June 3, 2020
I have the privilege of serving two organizations that have made a commitment to ensuring racial equity and justice across our food system. The responsibility to rise up in this moment in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter after the murder of George Floyd has been weighing heavy on me. I haven’t been able to find the right words to express the commitment of our two organizations, the sadness in our hearts, and the conviction to fight non-violently alongside our Black brothers and sisters. So I turned to the board members and staff of the National Family Farm Coalition and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance to see what’s in their hearts and minds. Below are their words, their pain, their commitment, and their hopes.
Personally, I pledge to serve our two organizations in a way that allows us to effectively contribute to the movement that is seeking justice and fighting for a society that sees, honors, celebrates, and values everyone regardless of their color.
Today, we stand with the Movement for Black Lives and I encourage you to join us, and consider participating in the daily actions they have organized this week in defense of Black lives.
Some of you are probably asking yourself, “what does race have to do with farming and fishing?” The injustice you feel as a fisherman or farmer is not an isolated incident and is directly related to our history of racism and white supremacy. I can write volumes about this topic, but for now I’ll leave you with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”
National Family Farm Coalition executive director
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance coordinating director
Jim Goodman, NFFC board president, Family Farm Defenders
I have struggled with these events as well, it seems they never end.
I have wanted to write something for years, many years, but as an old white man (not rich, but otherwise in the category who has been in control way too long) I have always been hesitant. Growing up in Chicago in the early 60’s during the civil rights movement I saw a lot of this unfolding, and while at that time I didn’t understand it, in hindsight things have not changed. It seems that we are told by our senses of perception that there is a difference between people, how they look, sound, what their hair or face feels like.
I wonder if we were deaf, blind etc., would we be able to judge people by the content of their character?
Savi Horne, NFFC executive board member, Land Loss Prevention Project
Stuck here at home with my compromised immune system, I watched my 19 year old and friends create signs to join the march, affirming deeply the rage we felt and the need for change–even if it meant being beaten back by forces of oppression. Holding on to the truth that justice must happen in our lifetime and for George Floyd to live and breathe.
Jason Jarvis, NAMA board president, Rhode Island
Kelly and I have been overwhelmed by this. I experienced racism for the first time in my life in 1976. We had moved to Rhode Island. It’s been an uphill battle ever since. I didn’t realize how badly this current uprising has impacted Kelly and me. Being a ” mixed couple” has always had it’s obstacles. I just feel the scars on my soul, from being victimized for my skin color. The wounds heal but the scars never go away. It’s a devastating, overwhelming feeling. There isn’t a word that can express what it feels like. If you have never experienced the pain of racism, discrimination… Then you can only empathize. There are no words that can express the feeling. It’s an aching of the spirit.
I have had the privilege of singing this song. It has overwhelmed me as many of Bob Marley’s songs hit home for me. I remember breaking down on stage at the Ocean Mist with over 300 people in the room, many crying. I was completely overwhelmed with sadness and despair. But this song expresses the despair from more than 400 years ago.
Ev’ry time I hear the crack of the whip
My blood runs cold
I remember on the slave ship
How they brutalised our very souls
Today they say that we are free
Only to be chained in poverty
Good god, I think it’s all illiteracy
It’s only a machine that make money
Slave driver the table is turned
Monica Rainge, NFFC executive board member, Federation of Southern Cooperatives
These are indeed unprecedented times. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Betsy Garrold, NFFC board vice president, Food for Maine’s Future
Everyday our black and brown brothers and sisters struggle and every day I am amazed and awed and grateful to them for their strong and persistent example. The civil rights movement gave me my favorite food quote: If you can feed yourself, can’t nobody push you around—Fannie Lou Hamer. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for letting me participate in the struggle.
Shannon Eldredge, NAMA board member, Massachusetts
What’s going is just terrifying to hear and watch. I have definitely buried my head in the sand… started long before this mess. Oppression, suffering, violence, brainwashing, sleepwalking, rinse, lather, repeat. When will it end? When will love be what operates us all the time? Is this really humanity? Is this real? I don’t know what to do but put my head down and feed people.
Renee Flesch, NAMA board vice president, Massachusetts
“I just want to live” said no white person ever in this context.
I want to serve, I want to lead, but I am ashamed. I have the self-awareness to know that while I think I’m not the problem, my paralysis in knowing how to be present fully in the movement that I’m deeply empathic to, yet will never experience, keeps me from action. This is not an intellectual exercise, I and we must move beyond inaction to change inequality once and for all. Words matter but they are only the beginning.
“Silence is Violence” – quoted from signs at tonight’s peaceful protest in Boston.
Stephanie Peterson, NFFC board secretary, Dakota Rural Action
Where do I begin? I live in a culture in which I belong, racially. As a white person, I go about my business each and every day with the privilege to not prioritize race and racism. This sickens me. And as I struggle to reconcile my colonizer mindset and re-learn, I bounce towards the self-appointed white ally role. And that is still not the correct place to land. Healing from racism will be a life-long journey for me. And I believe that it is best done in community with people who are committed to their own racial healing journey. I have found that community within Dakota Rural Action, NFFC, and other organizations dedicated to food system change.
Rosanna Marie Neil, NAMA policy counsel, Virginia
No human being should ever have to beg for air, the way George Floyd did. Our hearts are shattered, but our spirits cannot be broken. We will never stop fighting this seemingly incessant battle until every black man, woman and child is truly free.
Dena Hoff, NFFC executive board member, Northern Plains Resource Council
As a white American, I have struggled to reconcile the history I was taught all through 12 grades of school with the America founded on genocide and slavery. The myth of a colorblind classless society must be recognized as the obstruction it is to building a just, equal world where privilege means EVERYONE has equal access to opportunity as well as to a living wage, housing, education, healthcare, a clean and healthful environment, peace and safety. It is hard to believe we are living in the 21st century, and we appear to have learned nothing about the meaning of equality, justice, respect, responsibility to our Mother Earth and all who live by her tolerance. The change begins in each of us.
Lisa Griffith, NFFC national outreach and communications coordinator, Illinois
White people of privilege, like me, will never fully comprehend or compensate for the life, livelihood and land taken from Black and Brown people on this earth but we must acknowledge these crimes, adopt the resilience of the oppressed, and not just join but lead the struggle for justice, reparations, and peace.
Siena Chrisman, NFFC communications advisor, New York
To anyone who might question why an organization advocating for small farmers would engage in the fight for racial justice: We cannot talk about fairness and justice for farmers today without recognizing the foundation on which US agriculture is built. There is no way to talk about agriculture in this country without talking about 400 years of white supremacy. The early power structure in the US constructed race in order to ensure a steady flow of free Black labor that powered the new country’s economy, from southern cotton plantations to northern textile mills and beyond. The idea that people of a common skin tone shared inherent worth (or not), and that darker-skinned people perhaps weren’t even people at all — that was a story made up and perpetuated to justify the kidnapping and enslavement of a free labor force to work in farm fields. Even after enslavement ended, African-Americans — the people who had built so much of the country’s wealth for others — were denied access to land themselves, including by the federal government even up to actions by today’s US Department of Agriculture. Agriculture and white supremacy are inextricably rooted together in the US. As farm and food organizations, we must recognize this legacy and commit to uprooting it.
Jamey Lionette, NAMA board treasurer, Massachusetts
Racism is a white person’s problem, and it is up to white people to take time out of their lives to take on racism. The onus is on white people to interrupt their lives, put forth the effort, and deal with the issues of racism, whether it be systematic, historical, or cultural. And if people of color want to speak on race, white people need to shut the fuck up and listen. If people of color need space without white folks around, then white people need to shut the fuck up and grant the space. There is no training or script on how to express outrage, especially from systemic racism, and thus it is out of place, especially for white folks, to judge or critique the expressions of outrage by those subjected to systemic racism.
Paul Bogart, NAMA board member, Vermont
I struggle to find the right words. Words that convey compassion, but admit complicity. Words that communicate empathy when in fact my privilege has given me no true understanding. I feel so much anger and despair but of what use are my words of anger and despair in this moment. They seem selfish and disconnected in some important way. So it seems at this moment that the most meaningful words I can offer are words of commitment to action, to do something concrete to contribute to change, to act in some way every day from this point forward in some small way for change. That is my pledge.
Danielle Tolley, NFFC and NAMA development coordinator, Massachusetts
I feel vulnerable sharing this, and fear it may be insensitive or full of language that displays my ignorance. But I cannot stay silent.
I’ve been silent because I don’t think the world needs to hear and read more words from white people. So I’ve been listening. I’ve been taking it in. I’ve been crying and sitting with the pain and inhumanity of systemic racism and injustice that strangles our world. My heart is broken, and it keeps breaking. But this isn’t about my heart. It’s about the women and men who live under a choking institution of racism, oppression, and injustice that has stripped away humanity since the day white men decided they held the power, and I am a part of that.
As I watch my white son run free, my joy is diseased with grief knowing that this world will gun down boys of color for doing the exact same thing, and I am a part of that.
As my daughter grows in my womb, my awe is seeded with anguish knowing that enslaved black women were forced to let their own babies die so they could instead breastfeed the white babies of their masters, and I am a part of that.
My white privilege is real. And it comes at a horrific expense – one that I will not allow to continue. I will not be complacent. I will not be silent. Words do matter. So I try to choose mine carefully:
“White people, let’s get to work.”
I’m committed to doing my work, and not burdening people of color with educating me on how to be a better ally.
I’m committed to fighting for racial equity.
I’m committed to raising my children to be allies.
I’m committed to not hoarding resources as a privileged white person.
I’m committed to passing the microphone to those who have historically been denied it.
And I’m committed to humanity – that which inarguably binds us to each other and demands we create a new way of being together in this world.
White people, let’s go.
It’s on us to destroy the systemic institution of racism.
It always has been, and always will be.
Jordan Treakle, NFFC national program and policy coordinator, District of Columbia
The murder of George Floyd is yet another tragic signal of the 400 year history of injustice lived by people of color in this country and of the current failure of our US society to face and root out structural racism. The disproportionate killing and mass incarceration of African Americans by police, the persecution of immigrants and refugees, the poverty wages paid to essential frontline workers who are predominantly women of color are all symptoms of our exploitative capitalist system, inextricably intertwined with a white supremacy ideology. Since the founding of this country, people of color, our brothers and sisters, have been killed for, treated like, or literally (legally) classified as property under this systemic oppression. The inhumanity of this fact, illustrated by George Floyd’s brutal death, is overwhelming. People of color’s resistance to and the self defense from this treatment is legitimate and necessary.
We have a collective responsibility to address these systemic injustices, which have deep roots in our food and agriculture system, and to forge a new world of true equity and inclusion for all. Those of us who have inherited security, privilege and prosperity in our current unequal society must be willing to support fundamental and immediate change, led by people of color, to extend these freedoms and opportunities to everyone in our country. As someone who has undoubtedly benefited from white privilege, I believe that failure to speak out against racism today is a silent endorsement of oppression. Together we must take this important, if insufficient, first step towards change. Through no choice of his own, George Floyd gifted us the opportunity to find our voice and take purposeful action toward building a new common future.
Bruce Drinkman, NFFC board secretary, Midwest Organic Dairy Producers Association
We are definitely living in times that most of us have not seen for a long time. Many of us have never seen the likes of this. They do pale compared to the violence of late. The civil unrest hits too close to home. I live close to the Twin Cities and have many family members and friends there. One cousin lives about 10 blocks from Lake Street.
As I have been watching the events of late unfold my emotions have been taxed to the limit. The senseless murder was not needed and appears to be totally unjustified in any way, shape or form. Brutality is terrible and the people involved should have to pay the price for their stupid actions. I support the peaceful protests. We need to draw attention to the wrongdoings of others. This is an issue that I believe needs a societal change. We can legislate all that we want but until people change their minds and actions it will be hard to make positive, long term progress. I honestly don’t know how to get this done, but I do believe in the power of one and the possibility for a better future. Patience will be needed to get to where we are headed but we must keep moving forward no matter how small the step. The level of oppression in this country is high and in communities that often get overlooked. Racism is a big part of this but I fear not the only part. Farmers are another segment of our population that are exploited and oppressed. My personal opinion is that greed is killing all of us one paycheck at a time. Societal change will be difficult, it will at times possibly even be dangerous but in the end it will be worth it. To all who read this, stay safe and stay the course set in front of us.