Family farm groups from Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri are gathering in Des Moines on Saturday, April 29, to celebrate the 90th birthday of our friend, country music legend Willie Nelson. We’re honoring Willie for his long history and deep commitment to economic justice for farmers, opposition to factory farms, and support for grassroots democracy and a clean environment in rural America.
Willie is serious about his role in the family farm movement. As co-founder and President of Farm Aid for almost four decades, Willie has done more to elevate family farm issues and oppose industrial livestock factories than almost anyone. He has shown up many times for us here at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), as well as for other rural groups from all across the country.
I think back to 1997 when Willie came to Clive and helped lead a large protest against the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the factory farms they represent. Iowa CCI and other members of the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment organized the protest to expose NPPC’s close ties to corporate meatpackers and political agenda driving family farmers out of the hog business.
Willie showed up for us in Clive after receiving an invitation letter from Iowa CCI member Alice Ginter. I can still see Willie firing up the crowd, chanting “Family Farms, Yes! Factory Farms, No!”
Willie stayed in that fight, meeting with family farmers to check in and hear about our organizing over the next few years while he was on tour. Willie and Farm Aid helped to fund our campaign to terminate the mandatory pork checkoff and end the NPPC’s gravy train.
Though the pork checkoff continues to operate due to a court decision, we did successfully win a national vote of hog farmers calling for an end to the pork checkoff with Willie’s help.
Unlike many celebrities, Willie is both a leader and participant in the organizing efforts he supports. He knows that showing up is a necessary first step, and when all eyes are on him he knows when to pass the mic and listen.
By hearing directly from farmers struggling against the corporate takeover of agriculture, Willie and Farm Aid are able to take those stories and deliver desperately needed assistance. Willie shows up, rallies the people, and makes space for local grassroots leaders making change happen in their communities.
We’ll be honoring Willie with a family farm meal, showing video clips of Willie in action, and playing dozens of Willie’s hits. But we’re really throwing this party to thank Willie and Farm Aid for all that they’ve done to support those of us fighting for progressive change in Farm Country. We raise our glasses of Whiskey River to you, Willie. Thanks for having our backs, and we’ll see you On the Road Again.
by Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has been fighting to put people first for over 45 years. Follow them on Twitter at @iowacci.