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Woodrow Wilson and Your Family Farm

Place yourself in this setting. It's the early 20th century and you and your family own a farm in Eastern South Dakota. The land is flat, such that you can see for miles and miles without seeing any of your neighbors. All you see are vast fields of wheat and corn, and sometimes an occasional tree. You are very content with life because with your farm, you can make just enough money to feed your family and put clothes on their backs. Your life style takes a lot of hard work but in that hard work you find your happiness.

One day, you start to notice a change around the area in which you live. Usually, you go into town and sell your goods from the farm. Now you notice that there are more and more outsiders moving into town and the surrounding areas. You see more and more farms spring up like popcorn, but you don't really mind at first. And then one day you're at the market, and you see a huge crowd surrounding stands selling corn for an unbelievably cheap price. A price so cheap that the old lady who has been buying corn from you doesn't even look at you, she just runs right towards the crowd like she's never seen you before.

You think long and hard about how are they selling their corn so cheap. You're not the only family farmer who is mad, though. Everybody else is too. The more you think about it, the more you realize that you can't compete with these new farmers. If you can't compete with the new farmers you can't make a living; you can't put food on the table or clothes on the back of your family. Why is this happening, you say to yourself over and over again? What can I do to put a stop to this?

Little did you know that all the new farmers are working for the same company. They get their supplies cheaper and can therefore sell their goods cheaper. They can influence government policy because of the amount of money they give to officials for a certain party. This works out for the government and those corporations, but it affects you and everybody else in the community negatively. The more this happens, the closer you get to bankruptcy. And the closer and closer you get to the loss of your way of life.



This kind of situation has been happening throughout history and still happens to this very day. The time period in history I'm referring to is the Progressive era, from 1900 to about 1920. Between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century, the country grew at a rapid rate. Big business was running the economy and the government. In factories all across America, workers had strikes and tried to stand up for their rights. When the Farmers stood up for theirs, the country stopped to listen.

With all of this big business moving from the inner cities to the rural areas, people in the rural areas were getting scared. Farmers in the Midwest decided to join together to lobby the government to keep big business out of their lives. This alliance of farmers played an important roll in pushing the government to form the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916.

What was the Federal Farm Loan Act? It was an act passed by Congress and signed by president Woodrow Wilson to even out the playing field in business. It made it possible for family farmers to compete with these big corporate farms that were moving into the area at the time. The new law divided up the country into twelve different regions and established a federal land bank in each region, funded mostly by federal money. The banks made farm mortgage loans at reasonable interest rates, making it a little easier for smaller farms to compete with larger ones. This was a huge step in evening out the income that was made off of farming.

Along with the Federal Farm Loan Act, President Wilson and the progressive movement made many other changes in government policy to better the lives of the average citizen, not just the wealthy. The Wilson administration passed the child labor act of 1916, which forbade Interstate commerce of products whose production had involved the labor of children under 14 (or 16, depending on the products.) This was important was because it was the first time that Congress had regulated labor within a state using interstate commerce power. Along with that Wilson reduced tariffs from around 40% to about 26%, taking more stress off the average citizen.

Wilson also reformed the bank system to spread more money from region to region, resulting in the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve had 12 regional banks that were run by the Federal Reserve board; the President appointed the people on this board. The Federal Reserve System led to inflated currency because with the flow of money at a better rate then before, the banks wouldn't have to just rely on the supply of gold. The flow of paper money was far better than before, so our currency no longer had to rely just on the supply of gold.

The regulating of big business, however, was the main focus of the progressives. They felt if they could regulate big business, the average citizens life style would be at a higher standard. Sadly, even though Wilson and the progressives regulated big businesses, such businesses are still affecting farmers and factory workers in this country as well as all over the world.

One organization that still fights big corporate businesses in Dakota Rural Action. Basically, they protect the rights of small family farmers by lobbying the government. They write letters, make phone calls, have meetings and even hold protests to make sure the government enforces the laws made long ago. DRA is based out of Brookings, South Dakota and is affiliated with another organization called WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils). WORC is an organization made up of many different grass roots organizations. They fight for preserving land from the toxic waste frequently produced by corporate farming. They also do many other things, from lobbying the government to helping Indigenous Peoples.

The laws were laid down in the past, but it's up to organizations like WORC and DRA and people like us to make sure that the government enforces those laws. WORC and DRA are just examples; there are many other organizations that fight for equal justice as well. They are all made up of people just like you and me. Always remember that every individual can make a difference.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


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MAD - Is that a worm or a spliced, mutated gene in your apple?