RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Know Details When Working the Polls

When I started this column, it was after much of a day of standing, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a sign and brochures, at the polling place in the City of Fulton, Mo. So I’m full of advice about how to handle your vigil when it’s your turn, which will be, I hope, in November. Because, as you’ve heard over and over by now, November’s elections will change (or not change) everything. The midterns could make or break the presidency, depending on how many lawmakers have to move in or out of their offices in Washington.

OK. So here’s my advice: Be prepared. In other words, dear laborer in the field, wear a hat and take plenty of water. Umbrella in the car. Snacks. Sunscreen. Bug spray.

It may be cool in the morning, maybe even dark, then 90 degrees for part of the day, and then there may be a cloudburst. For my August vigil, it was cool in the early morning, hot most of the day with a cooling breeze in the evening. Since I spend many days in the farm field, I was OK with the heat and I loved the breeze.

Next of all, your corporal health taken care of, take a tape measure. In Missouri, we’re supposed to stand 25 feet from the door when we’re “electioneering.” I was kicked off my spot even though I had paced off a solid 30 feet. I came back from my lunch break with a tape measure to show it for sure. Much more persuasive.

Finally — and it may sound like this should have been first on the list, but here it is: Know your issues. And have your arguments in writing. I had a sign that said, “Vote No on Amendment One” and some brochures with the best persuasive the brochure writers could think of. All the major newspapers had come out against it and all the money going into it came from Monsanto, Cargill, the Farm Bureau, and the commodity groups. What more do you need to know? Believe it or not, people wanted to know what Amendment One said. I didn’t have a copy, and I knew the issue well but I was winging it. For one thing, Missouri law is complicated when it comes to foreign ownership of land. It turns out that foreign corporations can buy farmland ...

And, to make things more difficult, Americans don’t know what a citizen is. The ballot said, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”

Pretty obvious, right? Who wouldn’t want to let citizens practice farming? But the actual constitutional amendment would say, “To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.”

See the differences? First of all, the amendment wouldn’t use the word “citizens,” which admittedly may mean corporations, foreign governments, anyone that could call themselves farmer or rancher. How many lawsuits can you think of in that one sentence? It’s a lawyer’s dream come true.

Second of all ... what’s that Article VI about?

It turns out that Article VI has to do with classification of counties — are they first class, second? That depends on the population and other characteristics. Only a few counties would be able to regulate farming under Article VI — the counties surrounding St. Louis and Kansas City.

OK. So you need to have your issues down pat and you need to have an “elevator speech” on them. I was asked over and over how just a few words in the constitution — an amendment of 65 words including all the ifs ands and buts — could make such a difference to family farms.

Finally, there are a few questions that you’ll hear over and over. The weirdest, to me, was, “Who’s paying you to stand in this heat?” I heard that twice before I figured it out. It meant, in Missouri-speak, “what out-of-state meddler is coming in here and trying to control our government? Missouri is, you understand, still suffering from the Civil War.

The question turned out to be a generational thing. If they were thirty-somethings, they thought that I was paid off by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Missouri’s all-purpose bogeyman of the new millennium. HSUS, you see, put money in the fight against Amendment One and HSUS, a California NGO, won a fight over puppy mills in the state.

If the questioners were in their 40s, 50s or 60s, they were thinking I was paid by the Sierra Club, the bogeyman of the 1990s. If they were in their 70s, well, they were probably thinking the Viet Cong had me on their payroll.

I’m trying to think of a great answer to the “who’s paying you to stand here?” question but so far all I can say is, “some things are too important for money ...”

And I hope you feel that way, too. And, oh yeah, don’t forget to smile!

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2014

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