Readers Take Action
posted Aug 16, 2004Taking Action on Hog Farms
Thanks for the spring issue's article by Holly Dressel, “A Better Life for Hogs”—a better life, too, for independent farmers, consumers and the environment. It was useful to learn something of the organizing efforts in Europe and Canada.
In the U.S., groundbreaking work is being done in Pennsylvania. Beginning in 1995, over 200 rural municipalities have turned to attorney Thomas Linzey's Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (www.celdf.org) for help in keeping corporate hog farms out of their communities. The result has not been the passage of laws to regulate odors or waste from factory farms, or to permit the land application of sewage sludge. Instead, the result of those partnerships has been to bar factory farm and sludge corporations from operating in those communities. In several places, township supervisors have taken the next logical step and stripped corporations of “rights” used by them to override local control.
The laws have been unquestionably successful. No new factory farms have been sited, and no new sludge has been applied in communities that passed these laws.
Furthermore, over the past two years, these laws have triggered public relations, judicial, and legislative responses from corporations and public officials representing them. No longer about odor, noise, or waste disposal, these issues have been transformed into a crucial and pointed question about who has the authority to govern communities. In effect, each new response by corporations and officials to strong-arm local control results in a new round of organizing focused on building democracy.
This model can be applied to any issue and in any community where citizens need to assert our promised right of self-governance.
Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy
Solutions for Elections
I've heard a lot of concern about voting machines for the upcoming U.S. presidential election, but I found “Visualize a Fair Election in 2004” (Fall 2003) quite thin on the “how to” part. If electronic voting machines are used, they will spit out the legally binding result, no matter how flawed they are. Proving fraud is likely to be frustrating and slow, since it has not been possible so far despite such obvious clues as three Republicans winning by exactly 18,181 votes in Texas.
Whatever its legal status, the courts and media would be compelled to pay attention to an exit poll run along the lines of manual elections. Here in Canada, we get honest results with very little expense to the taxpayers just by inviting “scrutineers” from the major political parties to observe the whole process. Given the hordes of volunteers around election campaigns, it is never difficult to find a few to go to make sure the public doesn't get cheated.
These volunteers check that the ballot boxes start off empty and keep an eye on things during the voting. They are replaced in a relay system during the day, and stay to witness the vote counting. It's labor-intensive, but so is getting everyone to get out and vote. The various representatives develop some mutual respect as they go about their parallel tasks. They usually catch only minor things like a barely-spoiled ballot, but develop a powerful sense of working for justice.
If MoveOn or another group were to organize a paper-trail vote that was convenient for users of the voting machines, and generally kept an eye on the official process, it might produce remarkably accurate results. Volunteers could offer paper ballots to everyone who was seen to be accepted as a voter, and a separate one to anyone claiming to be wrongly disenfranchised, as is increasingly happening to blacks.
You don't have to have a legal charter to create a mass of rock-solid evidence, you just need a diverse bunch of people to witness the same things and sign a fair summary. The beauty of the labor-intensive process is that every voter probably knows someone who knows a scrutineer, and even the media can't ignore that much awareness. If we can get millions of people to just walk around together, surely we can get them to go do something about the possible demise of democracy.
If you think this idea should grow, please pass it on.
Salt Spring Island, Canada
Good Living, Good Food
I am addicted to good food and good community. As a junior ecological studies student at Seattle University, I'm one of six students participating in a cooking commune. We eat together Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, taking turns preparing and hosting vegetarian meals for each other in our homes. For example, I cook every other Monday night and, in exchange, I get to enjoy five meals prepared by my fellow commune members throughout the following two weeks. I have belonged to this fabulous community for three years, and the tradition will most likely emerge as one of the most consistent and valuable experiences of my college career.
There are drawbacks and challenges of being part of a cooking commune. It's not easy to synchronize six people's schedules, make the commitment to meet three times a week, or accept the occasional “whoops” meal (although it can be amusing when someone's recipe goes awry). But the benefits of the system are well worth our efforts. On average, I spend three hours every two weeks preparing, serving, and cleaning up one meal. If I plan ahead, I can buy all the food I need for that meal during my regular weekly shopping, taking only a few extra minutes each week to gather ingredients. In return, I sit down to enjoy five delicious, vegetarian, home-cooked meals with wonderful people without lifting a finger.
Yet the food is not the only thing about the cooking commune that is nourishing. The community and lifestyle that is born out of this commune is priceless. Over the past three years, I have enjoyed deep, thoughtful conversations, equally deep and vibrant friendships, and laughter on all scales.
Quilts for Peace
In December 2001, I found myself making quilts for Afghanistan, with 100 fourth graders in my language and reading classroom. To comply with curriculum standards, we also wrote letters. Our letters were read to hundreds of Afghani students to let them know we care about them.
A Christian Peacekeeper encouraged me to send a quilt to the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Bethlehem, “as a sign of hope, because Bethlehem is rubble.” We also now have quilts at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salaam, where Palestinians and Israelis work, and live in community, and at the Rachel Corrie Center. Students in Nashville wanted to make quilts in African fabric for Africa. The students talked about violence in their own neighborhoods. We sent these quilts to the women of Africa who have each opened their homes to dozens of children orphaned by the AIDS virus.
Since 2002, we have made hundreds of quilts with thousands of students around the country, and even at a school on an army base in North Korea. Our quilts are now in 10 countries. We sent quilts to be given as baby blankets to new mothers in Baghdad. Kathy Kelly, who was in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, tells us that our quilts have helped new mothers out of despair during the bombing of Baghdad.
It takes many students to make one quilt, but each has opened their heart to learn about others who are suffering from violence, poverty and hardships that we can not even imagine. While making quilts for others is the hands-on activity we use to engage students, teaching them to think, learn, and care about others is its main objective.
Judith Biondo Meeker
More Than Warmth
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