Monday, November 30, 2015

Calling Mr. Rockwell

One of Norman Rockwell's most iconic paintings portrays a young man in a plaid work shirt and a worn leather jacket standing alone among his fellow citizens. He has a couple of folded sheets of paper sticking out of his jacket pocket, but they have been forgotten in the heat of the discussion and he speaks off the cuff with passion and heartfelt intensity. All eyes are upon him; his audience of men in ties and women in hats listens respectfully. Whether they agree with him or not, they are polite and acknowledge by their attention his right to speak his mind. The painting is titled "Freedom of Speech"; it is part of the series "Four Freedoms" inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union address in 1941.
This painting is what I envision every year when we attend the Missouri Farm Bureau Annual meeting.  Farm families and rural residents from all over our state will gather to catch up with old friends, to be entertained, to listen and learn from eminent speakers and those whom we have elected.  We will eat together, complain about the weather and what it did to our farms, brag on children and grandchildren and ooh and aah over the accomplishments of other folks' children and grandchildren.
But we will also work.  The members of Missouri Farm Bureau who gather each year in December will conduct the serious business of  making the policies this organization will work to fulfill during 2016.  The thick sheaf of colored paper each voting delegate will receive contains color coded pages with the previous year's policy, beginning with the Farm Bureau philosophy and proceeding alphabetically through Agricultural Credit to Young Farmers.  These pages will show redactions, additions and all changes made by the members of the State Resolutions committee, who have collated, combined, and voted on suggestions and concerns from the questionnaires submitted by members all over the state.  The prospective resolutions originated with the folks in the counties and now are returning to be voted and ratified one by one by those same grassroots members.
It's a big room and resembles nothing so much as a political convention with the signs indicating the seating of Districts 1 through 8 arranged across the floor.  As each policy is read, the chair asks for any changes and waits to recognize any member on the floor that desires to offer an amendment or ask a question.  There is discussion, always respectful, but sometimes heated.  There is always a vote, up or down, yea or nay, but if the voters are particularly hearty in expressing their opinion, a division of the house may be called for and they will vote with their feet...
While the differences may descend into trivialities and unwieldy parsing, the motivation is unimpeachable: to work for what the speaker believes is the very best for the future of his neighbors and compatriots.  To that end, the assemblage acts "Rockwellesque", an adjective spawned by the Oxford English Dictionary,describing anything that is "idealistic, quaint, or sentimental" It is an enviable exercise in thoughtfulness, courtesy, and dedication.  Folks stand up who have been voting delegates for decades, whose views are well known, who are the bedrock of the current policy book.  There are new voices, working through the system, taking their medicine when the delegate body sets them down with a resounding 'nay'.  The concerns of these voters reach far beyond the minutiae of arcane government farm policy and deep into the very bedrock of American culture and tradition: the availability of healthcare, safe roads, and modern technology in rural areas, our property rights...our religious freedom.  We approach these policies with great gravity; without the representation afforded by our association, our minority position will lack a standard bearer amid the clamor of our urban nation.
It is worth celebrating these associations, these increasingly rare examples of voter rubber meeting policy road.  When I see one of my neighbors at the mike, speaking his mind in front of seven hundred or so of his peers, I feel a small thrill of optimism and hope.  To the extent this takes place across our nation, we are part of a Norman Rockwellesque America: the one man, one voice, exercising his right to speak his conscience among his countrymen.

With a Farm Bureau cap in hand.....

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