Oregon Blog Updates
Two weeks after the fact, people in Jackson County are still rubbing their eyes and wondering if we really did approve a ban on GMO cultivation, the only one that will be allowed in Oregon—thanks to the pre-emption bill shoved into last year’s special session package—in the foreseeable future.
Those of us who’ve worked the trenches down here for a long time can’t remember anything like it. A brief recap:
In the spring of 2012, a young organic farmer named Chris Hardy discovered that the multinational ag firm Syngenta had secretly planted genetically modified sugar beets (banned in its native Switzerland) near his small fields outside Ashland and in other leased plots around the Rogue Valley. The odds of GMO pollen contamination were high enough that he had to plough his own crop under. He took his concerns to both Syngenta representatives and county officials, none of whom were impressed, interested, or mindful of Chris’ tenacity. He started rallying other growers, local food marketers, and passionate patrons of fresh, unadulterated local food (as in most other places, our ranks have been growing fast here), and the result was an initiative petition campaign that quickly gathered more than enough signatures.
Then came the dance at the 2013 special session, where a key block of Republicans—you know, those champions of moving power and authority away from Salem and towards local government—demanded the recently-defeated legislation to pre-empt counties from initiating agricultural regulations like, oh, say, GMO bans or labeling measures. That was their non-negotiable price for buying the PERS reform/tax tweak “grand” bargain, and the governor paid it. In a counter-concession, Senator Alan Bates and Representative Peter Buckley were able to carve out an exemption for Jackson County so that we could vote on our already-qualified ballot measure.
It surprised no one that Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and their pass-throughs like the Oregon Farm Bureau carpet-bombed local media with fearful, objectively false ads. They were different but ethically comparable to the lies that reversed initial public opinion and defeated recent statewide GMO labeling measures in both California and Washington. In the end the industry-funded campaign, known—really—as “Good Neighbor Farmers,” spent in the $40-$45 range for every vote they won (an aside: can anyone think of an election with more expensive votes?).
On May 20, two years and two months after Syngena’s beet crop was first discovered here, solidly Republican Jackson County voted to ban GMO cultivation. The margin was 2-to-1.
It’s fair, probably understated, to say that some of us had to muffle loud inner skeptics as we worked on this campaign. Like the agricultural vision of these young rabble-rousing farmers would trump Monsanto and Syngenta’s business plans. Good luck with that.
What we didn’t factor in was a profound hunger, stronger than red/blue loyalties, for a different path than we’ve been traveling. Fewer chemicals and more confidence in the food we eat. More connection to the people who grow it, fewer boxes in our pantry with endless unpronounceable ingredients. More power to shape our own future and less deference to the drumbeat of authoritative media messages that don’t line up with our deepest common sense. Less connection to stuff and more to place, a place for which many of us feel a deep and protective local patriotism.
Watching dozens of young volunteers whooping and hollering as election night returns came in, I wondered how many were stunned by the thought that we actually have power. How many were, for the very first time, seeing political activism as more than a relic that gets their Boomer parents nostalgic? Maybe engaging, organizing, standing and fighting for what they believe could have something to do with the future they want.
So how to best use this historically energizing moment? Could it be the fuse for a local, maybe statewide movement we haven’t yet seen, with a reconfigured set of allies? Without knowing just what its agenda would be, I sense four ingredients that could be potent in politically-fractured Jackson County: • More room at the table for teens-to-30-somethings, taking what they’ve been telling us more seriously. Much of what they tell us has to do with current practices they see shaping the environment they’ll live in after most of us are gone, with climate change, water and food topping the list. • A shift in where we look for the basics—food, energy, employment—from multinationals with no abiding stake in our community, towards ourselves and our neighbors. This will be both hard and satisfying. • Relentless challenge to the system of organized bribery that’s contaminated (especially national) government and blocked solutions to our biggest problems, • Recognition that the standard partisan divisions confuse more than serve us. They show up every day; day-after pundits called the GMO ban a “liberal” win. Those of us who knocked on doors for the measure know how much more than that it is.
To capture at least some of the momentum, I published an invitation to Southern Oregonians, whether they were aye or nay on the GMO ban, to send their email addresses to email@example.com if they’re interested in a fresh conversation. I’d like to hear what people from other parts of the state think might be newly possible.For a lot of young Southern Oregonians who haven’t grown up with much hope, the possibilities just expanded in a very big way.
In an item in the Washington Post, GOP operative Alex Castellanos -- who produced independent ads that propped up Monica Wehby's campaign in the closing days of the primary election -- had this to say:
“If we remain what we are now — the party of ‘No,’ the party more interested in telling you what you can’t do and what you can’t be — and we can’t win in a place like Oregon, we’ll be a party that’s left behind,” he said. “Unless we expand our playing field and offer an optimistic vision of how we take people to a better place, there isn’t enough map for us.”
I'd tend to agree with him. But the Republicans have a very tough road ahead. Especially when the contrast between Jeff Merkley and Monica Wehby looks like this:
“She has said she couldn’t think of one thing she differed from the national Republican agenda on,” Merkley said. “It’s not okay. [The] national Republican agenda is all about helping the best off get better off, and it’s the opposite of my fight for working families.”
He added: “I don’t suppose there are a lot of senators who live in a working-class community, but I do. . . . There are two foreclosed homes on my street.”
Merkley lives in a multi-ethnic neighborhood on the eastern edge of Portland. Wehby lives in a well-to-do Portland suburb and, according to a police report, drives a Mercedes.
And it's definitely not going to get better for Wehby as long as this keeps happening:
In an interview with The Washington Post at his Portland campaign headquarters, Merkley listed pocketbook issues such as pay equity, raising the minimum wage and expanding unemployment insurance as areas where he and Wehby disagree. ...
Wehby declined The Post’s request for an interview. ... Last week, Wehby held a few small public events, but they were in rural parts of the state and her campaign did not announce them until an hour beforehand, making it logistically impossible for Portland-based reporters to cover her appearances.
By Elleanor Chin of Portland, Oregon. Elleanor is a Board member of the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women. She is an attorney, writer, mother and gardener.
If you're on Hawthorne Street in Portland, or near Powells on Burnside, or downtown these days, you're pretty likely to be hit up by signature gatherers for ballot measures. Yesterday I was approached for the GMO labeling measure (twice) and a marijuana legalization measure (and learned there are three different signature campaigns relating to marijuana legalization). There is a July deadline for signatures for the November election and besides, it's spring in Oregon!
I wasn't approached yesterday by someone asking for signatures for the Oregon Equal Rights Amendment measure, but I have been, at least three times recently. Each time it makes me happy and each time I say, “already signed!”
In Oregon, in 2014, we have a particular opportunity to stand up and be counted when it comes to treatment of gender under the law. There is an active campaign to put an Equal Rights Amendment to the Oregon Constitution on the November ballot. The Oregon ERA would amend the Oregon Constitution to specifically ban discriminatory treatment on the basis of gender. Currently neither the federal nor state constitutions offer explicit protection against gender discrimination.
The opportunity comes during a rare major public discussion of women's experience of misogyny in daily life, sparked by the May 23 mass murder in Isla Vista California, in which the killer provided 100+ page statement and at least one video detailing his personal history and frustrations, including rage, sexual frustration and resentment directed towards women. The Twitter campaign #YesAllWomen developed in response to a social media thread arguing that “not all men” are violent and misogynistic. The YesAllWomen hashtag trended all weekend and included numerous women describing their experiences of sexual harassment, job discrimination, sexual assault.
A constitutional amendment banning discrimination on the basis of gender not only offers women protection from unfair treatment in work and school, but it is a statewide policy statement that Oregonians do not believe that people should be subject to invidious distinction on the basis of gender. It also forces some confrontation of the impact and nature of individual discriminatory acts. Constitutional anti-discrimination protection does not prevent misogyny or individual acts of violence or change minds any more than the Fourteenth Amendment ended racism, but it narrows the opportunities for formal, institutionalized acts of discrimination, and provides opportunities for redress.
Oregon has also been part of the “Equal Rites” movement recently, with Judge Michael McShane's marriage equality decision on May 19. We have momentum for equality in Oregon so sign a ballot petition today. You don't have to go looking for someone out on the sidewalk, an individual petition is available at VoteERA.org. Sign it and mail it and tell your fellow voters.