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summer. Much of its fervor and leadership has come from Texas, which now has 131 local strike offices, with more being organized. The fed-up farmers rallied to a battle cry of “Parity Now,” which prompted a Dallas organization to award AAM its “Bonehead of the Year” award, since the vast majority of Americansincluding 99 percent of the politicianshave no idea what “parity” isone striking farmer told the Observer that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Reagan Brown seems to think parity is a town somewhere north of Abilene. Essentially, parity is the price that a bushel of wheat or some other farm commodity should bring today if farmers are to have the same buying power that their predecessors had between 1910 and 1914. The current parity index shows farmers doing only 65 percent as well as farmers did in the base period. What the term really comes down to in the farmers’ minds is simple economic fairnessthey work long hard hours, exploit their families’ labor, compete aggressively with each other, are efficient and productive. Yet they are not prospering as their forebears did at the turn of the century, and their standard of living is below what many other Americans enjoy. So thousands of farmers said they were going to take a walk in 1978 unless Congress amended the 1977 Farm Bill to assure them prices that would bring in 100 percent of parity. Dec. 14 was set as the deadline for congressional action. The 14th came and went without a legislative response, so AAM officially struck, claiming that farmers would cut back sharply on 1978 plantings, curtail purchases of farm supplies and equipment, and spend their time and money dramatizing their condition. The subsequent rallies and demonstrations have captured the attention of the public and won wide support for the farmers’ cause, though the country’s establishment has frowned on it from the start; Fortune magazine termed AAM “a loser”; the arch-conservative Texas Farm Bureau Federation condemned the very notion of a strike; Jimmy Carter called the 100 percent parity goal a budget buster; Earl Butz came out of retirement to ridicule the strike effort; and even some of the country’s progressive organizations dismissed the strikers as just so many wealthy farmers on parade. Agrarian reformers But these nay-sayers misinterpret AAM’s nature. In the first place, at least in Texas, it is a movement led by cold-sober activists, not just a group of sunshine protesters. Those up front in AAM identify more with the old-time agrarian reformer than with the American Gothic stereotype. Freddy Lundgren, a 29year-old Travis County grain farmer who works in AAM’s four-state regional office in Austin, talks of his activist roots: “My grandfather came to this country before 1900 and he ran the John Deere finance people off his land during the Depression years. In 1933, John Deere came out to pick up his equipment because the dealer in Taylor went into receivership, and my grandfather ran them off with a gun. And I think you’re seeing that same type of militancy develop in my age group now. My grandfather saw in his day and time his future being taken from him by money manipulation and by corrupt and inept governmental action, and I think the same thing is happening now.” The movement is far better focused than the circling tractors make it appear. AAM has a sensible program for the immediate future; it supports an aggressive organizing staff and maintains a farmer-lobbying contingent in Washington that is winning the grudging admiration of officials there. AAM’s structure is sound and purposefulit is decentralized and burdened with a minimum of hierarchy and no titles for its leaders. A weekly newspaper, published by Micki and Alden Nellis in Iredell, Texas, has just been launched to get the latest word out to Texas strikers. \(Of the tabloid’s $10 annual subscription price, $3 goes to the publishers, $3 is kept at the subscriber’s local AAM office, $2 is tithed to the movement’s state office, and the other $2 A middle -class revolt What are we to make of all this? First, AAM is going to be more effective than most people ever expected. Even conservative politicians have been forced to treat the movement with respect, and Congress almost certainly will respond this year with special legislation to grant some price relief for farmers. And there can be no doubt that AAM is the most important and energetic citizens’ uprising to come rumbling out of the hinterlands in years, at least comparable in its intensity to the Poor Pepple’s March to Washington in 1968 and to the emergence in the late 1950s of the National Farmer’s Organization. “Number one,” said Lundgren, when asked to assess AAM’s achievements, “we have proved that we can get the message out, that we can show the world that our problems are real, that we exist and you’re going to have to contend with us.” All political observers should take note of AAM, whether you care one way or the other about farm parity. For the most part, the farm strike is the middle class in revolt, pointing a collective finger at the American economic system. Truism: there can be no mass movement without the masses, but today’s masses consider themselves middle classfarmers, teachers, union members and the like. Advocates of progressive causes often wring their hands in despair of getting such people activated and involved in their issues, yet this time the middle class is leading the charge, and it is the progressives that are holding back. Whether AAM can keep up the pace for the long haul is questionable. Farmers still are independent-minded sorts and naturally inclined to seed any available plot as soon as the weather is right, so it won’t be easy to produce a substantial cutback in this year’s planting, as the movement intends. At the same time, AAM’s very success could be its doomthe cutback and legislative success could result in enough of a commodity price hike to satisfy farmers, effectively buying them off. But maybe this time will be differentmaybe success will not spoil the movement. Freddy Lundgren: “What happens when we get a parity program, which we will? What happens if we just sit back on our duff? Why, the same thing is going to happen right over again. We’ve got to keep fighting them. I’m not going to stop, and I don’t know of anybody who says they’re going to stop.” J.H. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3