A week ago Sunday, in honor of Independence Day, I preached about my two most important land mentors, Paul Taylor and John Pitney. I love to tell the story of how each one shaped and guided me on my path to this garden. But I had not seen their interlocking influence until I wrestled angels all Saturday night getting words into paragraphs that people could hear.
“Under God” was the title of the sermon, which appeared long before the paragraphs. That phrase is known to most of us from our early learning of the flag salute and Pledge of Allegiance. Reading the Wikipedia entry, I was surprised to find that the Pledge didn’t even exist until 1892. At that time it ended “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It wasn’t until 1954, one year before I started kindergarten, that the phrase “under God” made its first appearance, squeezed in between “one nation” and “indivisible.”
And all this time I thought it was God-given.
I was raised to believe in the red white and blue, this flag that flies over the land of the free and the home of the brave. I’ll bet some of you were, too. Some of us boomers, who clogged the elementary schools with our sudden appearance as the largest age cohort ever to be born in U.S. history, got woked up in the mid-1960s when the combination of paternalism, racism, and the military draft erupted into the reality of clearly broken promises. Suddenly it wasn’t hard to see that this had not been the land of the free for anyone not white and male for a very long time, and that poor urban kids and rural farm boys had been used as cannon fodder far too long. Denigrating the flag was only one expression of our outrage at the hypocrisy.
Paul Taylor rescued me from my disaffection, showing me one strong stream of American values and policy that could promote equality if it were reinforced and promoted: the acreage limitation and residency provisions of federal Reclamation law. These provisions were meant to promote small family farms and to prevent water monopolization in the western states. Paul, who’d worked on his uncle’s Wisconsin family farm as a boy, knew first-hand the pattern he was defending. In keeping with Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt, he also knew the necessity of this family farm pattern to the maintenance of our democratic form of government. Learning the landholding patterns of western irrigated agriculture through his early labor studies, he also understood that large concentrations of land and monopolization of water were more dangerous to our freedom than any foreign government could be.
Just as important, Paul introduced me to Isaiah 5:8, which begins “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field…” Fifteen years later I met Methodist minister John Pitney, who introduced me to the land provisions in Deuteronomy, the violation of which had brought Isaiah out into the streets to protest. It was like filling out my half-full toolbox. Though Paul and John never met, they were a perfect match: an economist who practiced land theology, a Methodist who preached land economics as if people mattered. Both of them were speaking and giving of their lives as if God mattered.
This year it’s time to break out the tools. Although the costs are still being counted from this spring’s flooding and the return of Tulare Lake, the silver lining is that it has become completely clear just how free we aren’t here in the Tulare Lake Basin. Our water, as well as water from streams beyond our watershed, is controlled by very few people, with disastrous long- and short-term consequences for our local economies, our real farmers, our communities, our water supplies and our abilities even to respond—to stand up and cry “Foul!”
I still believe we live in the land of the free. And we are still the home of the brave, although Ukraine is reminding us just what that means. We’ve got a fight ahead to liberate our land and water from the greed of the agribusiness giants and urban investors. But we are not facing the big boys’ tanks, just legions of lawyers and politicians who’ve been pocketed so long they’ve gone blind. With some amazing Grace, we might all wake up.
Trudy Wischemann is a hammerer’s daughter who writes. You can send her your reconstruction ideas c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.