In this edition of The Bridge, we will assert a view from the people. We’re going to focus on the conversations happening outside of the cable news anchor’s teleprompter. The mainstream, American discourse of today, regardless of topic, is immersed in sensationalism, and encouraged to be divisive. Regardless of importance, any topic outside the realm of hyperbole is often relegated to the fringes of peripheral discussion. There are plenty of issues requiring robust debate, partisan cooperation, along with civic involvement and education, that due to lack of “sexiness” or “clickbait-worthy-ness” aren’t gifted adequate coverage, despite their noteworthiness. Our current ethos discourages in-depth objective inquiry, which is pertinent for true comprehension of our most pressing issues. One may feel pressure to chose one side of the metaphorical aisle and blindly accept all aspects of that platform.
As the first generation raised in a technologically-revolutionized world, millennials are well situated to influence the way Americans consume information, along with challenging the media norms that prioritize content exposure. Ironically, the outskirts are where most average Americans dwell. Our underrepresentation within mainstream media isn’t a reflection of unimportance, but rather a financial decision that prioritizes profits over integrity. While personas, provocateurs, and pundits crowd up the airways, honest dialogue and genuine disagreements at thegrassroots level persist, and their outcomes constantly influence American society and politics through the creation of new possibilities. Honoring these dialogues create progress in this time of seemingly entrenched culture wars.
In this Edition, we want to refocus the conversation from the perspective of us on the ground. We want to highlight the intercommunal discussions we find ourselves having daily. What disagreements we have within our social circles. Which issues connect all of us, and therefore, we should all have a say. Instead of being told what to talk about, we are using this edition to tell you what we’re discussing. We should always remember, that possibilities can be generated from the ground up. We do not have to sit and wait for the conversation to come to us, we have the capability to let our voices be heard.
“I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. It’s not simply a matter of faith, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give hope, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only possibility. Which (despite all those confident statements that “history shows …” and “history proves …”) is all history can offer us.” - Howard Zinn
We Still Read Beauvior
Its early February 2018 and I find myself pushing papers in the south-west quadrant of DC. My boss calls for me to come into her office.
“Work in here for a bit,” she motions for me to sit on the other side of her desk piled high with papers and trinkets from her travels. “I want to talk to you about politics.”
I cleared off an eleven by eight-inch patch of a desk to work on, heaved a 4-inch binder onto the table, and began hole-punching documents to add to the file.
“You know, I was listening to an interview on the radio this morning about the Women’s March,” she began. On January 20th, there were Women’s Marches in different locations around the country, including DC, escalating to the main event with the biggest social entrepreneurs of the march in Las Vegas on the 21st. The theme of this year’s march was “Power to the Polls” to prepare for the 2018 midterms.
She continued, “they said it wasn’t effective this year. What do you think about that?”
“I can agree with certain aspects of that point of view,” I said.
“And why do you say that?” she asked.
“The rally was four hours long, and about half of the speakers were men! If you are going to have an empowerment march for women, the speakers should be women. They had Tim Kaine speak, I couldn’t believe it. He is not a pro-choice politician and he was met with the greatest applause of anyone! At the Women’s March!”
“I did not go,” she stated “There are too many voices trying to state their opinion and not enough coming together”
“Well, I think that’s almost a necessary feature of the fourth wave of feminism”. I said, “It’s no longer acceptable that you see the oppression of one group of people, like women, but not another type of oppression, based on race or sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“I just think everyone’s voice would be so much more powerful if we were all trying to open the same door, not all trying to open different doors,” she reflected. “We need to be coming together not pointing out all of our differences.”
“Yeah, but that just won’t have the outcome of equality. If we come together as one voice, that only advocates for one identity: the white, straight, wealthy woman,” I pointed out.
“I am a feminist, but I can’t keep up with all the new theories. I was a part of the second wave of feminism in the 70s, we read Simone de Beauvoir,” she concluded.
“We still read Beauvoir” I smiled, then walked out to get more coffee.
I am part of what someone might call the Tesla activist (what was the Prius activists of 2010). We drive electric cars, even electric bikes, pay for books and lecture series, documentaries and Coexist bumper stickers. We are rarely the type to be forced into activism for our own protection, it is generally the result of a liberal education in women’s studies, international development or environmental policy. The issue is, not unlike those forced to fight, we adopt our cause based on what most closely reflects our individual identities and personal experiences, instead of how severe the problem is. What I would call, ego-progressivism.
We are the people with the money and work-life balance needed to volunteer and to organize, and we may be partly to blame for the constant fracturing of the left and its message. We’ve seemed to become so predictable in our “mass movements” that the opposition power structure just simply waits us out until we tear ourselves apart. It used to be that they would demonize our leaders, call them communists or something. Now the media just depicts to the world the left as an unstructured mess, reporting we don't have a concrete objective when in reality the media doesn’t feel like listening to our lengthyintellectual blabber.
It is true that the battles are getting more complex and nuanced. With abackwardsystemic social and economic structure and the sheer number of problems to tackle, it'snot hard to see how overwhelming being engaged and involved can be. But we aren’t doing ourselves, or the world, any favors when we continue to divide ourselves, our efforts and our money.
Referring to my last piece, while we don't have Koch money, it's not to say money isn't there. Millions of dollars poured into election campaigns only to disappear into the landfills and internet. We do the same thing outside of elections too. There are hundreds of groups dedicated to fighting climate change, even more for anti-war. Each needing hundreds of man hours for website maintenance, rent, tables, flyers, working supplies. How do we create the social structure we want the world to follow, one of sharing, caring and equity, if we can’t do it among the most dedicated of us? Without the money and the power, how do we build a movement that lasts, that is collaborative, that addresses more than one issue at a time? Because we don’t get those man hours back, and when we don’t have Koch money, we can’t afford to be reinventing the website every time someone wants to start making a difference in the world.
To make the money point, Susan G. Komen for the Cure raised $118 million dollars in 2015. The average breast cancer treatment can cost $15,000 - $50,000 dollars. Without putting any money towards research for new treatments, that $118M helps about 7,000 people. Comparatively, the UN estimates that $30B a year would end world hunger (just 4% of what the US spends on Defense). With 795 million people in hunger (chronic undernourishment) in 2017, for the same $118M, could erase hunger for 3.1 million people. Should we be spending millions to save thousands or thousands to save millions?
On the people side, as someone attempting to be involved in more than one thing, I am often, double or triple booked. And this stress, rightfully so, forces humans to choose what they care about most. Climate activists, LGBTQ rights activist, Police Brutality Activists, each of us retreating into our own silos. While often people understand how these issues overlap, the choice of what to be apart of is very often personal and less often, the problem that creates the most suffering in the world, the heart of the beast of evil.
When I’ve been to city council meetings, there are 5 people each from one of 2 or 3 organizations working on that night’s subject matter. In a city of 1 million people, those numbers are not too powerful, especially when the groups' messages are not coordinated. I may have never heard of the other two groups involved yet, upon introduction, I’m always invited to their next meeting. Where is the conversation about merging our groups, working together, and most importantly merging our demands? It just doesn’t seem to be what is happening in these circles. The discussion of intersectionality has been growing over the last few years. But I find that the demands of the left haven’t followed suit just quite yet. Climate activists sign petitions for anti-war policy in solidarity and in return anti-war activists call their representative for climate legislation. Is there legislation, policy, or action that is actually intersectional and not just barely staying afloat by massive amounts of hard work from a few very dedicated people, while the rest of us are busy working on our own issue? It's not an easy question to answer but without it, we will constantly be finding ourselves fighting battles on way more fronts than we have the time or money to handle.
In a system where food goes uneaten and people go hungry, homes stay empty and people stay homeless, teachers go jobless and students go without school. Something is limiting our capacity as humans to fill what we call our basic human rights and there have to be a few common threads.
The Detriment of Distraction
One under-covered issue that holds enormous consequentiality, both domestically and abroad, is topsoil degradation. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, yet not many people have heard about it, and even fewer are talking about it. The severity of this issue cannot be understated. The UN’s FAO suggests that it takes roughly 1,000 years to create three centimeters of topsoil, and at this pace, we will deplete all global topsoil in 60 years! A myriad of crucial issues intersects with the use and treatment of topsoil. Water, food, trade, pollution, politics, and policy all in one way or another involve topsoil. It is inexcusable that so little coverage has been allotted to this looming crisis, and it deserves a meaningful national and international discussion in the same way we see being had on topics of global warming and overpopulation. Fortunately, no other generation has been more equipped to ignore our media’s schismatic hysteria than ours, and in doing so we can focus attention on how to prevent a global calamity.
The first part of Merriam-Webster’s definition of topsoil states, “surface soil usually including the organic layer in which plants have most of their roots”. This probably seems pretty straightforward, but the second part of the definition reveals a troubling truth about how we treat and perceive this delicate life source, “and which the farmer turns over in plowing.” The two most detrimental practices responsible for the intensification of topsoil degradation are over tilling, and the excessive use of fertilizers. Plants’ nutrients reside in the soil it inhibits, which contributes to overall nutrition of the food we eat, but its role in the global ecosystem is more profound. As we enter further into a period of continual water scarcity new techniques for efficient water usage will become part of everyday life, that includes agriculture. The fibrous makeup of topsoil allows for greater water retention than degraded soil. Finally, strong topsoil keeps carbon in the ground, feeding beneficial microbes, and prevents carbon from escaping into the atmosphere where it would become CO2, increasing overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Our society’s relationship with food is starting to come full circle, with the millennials coming to age during this agricultural renaissance. Younger Americans are more aware of issues related to sustainability. Multiple venues host opportunities to access the conversation around sustainable agriculture from taking a college course, volunteering on an organic farm, joining a CSA, to eating at a trendy farm to table restaurants. Each serves as a vector for increasing the education around food systems. The rise in popularity of food-related documentaries, cooking at home, and celebrity chefs all point to an increased curiosity and commitment to the conversation. The important first step in reversing decades of industrial farming is raising awareness among the general public.Every time we attend a farmers market, or plant basil outside our urban apartment window, we are reverting back to abandoned cultural practices that connect us to our environment and food, and thus soil too.
Having a broad understanding of the tenets behind sustainability has enabled us to see that an underlying theme behind the challenges we have inherited is the consistent prioritizing of short-term gains at the expense of long-term stability. Issues resulting from industrial farming are no doubt complex, but to simply chalk topsoil degradation up as a necessary trade-off would ignore the severity of the situation, and perpetuate the shortsightedness of past decades’ policies. This September the Farm Bill will expire, and the Trump administration along with Congress will reauthorize the legislation. On the federal level, the Farm Bill is the most consequential legislation pertaining to America’s agricultural sector. Supporting farmers to regenerate their soil without using chemical fertilizers, expanding cover crop insurance in order to prevent erosion and decrease carbon emissions, and incentivizing crop diversification via subsidies are all attainable via the Farm Bill.
The staggering reality is that current topsoil is being lost faster than it can be revitalized. Unfortunately, this is coinciding with the necessity for greater food production, with lessarable land, in order to support the world's population growth. This crisis is too large and complex to expect farmers, who are already under financial strains, to solve on their own. We have already accepted the challenge of educating ourselves and altering lifestyles in order to adapt to foreseeable changes that an agricultural overhaul will undoubtedly bring. Our generation must continue to lead this conversation in order to create possibilities. The absence of topsoil degradation in our national moment suggests a foundational whole in how we prioritize content coverage. Raising awareness around this issue has the potential to influence which topics we choose to discuss in the future. If something as simple and omnipresent as dirt is at the center of an unspoken global crisis, it begs the question, What else are we distracted from discussing?