Rural voices are needed in Green New Deal

From: Wisconsin Farmer’s Union News

Editor’s Note: For this issue, WFU Executive Director enlisted the help of Dunn County Farmers Union member Dale Wiehoff to tackle a big topic — the recently announced Green New Deal.

If the recent spate of winter storms isn’t enough, the mess in Washington would make anybody want to pack up and run away to someplace sunny. One possible bright spot on our horizon, though, is the introduction of a congressional resolution calling for a Green New Deal. This is not a new idea, but one whose time is long overdue. It’s a combination of Roosevelt-style programs with a focus on renewable energy and economic justice. Unfortunately, an examination of the current resolution reveals that, once again, rural America, small towns and agriculture have been left out in the cold. Let’s change that.

Whatever one thinks of the particulars of the Green New Deal — the absence of rural concerns or its chances of legislative success — it is a bold, aspirational infrastructure plan, and the progressive farm movement should be part of that conversation. National Farmers Union recently applauded this congressional effort to curb climate change. As a leading agricultural organization in the country, it recognizes what is at stake for farm families and rural communities in terms of climate change and unsustainable agriculture practices and policies. One only has to think of climate-related disasters, such as extreme weather, to understand how close farmers are to the problem.

We in Wisconsin have a long tradition of progressive farm and labor policy initiatives. Our absence from the Green New Deal coalitions merely confirms the terrible toll globalization and corporate concentration have taken on rural communities and agriculture. Through financial disinvestment, the elimination of family farms and the corresponding concentration of industrial agriculture, rural concerns have simply fallen off the agenda. We have an opportunity here. With serious discussion of a green infrastructure plan, Farmers Union can help provide the leadership that will point towards public policy that serves the real needs of rural America. The Green New Deal must align with rural communities to be successful. Its supporters aim to secure clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment. In our minds, none of those things can be achieved without powerful rural alliances. Let’s examine areas of common ground as the first step.

Infrastructure is widely recognized as a place where America can come together. Anybody in a rural Wisconsin township who has had their blacktop roads replaced with gravel can tell you our infrastructure is in trouble. Our family farms are disappearing. Our schools are being consolidated and our children move away as soon as possible. According to a report by the Economic Innovation Group, only 9 percent of new jobs being created in the country are happening in rural counties. Our local economies have been hollowed out. The time to invest in our rural economy and infrastructure is now.

This is not to say that bringing about a comprehensive Green New Deal is going to be easy or even likely in the short term, given the current makeup of Congress. It is to say that if we don’t step up with a bold, aspirational vision for rural infrastructure, no one else is going to do it for us. And, worse, it will be done for us and the country will be stuck with “infrastructure” that does nothing but grease the skids for corporate conglomerates. As supporters of the Green New Deal point out, not all jobs and infrastructure plans are created equal. Giving a giant foreign company like Foxconn $4 billion will not help rural America. President Trump and former Governor Walker’s failed infrastructure proposal would only have put billions of public funds into the pockets of giant corporations while paying for it by selling off our infrastructure and raising tolls, with a total disregard for the effect on working Americans. We need to turn this model on its head and put principles of democratic decision making, community investment and control, respect for people and safeguarding of natural resources as the drivers of a real new deal for rural America.

If you are interested in the Green New Deal and you want to rally rural voices, host an event in your local chapter and get a conversation started, write to your congressional leaders, make a video or pen an op-ed. Farmers Union wants to hear from you to help direct action on this very important resolution.

Dale Wiehoff, Dunn County Farmers Union & Julie Bomar, WFU Executive Director