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or expected to be there. Farming ought to be a good business, but it doesn’t take many consecutive losing years for it to dawn on farmers that the American dream isn’t quite working out for them and their neighbors. They go to the grocery store, just like everyone else, and they see that somebody is making plenty of money on food at the same time that farmers are investing more, expanding their operations, getting more efficient, producing larger crops than everand losing money. It gives one pause, and even after Kip recites his argument that farming has to become profitable for people like him, he adds: “Of course, I’m sure they’ll screw us some way.” “They” are what gave rise to AAM and holds it together. Depending on which AAM members you talk to, “they” are the Trilateral Commission, a conclave of international bankers and big businessmen, headed by David Rockefeller of the Chase Manhattan Bank; national food processors, supermarket chains, and international commodity traders, who depress farm prices by monopoly purchasing practices and speculative buying on the commodities futures market; farm supply manufacturers who have relentlessly jacked up costs; and ivory-tower economists who have stolen the ear of government from farmers and dominate the making of farm policy. Not only do AAM members feel put upon by such remote and impersonal forces but, worse yet, they feel betrayedthe political system they had always quietly supported has not responded to their pleas: Jimmy Carter, whom they backed in ’76, now appears to have sold them out to international monetary interests and an inflation-fighting program that puts a discriminatory burden on farmers; state politicians have turned out to be only so much hot air; and an urban-dominated Congress doesn’t seem able to tell a pig from parity. It became apparent to many farmers that if anything was to be done, they’d have to take direct action themselvesa conclusion reached simultaneously by farmers on the Texas High Plains, in Colorado, in Georgia, and other regions where the farm economy is depressed. Activist sentiment spread rapidly through 1977 in something of a grassroots phenomenon: a middle-class rebellion catching up people like Kip and Janet. Kip says he has never been a joiner. He couldn’t even manage to stay in the Cub Scouts and fought with his football coach for four years. Now he’s the AAM president in Navarro County, he’s been to Austin and Washington for demonstrations, and was among those thrown in the McAllen jail last spring. “At first, I could not accept the fact that six or seven farmers in Colorado were sitting around and decided to start the American Agriculture Movement,” he remembers. “I thought there was some other organization behind it, such as, not really the communists, but that type of thinking, that there was something other than it appeared to be.” Kip recalls that he became convinced of the need for AAM when he tagged along with a group of area farmers for a tractor rally at a local fertilizer plant owned by Nipak, Inc., a subsidiary of Enserch Corporation of Dallas. The understanding was that the farmers were to receive a statement of support from the firm’s management, but instead the manager came out and told them in no uncertain terms to get off company property. That made Kip as mad as the rest of them, and he’s been with AAM ever since that day, when they circled their tractors and blockaded the plant. The farmers support each other. The Massey-Ferguson that Kip drove to Washington is the product of a team effortthe tractor belongs to Clayton Cartlidge of Kerens, a new set of tires was donated by Charles Kent of Powell, and several Navarro County farmers put up $3,100 to help Kip and the others make it to Washington. Then there has been good support from sympathizers along the waypeople in Monroe, Louisiana, put on a big fish-fry for the travelers; Kip and some others got to stay overnight in the Mississippi governor’s mansion when they passed through there; the 500,000 members of the Missouri AFL-CIO sponsored a tractor from their state; and all along the route, local people lined the overpasses with signs of support when the tractorcade came through. It’s the grassroots aspect of AAM that appeals to Kip. When he goes to lobby or to demonstrate, he knows who he is going to be with, and that’s a confidence builder”I know these people are farmers, and we’re all working for the same thing. They’re not working for a salary [like the hired lobbyists of the agribusiness groups]. In other words, if we don’t get what we’re working for, we don’t get paid come next year. These $50,000 executives with Cotton, Inc., and the Farm Bureau, by God they get their check at the end of the month whether they get what they went after or not.” Now Kip is in Washington again, looking for some answers, or at least some hope. He has no intention of sliding so deeply in debt that he can’t get out. Some farmers have done that, borrowing on their land or other assets again and again until they are trapped, unable even to quit farming. Kip doesn’t want to wake up in the morning knowing he has accumulated $100,000 in debts over five or ten years. “If I lose ten this year and lose ten next year, that’s $20,000. Well, I know I can get a job for $20,000 a year. I could pay off what I owed in a few years. I could still pay it off and get out. If I can’t make money at it and all I’ll be doing is going into debt, well I’ll just quit.” Two years, he says. Two more years he’ll give himself to see if there’s some real improvement in the situation, some indication he can make a go of it. He got a real lift from Barbara Jordan last year in Washington. “She told us at that time that the only way we were going to get them to listen is a show of force. She told us, ‘You probably won’t get what you want, but you’ll get something.’ To me, she was telling me that you’re not going to get to make $40,000 a year on the farm, but you might get to make $20,000.” So the show of force is on. If nothing else . . . “We’re bound to be getting into their hair, because every time they turn around, there’s somebody speaking for the farmer.” A long-time Observer contributor, John Spragens is a reporter and photographer for the Corsicana Daily Sun. Phil Vinson THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9