Have you ever brought up a subject, or raised a question only to be told, “it’s political”?
This happened to me recently at a gathering to celebrate the Great Missouri Birding Trail. I asked if neonicotinoid seed coatings were present on corn planted in the wildlife conservation area frequented by birders and nature enthusiasts. The area is a flyway for migrating birds near the MO River – a breathtaking landscape of tall grasses, shallow ponds, and river bluffs, where visitors can marvel at wading herons, indigo buntings and soaring eagles.
I was told the seed was most likely coated, and that would likely change. But, the topic was “political.”
Ironically, as our national birds flew overhead, I wondered: what makes ecological subjects “political”? Are they too polarizing? Do they conflict with dominant cultural narratives, often created by public relations firms to reinforce corporate profits and entrenched positions of power? Do “political” topics, if discussed in public, cost individuals their jobs or make them outliers in their communities?
There’s mounting evidence that neonicotinoid seed coatings pose a serious threat to aquatic life that feed our birds. But I suspect the “political” issue stems from the hefty profits seed coatings bring to manufacturers — $4.2 billion by 2018.
As we celebrate Memorial Day and recognize the veterans who fought to protect our freedom of speech, I encourage my fellow Americans to embrace their roles as citizens in a democracy. In keeping with Homeland Security, “If you see something, say something.”
Below are a dozen strategies for speaking truth to power to create sustainable food systems, and therefore, a strong, safe nation:
1. Write letters to the editor or op-eds for local, national, and/or weekly newspapers. To increase relevancy, tie op-eds into national recognition days, such as National Farmers’ Market Week, or Independence Day.
2. Offer to write a weekly or monthly column in your local paper or in association newsletters. Help readers understand how organic farming works on your farm, feeds the world sustainably, and protects our environment and health.
3. Revitalize radio. Create a podcast or program through your local community radio station (and support these bastions of democracy). Offer to be a guest on a local radio talk show, and call in to national programs.
4. Start a neighborhood book club with a food system focus. Serve local organic food while discussing ideas for action.
5. Host a film event to engage citizens in food system issues. Public libraries often have meeting space for events and will provide free promotion.
6. Ask your local library to purchase books and films you would like to see available for patrons.
7. Offer to give a talk about food and farming at local clubs and community organizations.
8. Use social media strategically. Amplify words with photos and video.
9. Create a growing database of relevant scientific studies and resources to share quickly and easily.
10. Cross-pollinate. Attend social, professional and political events to mingle with all who care about good food and a clean environment. Find common ground.
11. Get to know your elected officials. Call local, state and national representatives , including city council, school board, and county commissioners. Tell your story and ask for policies that help the “good food” movement. Volunteer to help with campaigns, and invite representatives to farm-to-table dinners.
12. Join like-minded organizations so you don’t feel alone in your work, and to stay informed on legislative “action alerts” and group events.
On Memorial Day and beyond, let’s celebrate and participate in our democracy. Politics is for the birds…and for protecting the health of our families and planet.