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To Build a Progressive Populism, Look to Farm Country

Political strategists could learn much from the work of farm communities who have fought racism and corporate control.Scapegoating leaves us at a standstill. It also ignores a rich history: In the 1980s, when rural life was rapidly becoming as bleak as it is today, a perfect storm of politics and economics hit middle America, in the form of the farm crisis. In response, white Midwestern farmers emerged at the forefront of resistance to the prevailing government agenda of privatization and deregulation, fighting white supremacist groups, and partnering with labor unions and Black politicians.Instead of demonizing the descendants of that rural-populist uprising, we need to ask: How did that happen and how can it happen again?Over 500 farms a week were lost through the ‘80s; the properties were sold to larger operations and families were forced to move from land they had farmed for generations. Without the engine of farm sales, Main Street businesses, farm-implement factories, schools, churches, and eventually whole towns dried up. Promised economic efficiency became on-the-ground desolation. Mental health advocates at the time suggested that farm loss was so emotionally and financially significant that it traumatized not only individual families, but entire rural communities, leaving swathes of the country with chronic long-term stress and depression.

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