Sunday, May 19, 2013

Political comedy

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: The political process is an interesting pageant, and everyone wants to assume that it’s impossible to change the direction once it gets started. Because if you think it’s impossible to change, you’re relieved from participating, right? So all you do is sit at the coffee shop and complain to your buddies. But, really, politics is more like an audience participation comedy than like a written script. If you’ve ever seen those standup routines where the director stops the action, asks for audience ideas, then starts it again, that’s what it’s like. And ideas can come from anywhere, stage right or stage left. So this year in Missouri, one subject was “agribusiness vs. healthy food and land.” The comedians started with a silly idea: Change the state constitution so that “modern” technology would forever be guaranteed in the state. “Modern” would mean, of course, biotechnology and highly toxic chemicals on the land in an escalation that has already caused irreparable ecosystem damage. The debate began right after New Year’s. The comedians boasted that they had a bullet-proof majority. The governor, in other words, wouldn’t be able to make a veto stick if the general assembly passed a bad bill. By March 4, the shtick was established. Here’s the language that would have gone into the state constitution, introduced in HJR 7 and 11: “No state law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices, unless enacted by the General Assembly.” Even the careless bypasser can see the problems. No definitions of “technology” or “modern,” for example. And no room for local control. As one legislative aide said, “This would allow cockfighting in St. Louis.” Seeing the problems, citizens started coming to the capitol. There was a lobby day for family farm supporters. The Comedy stopped. The Audience spoke up. Somebody said, “this would eliminate local control. Our county governments couldn’t make rules to protect the health of citizens.” And the Director said, “go” and the comedians proceeded. They took the language out of one bill, pretended it had disappeared, slipped it into another. And this happened again and again, but the citizens continued to show up. When we couldn’t show up, we sent e-mails, phone calls, faxes. Our leadership hung in there, meeting with key players. Everyday folks delivered flyers after work or just called on their lunch breaks or weekends. We stood up for our farms and communities as well as we could. One grandma, babysitting for the granddaughter, wheeled a stroller all over the capitol to say her piece. It wasn’t easy, but she knew it was important. That’s the thing—nobody did anything super-human. We just learned the issues, showed up, sent e-mails, made phone calls, stood together. Anyone can do it, and should. Sensing that they would lose, the comedians pulled a stunt of desperation. They called a press conference and accused the governor of wrongdoing. The sharpest of the comedians, kind of a ring leader, made a tour of the state, pointing fingers all the way. When citizens came to call, he pretended to be out. Comedy of the dullest form, certainly beneath such a sharp guy. Quite often, I meet people that say they hate to go to the capitol. They hate the rudeness, the meanness, the clusters of ego in the hallways. “Just go and be a witness,” I tell them, but they say it makes them ashamed to see such low doings in the halls that are supposed to be respected and cherished. I get it, but it makes me sad. We need to get our democracy back.

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