Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stubborn Ounces of Political Weight

This Tuesday is a mid-term election. In my own sleepy suburb, there’s been little word of what might be at stake. No signs in front yards, very few glossy fliers sitting in my mailbox.

Last year I spent four months exploring “What’s YourPlatform,” sifting through political issues, wondering how the command to love my neighbor would find it’s way into my position on everything from guns and prison policy to abortion, defense spending, welfare reform.

Some of those issues appear to be in play in states electing governors, replacing representatives or senators. Here in Uwchlan Township, our ballot will offer options for judges, coroner, tax collector, and one school board position. For five positons on my local ballot, there’s no choice at all.

Does it matter? Should I bother? How do I even decide who to vote for?

I know one option is to vote the party line. Here in Pennsylvania, the parties keep tight control. It’s almost impossible for an independent to make it onto the ballot; in fact, Pennsylvania may have the worst ballot access laws in the country:  

“Under current law, Democratic and Republican candidates are required to collect between 1,000 and 2,000 signatures to get their names on the statewide ballot, while all others must collect as many as 67,000 signatures in recent years.” 

I’ll support any candidate who supports the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition, a group dedicated to promoting legislation that would offer more access to the ballot, and more choice for voters. But rest assured: none of the minor candidates put forward by our political parties will be endorsing that in this election. 

Another option – the majority option? – is simply not to vote. We can already guess the results: in our very gerrymandered district, the Republican candidates will win. So why bother?

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (of which I’m a proud board member) helps maintain a website, Smart Voter, that helps voters locate polling places, find sample ballots, and learn at least a little abut candidates and their positions. In some races there’s not much information to go on, but it’s a start. In states that don’t offer Smart Voter, Vote 411 is also maintained by the League of Women Voters, with similar options for finding polling places and sample ballots.

Amid thoughts of elections, I’m also thinking of another arena of political influence in need of citizen attention.

The new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA – often pronounced Fizma) has prompted a series of complicated rules for farmers and food producers. The FDA comment period ends on November 15, and sustainable farm coalitions are asking consumers and farmers to take time to understand what’s at stake, and offer comment.

Too complicated, too hard, too much information. Why bother?

Yet, when I read about the proposed rules, and their impact on small farmers, I feel compelled to do what I can to comment, and invite others to comment as well.

I buy produce from a CSA which will have a far harder time keeping afloat if the proposed rules go into effect.

I buy eggs from two local farms which will see much less profit if the rules take place.

I have friends struggling to keep their farms and families afloat; the proposed FSMA rules will push them further into the red.

Yes, and I have friends who read my blog and say “Carol, you think too much.”

Or, “That’s all very interesting, but what should I do?”

Here’s a quick to-do list for the week ahead:

1. Visit Smart Voter or Vote 411, read up on candidates, and go vote – not just the party line, but for candidates who take the process seriously, try to offer information to voters, and demonstrate some understanding of justice, compassion, wisdom, grace.

2. Visit the Fix FSMA pages of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund or the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, spend some time trying to understand the issues, and offer comment on the FDA comment site. You can comment as many times as you want. Comments don’t need to be long, but the more personal, the better. Here are a few samples of my own. Feel free to copy and adapt them yourself (the sites offer more, and more detailed, comment): 
“I buy as much food as I can from biodiversified farms which make use of animal manure rather than chemical fertilizer. I feel far safer eating food grown with the use of natural fertilizer, yet your FSMA rules put tighter controls on farms that use manure than on farms that use chemical fertilizer. This inequity should be addressed.”
 “I buy my produce from a CSA which delivers off farm and also offers the convenience of eggs from a neighboring organic farm. As written, your rules will make the practice of off-farm delivery, and sale of food from another farm, prohibitively expensive and will require far more record-keeping by both farms. This is a serious flaw in the proposed FSMA rules, and should be addressed.” 
“I feel far safer eating food grown by farmers I know, than food grown on large monoculture farms in distant locations, with unknown pesticide loads and extensive handling along the way. Yet your proposed rules put a disproportionate burden of record—keeping, analysis, and inspection, on small and mid-size farms attempting to use best conservation practices. Please review these rules in conversation with our national sustainable agriculture coalitions, and create new rules that will help, not hurt, our sustainable farmers.” 
A simpler, (but less effective) option: Sign the Farm Aid FSMA petition.

3. Use your influence – through Facebook, email, converation – to encourage others to do the same. Sometimes local elections are decided by a handful of votes; sometimes public policy is reshaped by number of comments. 

Democracy is strongest when citizens understand what’s at stake, and take time to use whatever influence is available. 

Even when it seems small. 

Even when it’s easier to say “why bother?”

(To One Who Doubts the Worth of
Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything)

You say the Little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.

I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces 
of my weight. 
      (Bonaro Overstreet, 1978)