The Call, Column 105 – Urban Farmers Belong in the **House**

16 12 2018

(December 16, 2018)

The Urban Farmer

Urban Farmers Belong in the **House**

With that title, you’re probably wondering what the heck I could possibly be getting at today. Well, I’m glad you asked. Today’s column is going to be pretty unique, because it will tie together many of the different things that we’ve talked about since we’ve been sharing this Sunday morning space.

One thing that many urban farmers – and full-scale farmers, and gardeners, and other woke folks – usually agree upon is the idea of an agrarian, distributed socio-economic system. This is a society where more of the production is in the hands of the population – people grow some of their own food, produce their own entertainment, know how to build things, etc. In this type of society, power is more distributed into the hands of the people because they aren’t reliant on a system of large corporations to provide the goods and services that keep them alive.

This idea of distribution – of food production, and energy generation, and political power – is fundamental to a functioning, sustainable economy. You can see this throughout history and around the world. When the population is more in tune with nature, and more connected to their community, and more engaged in their government, the society as a whole is more environmentally and economically sustainable.

In this type of society, the power of government is distributed more equitably into the hands of the people. Everyone has an obvious stake in how their community and government are run, and as a result, they take measures to ensure that their – and their neighbors’ – voices are heard by the people they elect to lead them. They work to ensure that power isn’t concentrated into too few hands, and they pay attention to the things done, said, and ignored by their representatives to make sure that they, the electorate, are being properly represented.

And that sort of brings us to the issue at hand. We have talked about so many state-level, urban-farming-related battles over the course of this column: GMO labeling, climate legislation, renewable energy implementation, the sanctity of water and other resources, the treatment of farm animals, and the environmental destruction caused by conventional agriculture…even here in Rhode Island.

These are all issues that urban farmers like us care about deeply and immensely. If you’re anything like me – and I would bet that you probably are – you have grand, very specific reasons why you are so inclined to grow, raise, and produce more of what you consume. You know that the corporations who would otherwise produce these things don’t care in the slightest about the damage they cause to the environment; they don’t bat an eye at the unnecessary suffering they inflict on animals; they would rather exploit finite resources and poor people in other countries than sacrifice profits; and they care more about short-term gain than maintaining a livable, equitable world for our children and grandchildren.

I know you know all of this. And it only stands to reason that you – like I – want the ability to be able to call on our government to address these problem in the best way possible. And you – like I – want our elected leaders to listen to these problems, and be willing and able to fight together with us to solve them. I know that you – like I – want everything possible to be done to ensure that our only world isn’t damaged beyond the point of repair because of bureaucracy and simple lack of collective action.

What if I told you that, right now, there is a huge problem, preventing any of these issues from being solved in Rhode Island? What if I told you that many of your elected officials want to try to solve these problems, but that too many members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives have given away their power to a single person…a person who doesn’t care about sustainability, equity, and a livable planet? What if I told you that something as simple and popular and bipartisan as a GMO labelling bill or a law banning battery cages for farmed hens will not pass in Rhode Island because a single person doesn’t agree (or his rich friends have told him not to let it pass)? Would you believe me?

This is the current state of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. If you’ve often found yourself wondering why Rhode Island isn’t a more sustainable, local-agriculture-friendly, climate-leading place, despite a huge part of our population and even many of our elected officials caring about these things…you now have your reason. Our state government is not one of distributed power, but one of concentrated power…and the owner of that power doesn’t care about any of the things that we do.

The position of Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives is meant to serve as a simple chairperson for the chamber, presiding over discussion and making sure that every Representative knows how to work on legislation. Unfortunately, the House Rules that are currently in place give the Speaker an enormous amount of control, making the Speaker largely the most powerful person in state government, even more powerful than the Governor. The Speaker appoints and removes the chairperson of each House Committee (who in turn do whatever the Speaker says in order to keep their positions). The Speaker decides which bills get brought to a vote. And the Speaker uses the powers afforded to his office to prevent legislation that he doesn’t like from even being submitted.

This has been a problem for a while in Rhode Island, but the Representative currently occupying the role of the Speaker of the House (Nicholas Mattiello) is infamous for his high-level abuses of his power. He retaliates against legislators who oppose him by nixing their bills and kicking them off of committees. He uses his own discretion to decide what bills he wants passed, and stops important legislation from getting passed, even when it has majority support. His abuse of power silences basically every other legislator in the House, giving one person complete control over half of the state’s legislative body and making your Representatives unable to adequately represent you and your values.

If you’ve ever wondered why Rhode Island state government works so badly, the Speaker of the House and the House Rules which afford him so much power are the reason. If you’ve ever wondered why popular, sustainability-related bills, like GMO labeling, climate legislation, renewable energy investments, and a ban on battery cages cannot get passed…it’s because the Speaker of the House doesn’t care about the environment, and your Representatives cannot act in your interests without retribution from him.

But there is hope. There is a movement building. A large number of Representatives from around the state have risen up against this tyranny, and united in favor of simple changes to the House Rules which would make the Speaker not much more powerful than any other Representative. These changes would allow the types of collective action that we all know we need to take in order to guarantee a sustainable future. These simple House Rules Reforms would make our government work for us and Our World instead of the Speaker’s wealthy friends.

We urban farmers know how much work we need to do to preserve our environment and build a sustainable future. We do whatever can in our own homes, by growing and raising food and producing other things instead of buying them. Well, here’s a simple thing we can all do to ensure this work is done on a community-level: call your State Representatives in the General Assembly (you can find them here or email me) and tell them to support House Rules Reforms. This one change to our state government is within reach, and would open the door for the creation of a sustainable, livable future for Rhode Island and beyond.

My column appears every other Sunday in The Woonsocket Call (also in areas where The Pawtucket Times is available). The above article is the property of The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times, and is reprinted here with permission from these publications. These are excellent newspapers, covering important local news topics with voices out of our own communities, and skillfully addressing statewide and national news. Click these links to subscribe to The Woonsocket Call or to The Pawtucket Times. To subscribe to the online editions, click here for The Call and here for The Times. They can also be found on Twitter, @WoonsocketCall and @Pawtuckettimes.




One response

17 12 2018

Right On!

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