their marginalization.
So called market-based policies have led to privatization of the ocean and fishing rights, lack of access to land and water, and the gutting of infrastructure essential for successful and healthy fishing, farming, and ranching communities. These underlying inequities have hollowed out rural communities, contributing to stress, anger, and a rural mental and physical health crisis.
Such policies have led to many in rural communities not being valued for their work, and therefore not able to make ends meet. The consequences go beyond any one single household, farm, boat, or ranch. They touch each corner of our society.
Although some suggest these issues are new, they are rooted in neo-liberal policies that began to take root around World War II and continue through today. Along the way, policy decisions were made to gut rural America of its worth and wealth. As a result, farmers, ranchers, and now fishermen have essentially been subsidizing us to eat. All the while many of these food providers are standing in line at food banks because they themselves can't afford to put food on their table. No wonder there is unrest in rural America.
We need to take responsibility for not seeing what had clearly been brewing in rural America for a long time. Rural communities and urban dwellers have a lot in common but both are told to fear and hate those who don’t look, eat, pray, or speak like them. These differences are being exploited by the same companies, policies, and forces who are stealing our natural, spiritual, economic, and social resources.
Amidst all this pain and hate there are beacons of hope; and I believe our work to take back the ocean commons serves as one of those beacons.
Our strength comes from building a movement led by fishermen and farmers – the first set of hands that touch our food – willing to fight for policies that ensure all those who feed us can make a living.