“We need a movement,” a friend said last week. “We need an issue to start it,” I replied in my mind.
She has spent much of the last half of her life, like I have, looking for a way to stop the hemorrhaging of small farms here in the Valley, here in the World. With that horrible loss has come the loss of small town life, the loss of real wealth among rural people, the loss of security of our food supply, the loss of a critical occupation for generations to come, loss of essential knowledge. That’s the short list.
What the drought had accelerated, the valley’s flooding has the potential to finish off. And yet, the stories of neighborliness floating to the surface as the water rose tell us something humanely important: we still know what to do when push comes to shove. We help each other. And as we step up to the plate, we re-learn our true value in this world.
For us, by which I mean almost anyone living here, when floodwaters have threatened the lives of neighbors, most of us suddenly forget what it will cost to step forward and act on their behalf. We forget it. Money disappears as the motive for doing something. Need takes its place, the resources we have at hand fill our field of vision, and we pitch in. It’s one of the blessings of a natural disaster.
For some folks, however, who mostly don’t live here, the almighty dollar still reigns as the deciding factor. Whether they simply can’t see what’s in danger of being lost or whether dollar signs have replaced their eyeballs, I can’t say. But we are in real need of replacing them and their influence in the decision-making apparatus we call “government.”
This is especially so down here in the southern end of the Central Valley, where they’ve ruled without restraint, pretty much, since Henry Miller and the Kern County Land Company duked it out in the late 1800s. Boswell v. Salyer followed; now its Vidovich v. Boswell Jr., with the McCarthys and the Resnicks Wonderful-ly on the side, big ag empires just waiting to turn their well-watered acreage into gold of one kind or another, while insurance companies and other investment firms buy up whatever land they find with water beneath it. Money Money Money Money. Here it has always been so. Will it always?
How do you start a movement against money? You can’t live on thin air. I’ve tried. Doesn’t work. Anyway, as the Bible tells us when we’ll listen, it’s not money that’s bad, just the love of it—money as the primary end, not the means. Money as God. That does seem to be the problem we’ve got, in a nutshell.
Maybe the thing to do is take the good examples of neighborliness we’re seeing right now and hold them up as heroes, offer them our support. People like Jack Mitchell of the Deer Creek Flood Control District standing up for his neighbors in Allensworth and Alpaugh; the nearby dairymen who helped save Joseph Goni’s family’s cows near Tulare one dark night as floodwater rose around their knees; the men, women and families sharing shelter, food, and clothing with farmworkers flooded out of their houses and now without work. These are the triumphs of our region ongoing at this moment. We need to celebrate them and pitch in, to amplify the truths we live with here despite the dominance of the monied interests.
And then we need to tell those moneymongers it’s time for them to leave—or change their ways. That’s the movement we need to start, the movement we already know in our bones taken to the next level. The issue is bad neighbors, their love of money flooding out the love of life. This is the place to do it, where the evidence is more than clear. And the time to start is now.
Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes. You can send her your good neighbor experiences c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.