One of the more useful readings I had at the Food Studies program was an essay by G.W. Stephenson at U-Wisconsin (where I almost ended up for graduate school), talks about the three primary actors in the world of developing good food policy (and really, most policy and community building models out there): warriors, builders and weavers. The points are fairly obvious: warriors are the worlds of advocates, litigators, and other "enforcers", oftentimes the true believers who push for the "110% ask", or calling for the strongest vision of a plan available. Builders are the financiers, the business folk, but also organizers and folks who create the structures, physical, social, spiritual and otherwise, that help build momentum around the visions in question. Weavers are every sort -- they're the ones who connect the dots, see the connections, and access the broad landscape to find commonality and try and organize the efforts of both warriors and builders. These are great simplifications, but the orientation of the piece had a profound effect; if you have the time, read the essay as linked above. For anyone seeking the hows and whats of future action and activism of various stripes, its an important read, even if its frame is in the food world.
I've long considered my role as one of weaver work; having one foot in hospitality and another in the policy realm, I've gotten to see a lot of lay lines between farmers, markets, restaurants, consumers, and the various levels of law, regulation, and politics that lie between them all. I've looked at it from demographics to geography flows, from agricultural applications to regulatory schemes, to restaurant purchasing to consumer habits. These are things I evaluate every day, and continue to learn about, process, and think about. Even while barista-ing, or working the grain stand, every job I have I relate back to the roles and work within a network of moving parts, interests, and relationships. In any position, I try and create connections, enliven interest, and engender enthusiasm for the causes and institutions that I involve myself with.
It's in that mindset that it's taken me a while to re-center after the election. The mind reels at all the things that are endangered, quite really, by the Trump administration. From climate change to LGBT protections, women's health, voting protections, redistricting, the Supreme Court -- the list grows, and it feels daunting. The mind feels it needs to share every corrupt appointment, every hateful act engaged in the name of the new administration, and the viscera of trying to do all this while still asking "what the hell happened", taking apart the hot takes, the analysis, the real/fake news michigas...and you can feel your mind and heart implode. It is daunting.
I didn't give myself time to mourn, partly because I thought I didn't have the luxury to mourn, to pity, to be in shock. Not when I -- as a white male, Jewish, yes, and a homosexual -- have the degree of privilege I do to be relatively unaffected by the results of this election if I so chose. I read through the long-forms, reposted what felt applicable, made phone calls. I still am. This is reactive work. It's demanding responses and thinking from my peers, my elected officials, and in some cases complete internet strangers. But as we near inauguration, some things have begun to crystalize in my mind and I'm beginning to feel a role return to the core of my work.
There is a lot of narrative being driven about the election: working class revolt (it wasn't, entirely), a rural versus urban divide (less so than it appears), the win of reactionary forces of misogyny, racism, and homophobia (in part, in certain geographies and demographics more than others, and it has certainly unleashed a spike in hate crimes nationally, without question). Was it the failure of Democratic outreach and campaigning? (In part. ) The role of Russian subterfuge and Republican voter suppression? Also relevant -- in part.
There are a LOT of reasons the ship turned the way it did. Any of one of them alone doesn't explain the totality of the event; in tandem (along with a 3 generation look at the general political and economic histories of many of the spaces in question) and we see a lot of threads. There are a lot of issues at play. Some of them are maddening. Others heartbreaking. Some I can offer no legitimacy for. But no singular narrative provides the absolute reason why we are where we are: not every action the Clinton campaign took was senseless. Not every voter who didn't turn up had malicious intent. Politics, elections aren't a morality play; they are force and values by another name. Politics is about vision to which I ask myself: what next?
I believe in the greater mission of the enlightenment project. I believe in the power of liberal civic society, of Democratic Republicanism, of education and literacy, of creative forces, and the communitarian vision of people building up a better society for everyone that participates in that society. We do so even if we do not directly benefit -- the nature of public schools, of libraries, of public works projects writ large rely upon these principles. It is a humanist vision. And it is constantly in a state of self-correction and remediation; it is not impervious, nor monolith, both as a concept, and in its execution. I believe in the American dream in the same vein as Langston Hughes, that it is a dream unfulfilled, get the promise exists and is possible. This isn't naivety -- it is how social change occurs. It's when we relinquish that vision, absolve ourselves of it, or retreat to the domains that say it is only for us that the idea dies, slow, quiet, and righteous.
There is good policy to be pursued, good plans to engage in and fights to fight, now, tomorrow, after January 20 and into 2016. And as with that liberal vision of society it must apply to everyone for it to work. Will some fight it? Of course. Will others kick and scream at its implementation? Certainly. It does not mean we deny it to them, or write off whole swathes of people because they reside in the singular dimension and sort they've been painted to be in. Baby faggots will grow up in those areas -- would you deny them protections of the law because their predecessors caused their disenfranchisement? Young women will be raised in those areas, would you deny them your assistance or vision to break the ceiling put upon them? The environment, the ecological spaces of this country which are imperative for practical concerns like drinking water and climate mitigation reside in these areas. All of this requires us, mandates the need for our immediate attention, defense, and proactive engagement. Because more often than not we do not get to choose the where's and whens of our making.
I do not forgive nor condone those who voted for Trump. But they aren't the only ones who occupy the rural areas I see being blamed and beleaguered by some friends on a daily basis. Maps, data, information shows us this picture is far more complex than that. And especially in farm country, that picture is not uniform, nor singular, nor easily described. I know there is ignorance, there are those who would rather not see, who are selfish and do not share the vision being given above. I grew up with some of those people in my life and there is no quarter I give to them. But this isn't about them -- at least in part. This is about everyone else. This is about building the vision we want to see and make it happen. To throw our support behind them, to show they are not alone and that another work is possible, workable, allowable. And if consuming that anger, frustration, ennui to work towards preventing the world I fear is about to happen, to mitigate its effects, and to prepare to build for the better world after, I can take that. I cannot sit and be angry.
In the meantime, I'm returning to food work in the way I know how. There may be some fundraising dinners planned. I'm planning on going to some meetings. I threw my hat in the ring for the board of Slow Food NYC. And I'm pitching to several publications the possibility of traveling to the rural communities across the country -- in part to explore the proud progressivism that exists in those corners and the policies that help them (but also, checking out mills and grain growers for the book I'm working on). There'll be some jammin', and I'm still slinging coffee, but I understand now how I can do more than I could before.
I want to put a better possibility on the table. And the way I know how is to connect the dots, to connect them. To weave together something stronger.