Bernie beat Hillary by double digits in the Wisconsin presidential primary. I want to look at the 18 counties, most of which are rural, that make up the 4th Congressional district in the western part of the state. Bernie won every single one of them but what I want to compare is Bernie's vote and Trump's vote in each county
Bernie won the district that day, more votes than Hillary and more votes than Trump. Bernie didn't just beat Trump in the least rural counties, he also beat him in some of the most rural counties like Richland, Crawford and Vernon. Obama had won the district but Trump beat both Hillary and Biden. Why? You may have heard the CNN report on Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) criticizing the Democratic Party for ignoring rural voters. Bernie, whose own state is the most rural state in the country, certainly didn't. His appeal to rural voters was very appreciated, which is why he did so well in areas like western Wisconsin. Tester, an organic wheat farmer: "I honestly don't think the Democratic Party can be a majority party unless we start appealing to Middle America a lot more. I'm talking about the area between the two mountain ranges, the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. And if we're able to do that, I think it will provide success."
"It's toxic. The national Democratic brand in, I think in rural America generally, is toxic, and it's because, quite frankly, we don't show up," he said when asked how his Montana neighbors view the Democratic Party. "I'm talking about national Democrats. We're not willing to go places we're not wanted and answer questions."
He continued, "I think it's critically important if you're going to win, you've got to go to those places, as miserable as it might be, you still go. You still contact the people, and you still let people know that you're a human being and you have a view for this, a vision for this country."
Let me get back to Wisconsin. Mark Neumann is the progressive running for the WI-03 seat being vacated by corporate Dem Ron Kind. He certainly plans to win in the more urban and suburban parts of the district where Democrats usually do well but I asked him about the parts of the district-- small town and rural Wisconsin-- where Democrats don't usually do well. He wrote this guest post for us. Please take a look at his ideas and please consider contributing to his campaign here.
Rural Revitalization for Western Wisconsin
-by Mark Neumann
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue put his finger directly on the problem when he stated that the future of farming is to get bigger or get out. He was quoted as saying at his stop-over for the World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI, in October, 2019, "In America, the big get bigger and the small go out. I don't think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability." Perdue: No small-farm guarantees (arkansasonline.com). In simple terms his theory was Get Bigger or Get Out. This theory is exactly the problem for rural America and exactly the problem for rural western Wisconsin. Just whose America is he talking about? This is not our America. This is not the America of the generations of farmers who made America. This is corporation america talking. This is exactly the problem when our politicians and elected officials speak for monopolies and corporations and not for we the people.
Farmers are so much more than food producers. Family farmers create faith communities, support schools for their children, are proud of their local acute access health facilities, and care deeply for their neighbors. That is my America. It is not the america that Sonny Perdue represented. How dare him. How dare all the politician water carriers for corporation america.
We know we are on the wrong track in rural Wisconsin when we lose family farms year after year to bankruptcy. There were 39 district court chapter 12 filings of western WI farms in 2020. Farm Bankruptcies During 2020 (fb.org) Family farms are sold out to corporation agri-business, and the life of rural communities gets hollowed out. The mega-corporations are looking at their bottom line and the profits that are handed over to investors who have no life in Wisconsin. Family farmers look at their relationships within their communities. They care for the vitality of their land and the cleanliness of their water. They care for the value of farming life that they dream to hand off to a next generation because it is a good and wholesome life that they received from their predecessors.
The problem is not hard to understand. It stares us in the face. Corporation agri-business has expended wider and wider and deeper and deeper into rural America since the deregulation policies of the 1980’s that have allowed monopolies to prevail. There was a false belief that trickle down economics would be good for everyone. This is false and now we see the results that come home to roost. What trickles down is a tighter and tighter squeeze to extract more and to leave nothing. Social value does not get tabulated on the balance sheets of corporation agri-business. Without intervention the final outcome will be a lifeless gray desert of factory farms spread out between nuggets of urban population. People working on the factory farms will be simply counted as units of production, expendable and just cogs in a machine. The farmer’s life will be gone.
It does not have to be this way. We all need respect. There is nothing more important to anyone than their dignity. This is the solution. We are Americans with our tradition of representative democracy. We can elect our representatives that will create governance that protects and promotes our dignity. We need our government to break up monopolies like happened in the days of Senator Robert LaFollette and President Teddy Roosevelt. We need a Department of Agriculture that has the backs of farmers like that of Henry Wallace and President Franklin Roosevelt during the depression and the days of the dust bowl. We need a government that does the work of we the people.
Some might say, “That was a different age. It is not today.” I say, “We can make today our age. It is time.”
It is not fair that family farmers must hope for scraps from the table while agri-business sits belly up to that table as a guest of honor when our nation’s farm bill is crafted every five years. It is not fair when monopoly seed producers (Monsanto) protect their market dominance through patent protections that make it possible for them to sell their products on a cornered market limited only by the threat of bankruptcy to their buyers instead of a fair competitive market amongst seed producers. It is not fair when family farmers are impeded from repairing their own equipment that they own because the manufacturers corner that market as well. Family farms need supply side management for fair prices for their products, and this is the fairness that they can expect from their representative government. Farm families need fair health care services. They, like all Americans, are being crushed by profit oriented private insurance providers, pharmaceutical and medical device producers and hospital system monopolies. Rural Americans need Medicare for All legislation to be implemented and not just talked about.
Our government can make the farmer’s market fair. We as an American people have done it before. We can believe in our sense of fairness that runs deep in our souls, and we can elect leaders in government who will bust monopolies and level the playing field to give everyone a chance to live free.
Rural western Wisconsin is far more than a place to grow and produce food. It is a place where people live, communities are built and families thrive. This should be the priority for the work of our elected representatives in government. Their lives need to be protected from the extractive strategies of monopolies that have no care for the preservation of that life.
It's not just Wisconsin where this dynamic is playing out. Down in northeast North Carolina Erica Smith is running in the rural district she grew up in. She still lives in a house on a dirt road and still has to drive for nearly an hour for a reliable internet connection. Last night she told me that "In too many rural communities, Democrats have retreated and Republicans have attacked. This has been great for corporations but destroyed our communities. This lack of real representation has resulted in Dollar Store economies and GoFundMe healthcare systems. I'm running to change that. To reverse these disturbing trends and secure a Rural New that'll ensure broadband for all, take on corporate monopolies, raise the minimum wage, and create good paying, clean energy, union jobs. We’re going to make these towns that our children don’t need to move away from but are excited to move home too and raise their families in."