As Director of Legislative Programming I am often asked how Minnesota Grangers are getting involved in the legislative process and with politics in general. While this is a great question, and one deserving of an astute answer, there is perhaps a better one to ask. During a year of extraordinary political news what should Minnesota Grangers have done in 2017? Every Granger should take a moment and read through the National Grange's Declaration of Purposes. Take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with the good work of our Order continually strives for - and read the document for what it is - a mission statement that all Grangers are called to work towards fulfilling.
The very first purpose written in the National Grange Declaration of Purposes is to "develop a better and higher manhood and womanhood among ourselves" and to "foster mutual understanding and cooperation." In an era in which our country is more sharply divided between Democrat and Republican, rural and urban, and liberal and conservative, shouldn't one of the main goals of Minnesota Grangers be to develop that "mutual understanding" we are supposed to be working toward? How many Minnesota Grangers and Granges can claim that this was a priority for them? How many of us attempted to dialogue with someone from the opposite end of the political spectrum? How many Granges have tried to tackle this extreme partisanship by becoming a safe and welcoming place for all of our community members along with their Grange brothers and sisters to voice their opinion and maybe learn a little about the facts at hand?
A recent study by the PEW research foundation found that in 2017, 44% of Democrats
said that they have "very unfavorable" opinions of Republicans while 45% of Republican said they feel the same about Democrats. Though this is not necessarily a new trend since those numbers have been rising for the past two decades - they do represent the largest partisan gap in our nation's history. Why weren't more Grangers and our Granges taking advantage of our unique place in the political landscape to better ourselves and our communities? Why weren't more Minnesota Grangers working to "foster mutual understanding and collaboration?"
But creating safe spaces for dialogue was not the only missed opportunity in 2017. In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, VA Grangers from across the country gave away the chance to live out our call to strive for "a proper equality, and fairness." Where was the Grange's denouncement of those who marched in Charlottesville chanting "Jews will not replace us" and "this city is run by...criminal niggers." Where has the Grange been during the recent and ongoing national discussion about race in America? Why aren't Grangers engaging on issues related to the Black Lives Matter Movement, the President's argument with black athletes who protest by taking a knee or sitting down during the National Anthem, or signs in churches advertising Spanish language services vandalized with the words "TRUMP NATION WHITES ONLY."
Missing opportunities however was not the only issue the Grange faced politically this year. We unfortunately fell far short of one of our clearest guiding principles - that we are a non "partisan or party organization." In September of 2017 leaders of the National Grange took the incredible step of extending the support of our organization to one of President Trump's political nominees. The decision to include the National Grange on a letter of support for the nomination of Dr. Sam Clovis as Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture was a mistake made by some of our national leadership and is one all Grangers must be conscious their Subordinate and State Granges do not repeat. In supporting a political appointee - or an individual who must be nominated and confirmed by the United States Senate - our national leadership made a political statement on where their support lies - and this is unacceptable. The National Master eventually walked back her position by spinning her endorsement as an attempt to encourage appointments in the USDA, even though the original signed statement issued clear "Support for Dr. Sam Clovis as Undersecretary of Agriculture." As a non-partisan organization we must always remember that we support or oppose issues not people. Grangers can, and should, debate policies but we must remain completely above the debates over the appointment of specific individuals to a political post.
The decision to show support for the nomination of Sam Clovis, and the decision by national leadership to extend the support of our entire organization to that one specific individual is an important illustration of what individuals Grangers must work to guard against within our own organization. Not only are we called to take a stand on political issues that are front and center of national, state, and local debates but we are also called to ensure our own leadership maintains the rules of our worthy organization. Grangers need to be engaged not only in the debates that swirl outside of the Grange but we must be paying attention to what is occurring within our organization as well. We must always remember that when we join the Order of Patrons of Husbandry we agree to meet, talk, and work together - and sometimes that does require us to challenge the safe feeling of the status quo, and indeed, challenge each other.
The good news is, that while we may have fallen short in 2017 there are still opportunites for us to redeem ourselves in 2018. The Grange still has time to take a stand on the growing #MeTooMovement. We still have an opportunity to express support and speak on behalf of those women who have experienced sexual harassment - to live up to our stated purpose to strive for "property, equality, and fairness [and] protection for the weak."
Likewise, we as Grangers - members of the oldest national agricultural organization - have a duty to actively voice our stance on immigration. This hot-button issue is not going away. We must take the time to better understand the facts surrounding immigration and how it affects the agricultural industry. The issue of immigration is the perfect dichotomy of incorporating our support of agriculture and the ideas set forth in the Declaration of Purposes to develop policy and programs around a timely political issue.
And in this midterm election year Grangers from across the country have a perfect opportunity to live up to our Statement of Purposes. To work together to "develop a better and higher manhood and womanhood" and to "foster mutual understanding and cooperation." Even if you have no desire to meet with or write letters to elected officials, march in a protest, or write letters to the editor, Grangers are all called to get involved in some way. Grangers are supposed to "hasten the good time coming" and to "purify the whole political political atmosphere of our country." To do that we must meet together, talk together, and work together for our "mutual protection and advancement." This means simply bringing together Grange and community members to dialogue about important issues facing us today - to begin to bridge the partisan divide and heal the divisive discourse and distrust that is so widespread in our country's political landscape.
This year take a moment to schedule time at your regular monthly Grange meeting to discuss and dialogue about issues facing our country; to learn how those with different points of view think and feel about the health of their communities, our state, and the nation; take a moment to step out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves and others to have an open mind. Study the National Grange Declaration of Purposes to better understand the tenets of what the Grange really is, and really should be.
Serving the Grange has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I hope your next Director of Legislative Programming receives the same fulfillment I have over the last two years.
Sister Ashley Wyatt
To view the Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange visit: https://www.nationalgrange.org/declaration-of-purposes/