Farmers fight for climate justice: Build the Sept. 17 march!


This is another installment in our series of articles to help build the Sept. 17 March to End Fossil Fuels in New York City.

In March of this year, hundreds of farmers and their allies assembled in Washington, D.C., in a three-day protest called Farmers for Climate Action: Rally for Resilience (see photo). Thirty delegations of farmers from across the country, representing several dozen farm action groups, assembled under the banner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

They were there (paraphrasing Philip Barker, a Black North Carolina farmer) to demand support for farmer-led climate solutions, racial justice, and the prioritization of communities over corporations (Washington Post, March 12, 2023).

North Carolina Farm Aid promoted the event, calling on the administration to reduce economic inequality, confront the climate crisis, improve nutrition and food safety, and protect farmers, workers, and communities. John Mellencamp sang to the crowd, an event that hearkened back to farm protests of past decades, including the tractorcade protests of the American Agricultural Movement in 1979 and the Farm Aid Concerts to stop foreclosures in1985.

The farm movement today faces a landscape even more catastrophic than that of the 1970s and ’80s. Industrial farming is more concentrated and dangerous than ever to farm workers, water supplies, and the climate. Immigrant farm workers are under greater duress from both big business political parties. Family farmers continue to be driven out of the business due to predatory credit schemes, leading to rates of suicide three times that of the general population.

Aspiring young farmers find it ever more difficult to secure a farm due to the commodity status of the land and financial speculation by the rich. And, all of this is occurring while progressive farmers are feeling a renewed sense of urgency to contribute to mitigating the climate crisis by finding financial support to implement “regenerative” agriculture practices that sequester carbon dioxide and heal the soil.

The protest was organized in anticipation of the debate on the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill, a piece of legislation renewed every five years, and due to come before Congress by Sept. 30. Farm bills have historically failed to deliver much at all to meet the crises of small farmers, to say nothing of the needs of farm workers, consumers now deprived of nutritious food, or the environment. Farm bills, overall, tend to protect the status quo.

Most activists are being advised to pin their hopes on several reform initiatives. One is the Agricultural Resilience Act. The ARA is showcased as a bill that focuses on climate solutions. In theory, it would make grants to improve soil health, set up climate resilience centers that can assist farmers and livestock ranchers in transitioning to regenerative techniques, help farmers to reach new markets, and reduce emissions from food waste. The ARA, however, does not touch the fundamental systems of land ownership and financing of agricultural production that are at the heart of the problem.

Another proposed corrective is the Farm System Reform Act. This bill would strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 by cracking down on some of the monopolistic practices of meatpackers and corporate integrators. Unfortunately, while this bill calls for a moratorium on new factory farms or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and reducing the number of the largest CAFOs by 2040, it will hardly legislate the immediate action needed against these polluters.

Given that what is needed is an emergency transition from the current system of polluting and carbon-emitting industrial agriculture, any efforts at reform of the laws sustaining this current system must be connected to the effort to construct a much more powerful movement for a sane agricultural system. This movement must be organized to meet the human needs of producers, food workers, and the population now deprived of nutritious food.

As agricultural justice advocate Elizabeth Henderson said in a 2021 article in Socialist Forum,  “The challenge we face now is to pull together a big enough movement of farmers, farm workers, labor unions, environmentalists, faith communities, youth, and rural and urban activists of all kinds to transform the climate emergency to which the pandemic is linked into an all-out campaign to save human life on this planet and push through policies to eliminate the inequities and injustices of our time.” One can see some important thinking about the character of such a movement in the “Guiding Principles” of the National Family Farm Coalition. These include fighting for racial equity, agroecology, food sovereignty, guaranteed price supports for small farmers, fair wages for agricultural workers, and international solidarity. This would be a strong start.

Yet given the strength of the opposition to this kind of change, in the end such a movement must be prepared to confront the obstacle of private property in land, which obstructs land use for the common good, and be open to exploring the more radical solution of nationalization of the land under worker, working farmer, community, and Indigenous control.

It may seem somewhat fantastic to propose land nationalization as the basis of a land redistribution to meet human needs and to redress systemic racial and national oppression. But systems created by humans can be torn down and rebuilt by humans.

Such a fight requires exceptional and revolutionary action, as the big business political parties will use all of their resources to sabotage the struggle. It will require wresting political power, and the land itself, from the capitalist class and their representatives. It is hard to envision such a success without mobilizing not only the social power of those who produce the food and Indigenous nations, but also those who work in the food industry, in the plants that produce farm equipment, railroad workers, communication workers, and others with the power to stop production to achieve this political transformation. Contributing to the construction of such a political effort is the mission of Workers’ Voice.

Photo: Dan Sullivan /   

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