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Naomi Chappell of El Campo at Farm Congress meeting. 0 I->. Jo O 0 a. largest meeting so far in Luera’s South Texas region. Al Kutac wants to know why Willie Nelson is interested in farmers. “Why did he come in for the farmer? He’s not a farmer is he, or is he? Does he come from a farm, or what is his background?” “As far as I can tell, he was born on a farm out there near Abbott, Texas,” says Luera, “and that’s basically where he’s at. I have no idea sir. I don’t know why he did that.” “I mean there is a lot of talk on the street,” Kutac presses. “People asking well what is Willie getting out of this thing. You know. That’s something that needs to be answered. Nobody is going to do it for nothing, surely. And. I mean it kind of leaves a sour taste in the people that are not involved in the Farm Aid, saying here’s Willie trying to do something for the farmer when he don’t know a hill of beans about farming.” Luera is pacing. “Well, as far as I can tell,” says Luera, “the man has already made it. He’s very rich. He threw one concert, free, and he called it Farm Aid. A lot of people showed up, and they made a bundle of money. They set it up in a government protected foundation, and they are spending it. East Dallas Printing Company Full Service Union Printing 211 S. Peak Dallas, Tx 75226 8 SEPTEMBER 12, 1986 Uh, I don’t think he’s getting anything out of it. If he is. . . .” “Well,`personally I felt real bad about him when I read about in the paper the way the money was dispersed. I’m sure everybody read about it, but it kinda hurt me when the paper wrote I read in the paper where they were feeding hungry farmers.” “Uh-huh.” “Well, I don’t think that’s right. If you’re living on a farm you shouldn’t be hungry. Am I right?” “That’s right, but we’re dealing with broke farmers.” After more discussion, Kutac says Farm Aid needs to educate the public, the 97 percent of the population that does not farm. “One of the reasons we are here is to do that, sir,” explains Luera. Luera usually begins a meeting by explaining how the St. Louis congress is designed to attract the attention of the nation through the news networks. He quickly runs through his stock speech and manages to keep the meeting afloat. Two hours later, Kutac and his wife Martha will be selected, along with Fred Vacek, to represent El Campo. Kutac declares with conviction that the Farm Aid congress is one of the best things that could happen to agriculture. HOW DOES ONE sum up and assess these hours of freewheeling discussion? What can be said about the Farm Aid United Farmers and Ranchers Congress? In late August it looked like a fragile and risky business. These caucuses did not capture the attention of the media, the nation, or the nation’s politicians. They have attracted responsible farmers, and they have allowed the farmers to air their grievances. The program shows itself to be a good-faith effort to bring farmers together on their own terms. As the process moves toward St. Louis, the outstanding factor is the short period in which the organizers will have to bring things together. Media attention focused on St. Louis will not be patient or sympathetic. If the networks are invited, they will expect a tightly packaged message. Bringing the enormous concerns of the farmers into focus will be a challenge. Making it look like the farmers did it themselves will be more difficult still. At each of the three caucuses sampled for this report, there was a longing to clear the slate and start over The farmer is entangled in too many political bungles to feel secure about any simple solutions. Yet there was a consensus in favor of mandatory controls of supply and increased regulation of import competition. If St. Louis can convey this consensus, there will be reason for hope. But a sympathetic reporter need only think back to the Austin press conference announcing the congress to get a glimpse of things to come. Because the Farm Bureau wasn’t represented, some members of the media were already questioning the credibility of the congress. As Luera observed in a brief conversation after the Hempstead meeting, there is a consensus among those who are attending the caucuses, but what about all those who didn’t come? What power will be given to opponents of the farm congress on behalf of those who didn’t care enough to attend its local caucuses? The morning after the Victoria meeting, George Smajstrla was invited by the Victoria television station to do an interview. In a telephone conversation with the Observer, Smajstrla began recounting the frustrations of today’s farmers. The list got longer and longer, the outlook more bleak. Once these conversations get started, it is difficult to keep track of the main points. Noting that television editing is especially selective, Smajstrla worried that the television station would pick the wrong things to emphasize. He remembered that the main points of past interviews have usually been lost to the outtakes. “They don’t bring out the things that I would like to bring out,” said Smajstrla. With those words he articulated the enormous risk of St. Louis. Yet the alternative to do nothing while current policy continues to wreck family farms makes the risk worthwhile. And for those who want farm policies authorized by the Farm Bureau, I can only recommend the assessment of a farmer who set me straight four years ago. “My gawd, son,” he said, “that’s not a farm organization.”