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In a little under a week, Iowa caucus goers will gather in small rooms across the state and talk amongst themselves to select the next leader of the free world. With warnings of terrorist attacks around the globe and talk of a possible economic downturn amidst growing inequity, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Today’s candidates are in the final sprint to win the Iowa caucus goers votes and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders may want to take a look at how a one-term Senator from Illinois with little experience managed to take the prize the last time around.
It was a little more than 8 years ago that Barack Obama walked on stage in a hotel ballroom in downtown Des Moines in front of 500 Iowa farmers, environmentalists and rural political activists to make his case for why he should be the next president of the U.S.
That morning, as then Sen. Obama took the stage, his ultimate victory was a long shot. If you can even fathom thinking back to the realities of the late fall in 2007, Obama was considered a rising star in the Senate, but was still a distant third place in the polls in Iowa. On Nov. 10, 2007, when Obama walked to the podium, the media was still salivating over how Hillary Clinton would be the inevitable winner and John Edwards was most likely a lock for second place in Iowa. So much for polls and conventional wisdom.
By the time the day would end however, Obama’s stardom among Iowa Democrats would be launched into the stratosphere after he gave his now famous speech later that evening at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner, which campaign adviser David Axelrod called “the seminal event” for Obama on the ground in Iowa during the 2007 caucus.
As someone who witnessed Obama’s famous 2007 Jefferson Jackson speech, I can promise you that his speech that night in front of Iowa’s most active Democrats was what finally helped cinch my vote for him. I’d spent months following all the other candidates and working with each of their staff to promote sustainable food and agricultural policies to their campaigns and like many Iowans, I was still uncertain at that point, less than two months away from the Iowa caucus.
But my support for Obama that year finally came about because of the promises he made to Iowa farmers earlier that same day at an event that I organized called the 2007 Food and Family Farm Presidential Summit, hosted by the Iowa Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union, two progressive farm organizations that tried to provide a much needed counter balance to the political muscle of agribusiness front groups like Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Producers etc. that all pretended to work in farmers’ interests, but in reality represented the worst corporate abusers that rigged public policies against real family farmers and were slowly and inevitably working to grind them out of business forever.
Many of the farmers in the audience planted GMO crops or used chemical fertilizers and pesticides on conventional non-GMO hybrids, but they were fiercely opposed to the ever increasing consolidation in the food and agricultural sectors, which not only creates a massively unjust economic playing field for small and mid-sized family farmers, but also the growing trend of factory farms, which had sprung up across Iowa in the previous decade by the thousands and had already resulted in the loss of more than 72 percent of the state’s hog farms, which had until only very recently served as economic backbone of rural Iowa.
After barely surviving the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, these farmers were rushed headlong into the buzz saw of industrial agriculture as a result of bad public policies, that consolidated power and economic market share during the 20 years of the Bush and Clinton administrations, which mirrored the consolidation of power of corporate America, where small coffee shops, book stores and corner stores disappeared only to be replaced by Wal-Mart, the Death Star of rural America and other big box giants.
In many ways, Obama really was the first major politician to talk about the food, farm and environmental movements in a cohesive and meaningful way. He not only knew the dangers of industrial agriculture, but he wanted to chart a different path. It was clear to everyone in the room, that while Bill Clinton might have felt their pain, Obama knew exactly what caused it.
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