Witness

Rural & Migrant Ministry

Welcome to Witness,

the official blog of Rural & Migrant Ministry.

If you've got an RMM story to tell, please contact us.
  • February 7, 2013 10:01 am

    What I didn’t know

    Like any new job, the first week involved a lot of learning. One of the first bits of advice afforded to me by new boss was, if I didn’t know something, I ought to ask. This is probably not the most groundbreaking advice when taken out of context, but, at RMM, the sort of things I didn’t know were of a greater magnitude than a more typical desk job. Certainly, there were more banal things I didn’t know, like which key corresponds to which vehicle?, or why doesn’t the scanner work? At first, these were the kinds of things I thought he was talking about. But, now, a full month into the position, I’ve come to look at this small, seemingly inconsequential bit of advice as a defining motif of the job.

    I considered myself to be fairly attuned with the discourses surrounding inequality, systematized or otherwise. A lot of my coursework in college, and, indeed, a lot of my spare time,1 was spent trying to understand issues of inequality and, its twin brother, privilege. I wasn’t completely thorough, by any means (I majored in creative writing, after all), but I thought of myself as being aware of these issues, or at least awake to them. All of this is said to preface the following:

    I had no idea there was an impoverished, exploited class of people living and working about forty minutes from where I grew up.

    Now, my “not knowing” could mean many things. It could speak to my ignorance. I’d like to think I’m not ignorant, and that I choose to live with eyes open, but that doesn’t mean I’m not ignorant. That doesn’t mean that, in my studies, I was merely playing at social enlightenment, confined to books and pages, not people and places. But, even if that were the case, that can’t be the whole of the story. As I moved along in my first week, and talked about what I had seen with my family and the people of my hometown parish, it became apparent that I wasn’t the only one in the dark. And I believe that these people, too, considered themselves to be attuned to systems of inequality, and dedicated to working to address them. And, while I’m no statistician (again, creative writing major, here), it strikes me that it can’t be simple coincidence that so many savvy folks haven’t heard much about the farmworkers’ fight for justice in western New York.

    What we have, I believe, is a problem of invisibility. It isn’t so much that the issue is easy to ignore (spoiler: it isn’t), but that it’s hard to see. My ignorance was quickly disposed of in the first few days as I toured the area, seeing the camps and fields for myself, first-hand. As I met with workers, shared meals with them, and listened to their frustrations, I began to get it. Their words I only understood in translation. But their passion, their expressions of sorrowful indignity, and, yet, at the same time, fervent hope, needed no interpretation. What I didn’t know quickly became what I did know. What I was ignorant of quickly became what I could no longer ignore.

    There’s still a lot I don’t know, and, every day, I learn a little more. But, while it’s easy to get caught up in the things I’ve learned which pain me, the injustice and the mistreatment, not all is destitution and squalor. There’s one more thing I didn’t know:

    I had no idea there are people, farmworkers and allies alike, who are working toward changing things, bettering things through hard work and perseverance.

    And that’s something I’m glad to know; something I didn’t know before.

    -gm


    1. I volunteered for the Bard Prison Initiative as a writing tutor in a local correctional facility. I also worked as a janitor for a local soup kitchen for a summer. This isn’t to brag, only to state that, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m of the “bleeding-heart” variety of liberalism. 

  • February 5, 2013 10:53 am

    So God made a farmworker

    Every year, another Super Bowl, and, with it, a slew of new ads. The ads have become an event in and of themselves in recent years. This year, there were trailers for the ads. Let me repeat that for emphasis. There were trailers for advertisement spots. Teasers, people. Released before the big game to get people excited about ads. Not teasers for feature-length movies, no—teasers for commercial spots varying in length from thirty seconds all the way up to two minutes.

    But, before this becomes a predictable “liberal spouts off against our capitalistic culture” post, let me set the record straight.

    I’m not much of a football fan. I watch the game, sure, but mostly to keep up to date with the cultural lexicon. Yeah, lexicon. I’m that nerd.

    But, like many Americans, I like the ads. I look forward to them. They usually disappoint, of course, but the Super Bowl is supposed to be that one time of year when the creative types on Madison Avenue step up their game and produce something more lasting that your typical ad campaign. Sure, there are always the crass and crude ones, which bludgeon our collective intelligences (I’m looking at you, GoDaddy), but then there are some ads that truly shine. Ads that almost transcend themselves as commercial entities. Ads that could almost pass for art.

    The artiest ad this year, and one of the most popular, was this one, entitled Farmers, from RAM:

    I imagine I’m not the only one who wondered what was being sold for the first thirty seconds or so. It takes 24 seconds for the first RAM truck to appear, and, even so, you don’t get a good look of the branding until much later. No, for the first minute and fifty seconds of this two minute ad, we are treated to a series of beautiful photographs of American farms and farmers while the late Paul Harvey is heard delivering an excerpted version of his “So God Made A Farmer” speech.

    The speech was originally delivered in 1978 to the Future Farmers of America, who partnered with RAM to produce this ad. Harvey disclaimed authorship, saying that the text came to him anonymously via mail, from, he said, “A farmer, perhaps; more likely a farmer’s wife.”

    I find the text itself to be incredibly lovely. Reading it over, especially the full, non-excerpted text, is an undeniable pleasure. The prose, folksy yet rhetorically punchy, makes the piece feel timeless.

    And that’s the temptation, when talking about farming in America. To assume that it is a timeless, unmoving institution which is comprised entirely of hardworking farmers and their families. This is a highly romanticized vision of the farming industry, especially in the way that RAM is presenting it. See, Harvey’s words may have been more accurate in 1978 than 2013. Farming probably was much simpler then. The rise of industrial agribusiness threatens the solvency, if not the very existence of the idyllic small-scale farmer which the ad extols.

    But, beyond this, there is something much more troubling about the ad, at least from my perspective. As an advocate for farmworkers and farmworkers’ rights, I’m troubled by the imagery presented here. I’m troubled by the uncompromising vision presented in the series of photographs, which heightens the role of the farmer to near demigod status, yet does not so much as mention the plight of the farmworker—the other half of the agribusiness equation. And, despite making up nearly half of the hired farmworker labor force, the ad features almost no Hispanics outside of a quick cut to what appears to be a mother and her teenage son, selling directly to the consumer at a farmer’s market.

    After watching the ad, I though to myself, if God says all of this about the farmer, what would he say about the farmworker?

    With apologies to Harvey, whom I hold a great deal of respect for, I present the following:

    And on the ninth day, God said, “Gee, there sure is a heck of a lot of work to be done. This farmer is going to need some help.” And so God made a farmworker.

    God said, “I need someone willing to get up before dawn, just the same as the farmer, who will work all day in the fields, picking apples or harvesting onions or whatever the crop may be, who won’t get a break for lunch or water or anything else till the work is done, and who will then go back to the camp and eat supper, meager though it may be, only to get up and do it all again, and for a fraction of what the farmer does it for.” So God made a farmworker.

    God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night, fearing that he might be taken by the authorities from his family at any moment. I need somebody who hopes the law will change, even if only a little, so that he and his family could have some basic security, and, with it, some basic dignity. And when that bill falls through, he’ll dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’ And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘no appropriate representation in the political sphere,’ put in another seventy-two hours, with no overtime to speak of.” So God made a farmworker.

    “Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, which, somehow, pull more strongly than the much harder and much stronger bonds of oppression, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life ‘something else—anything else.’”

    So—God made a farmworker.

    If you think the tone here sounds off, you’re right. It does. It would make for a pretty awful ad, truth to be told. It’s not exactly uplifting, is it? We don’t want to be believe that God would make the farmworker like this in the same way we want to believe that God made the farmer like Harvey so eloquently and poetically imagined for us.

    So, it begs the question:

    If God didn’t make the farmworker like this—

    Who did?

    -gm

  • February 5, 2013 10:02 am

    Witness

    Hello, and welcome to Witness, the blog of Rural & Migrant Ministry.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you came to it through some previous involvement in RMM.  Perhaps you came to it through our website, or perhaps you heard about it at one of our events.  For you, this blog will serve as a steady stream of updates on RMM, little narratives which surround the work that we do.  And narratives—stories—do surround the work that we do.  Just ask anyone who works for RMM how they came to the organization, or what about the work inspires them.  They’ll tell you.  Witness will be about collecting these kinds of stories and others, told from a variety of perspectives, and pushing them out for easy consumption.  We will focus on shorter-form stuff, but occasionally, if the topic necessitates it, we’ll dabble in something that might take upwards of ten minutes to read.  (Yikes!)

    So, why Witness?  Well, firstly, the idea is that, part of the work that RMM involves itself in is bringing light to the overlooked, the invisible.  Coming in contact with RMM makes these things visible, calling upon individuals, groups, and communities to look—to witness.  Witness will concern itself with capturing these moments, the a-ha’s (or, sometimes, the oh-no’s) that saturate the work we do.  Secondly, Witness also serves as a command to the reader.  As I hinted at earlier, this blog will probably, in the beginning, only attract folks who are already familiar with the cause.  But as we grow, as more and more voices join the chorus, the hope is to reach people who haven’t heard of us yet.  And, if the writing is good enough (we certainly can’t blame the topic if we fail to be engaging), the hope is to draw people into the fold, to encourage them to get involved and to provide us with their own stories, their own witness.

    My name is Grayson Morley, and I will be serving as an editor-in-chief of sorts.  I prefer to think of myself as curator-in-chief.  At any rate, today, I make this pledge, a pledge I hope all of our contributors will make:

    My name is Grayson Morley, and I will bear witness.

    -gm