Jesse Jackson and Rural America: Together We All Win

As Democrats gather in convention at Atlanta, among them will be rural delegates drawn into the party processes for the first time by Jesse Jackson’s populist message. Jackson’s proven commitment to economic justice has won the hearts and minds of thousands of rural people, motivating many who had never before been active to vote and attend caucuses. 

Reverent Jackson carried Vermont, the nation’ most rural state. In Kansas, Jackson supporters took Sheridan, Gove, and Graham Counties. In Iowa, rural Adair County. IN Wisconsin, Polk County, and more than twenty counties in Alabama – scores more across the South. 

Rural people voted for Jesse Jackson because he put rural America on the national agenda, sending a clear message by opening his first state office in Greenfield, Iowa, surrounded by farmers and townspeople. Rural people voted for him because they know he cares. He stayed in their homes, stood on their farms, and learned about the current crisis first hand. Jackson appreciates the land as a source of life and knows the importance of the farm economy to our nation’s economic security. He understands the urgency of a crisis which has driven over 600,000 farmers off their farms since 1980. He reminds all Americans that if you eat, you’re involved in agriculture.

At the 20th Anniversary March on Washington in 1983, he met with a farm delegation led by Merle Hansen of the North American Farm Alliance to bond his relationship to family farmers.

Reverend Jackson has consistently stood with farmers int heir struggle to stay on the land. He knows that farmers cannot win alone, that it will take a mighty coalition to reverse our nation’s priorities on behalf of the nation’s working people.

Since that time, he has traveled across the country to help save farms at sheriff sales or speak at rallies and draw attention to the crisis in the countryside.

Jackson’s commitment to rural families is more than just rhetoric. Ask Darrell Ringer and the Bates family in Great Bend, Kansas; ask Jim Langmann in Western Minnesota; Perry Wilson, Sr. and Marvin Porter in Western Missouri; Dorthy and Verne Lau in Nebraska. Reverend Jackson was there. When he was called to help Iverline Payne, a 62 year old widow in Dublin, Georgia, he was there. When Chillocothe, Missouri farmers fighting the abusive tactics of the Farmers Home Administration called, he was there. When invited to farm rallies in Omaha, Nebraska or South and North Carolina, Reverent Jackson spoke of the need to join together, displaces worker and farmer, urban poor and peace activist, and so to build a coalition for jobs, farms, and justice.

When Carlos Welty and other midwest farmers needed assistance in developing urban markets, Jackson was there, offering access in Chicago. When cucumber farmers in Alabama needed help in developing a cooperatively owned pickle processing plant, he was there to help secure the needed purchase commitments.

As testimony to his work, over 400 farmers traveled to Washington, D. C. to attending the Founding Convention of the National Rainbow Coalition. At a “Save the Family Farm” Breakfast, he brought Congressional, Labor, and Farm leaders together with an overflow crowd to talk about the need to work together on our common agenda of economic justice and peace. 

Jackson was there when farmers needed political clout. Reverend Jackson brought a group of Chillicothe farmers to visit with Secretary of Agriculture Lyng, where they presented the Secretary with petitions to Save the Family Farm. Secretary Lyng agreed to respond when Reverend Jackson presented him with cases where USDA violates it’s own policies. The Secretary agreed to visit North Carolina and investigate the situation faced by black farmers, who are threatened with total obliteration by the end of the decade.

Jackson went to Wilmington, North Carolina when red tide fungus threatened to destroy the livelihood of fishermen. Jackson relayed to the Small Business Administration the importance of the fishermen’s work to the whole community. He convinced the SBA to provide immediate relief, enabling the fishermen to survive the crisis.

In Wisconsin in 1988, Jackson drew attention to the irrationality of farm and food policies which simultaneously refrain from buying food products from farmers while cutting food distribution to hungry people. As a result of heightened attention to this issue, the Wisconsin state legislature authorized $2 ½ million to ensure proper federal food distribution.

In 1986, Reverend Jackson joined Willie Nelson and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower in Austin for the Farm Aid II Concert. A few months later, national farm leaders invited him to be one of 3 keynote speakers at the United Farmer and Rancher Congress in St. Louis, along with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Commissioner Hightower. While in St. Louis, Reverend Jackson also delivered a speech to the International Agriculture Summit entitled “World Trade Peace Begins with Justice for the Farmer.”

Now in 1988, Jim Hightower endorsed Reverend Jackson and said, “If he was standing for my principles, why was I not standing for him? Frankly it had not occurred to most populist leaders like me that our movement might become black-led, reaching out to whites, but there it is… He has put himself on the line for the work-a-day majority of this country. He has earned our respect for the strength and tone of his campaign, and he is strumming a cord that American’s want to hear. Today, I join Jesse Jackson on that line, because it is the right place to be.”

The doors that Jesse Jackson has opened for rural activists, the bridges across racial lines, and the hope that he has brought has created the momentum for a powerful movement in rural America. Reverend Jackson stands for integrity, for quality, for principle, for justice, and for peace, and the urban and the rural coalition united behind these principles continues to grow.


Rev. Jesse Jackson, “A New Direction in Farm Policy,”

“1988 Presidential forum on Agriculture and Rural Life,” YouTube, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,

See video of Jackson and other materials at The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa Women’s Achives, Carol Hodne Papers, .

“Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters records, 1987-1988,” from Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters (Greenfield, Iowa) 1987, in Des Moines Historical Library Manuscripts (MS2014.7 ).


Jesse Jackson: A New Direction in Farm Policy

In Iowa and across the Midwest, the hopes and dreams of thousands of family farmers are now on the auction block. Iowa has lost 10,000 farms since the Reagan administration came into office. A crisis of proportions unseen since the thirties is stalking the countryside, leaving in its wake, poverty, despair, broken homes, and broken hearts.

Farming is a science and an at. Farmers are professionals who spend their entire lives honing their skills and passing their knowledge on to their children. To separate these professionals from their professions by economic force should be considered nothing short of criminal.

Every Iowan understands the role that agriculture plays in the broader scheme of things. It is part of the foundation this country was built on. Weaken that foundation and the entire building is in danger of crumbling. The crisis engulfing rural Iowa is coming home to roost in our towns and cities. Between 1979 and 1985, 55– small town businesses closed their doors. In 1985 and 1986, twenty-one Iowa banks failed, and the rate is the same for this year.

Farm Foreclosures lead to plant closures. We can’t afford the luxury of fighting among ourselves, or hunting for scapegoats. Town and country, rural and urban, one can’t do without one another. Famers need a fair price just as workers need a living wage. Both must join hands and walk forward together. Our very survival is at stake.

We reap what we sow. No one plants corn and harvests wheat, it’s just not possible. The same is the case with the Reagan farm policy, which promotes the concentration of the food industry into fewer and fewer hands. From it grew a harvest of despair.

Farmers want parity, not charity. A fair price is a price that meets the cost of production. When farmers don’t receive a fair price the countryside becomes submerged into a sea of debt.

We need a working system of supply management. This would eliminate the need to store runaway commodity surpluses, while making the welfare subsidy program unnecessary. It is critical that measures called for in the Family Farm Act are put into practice. This would bring the surplus under control, while giving the producers themselves say over how this should be done. The Act includes safeguards for low income consumers, which would offset any possible rise in food prices.

Some are against effective supply management. It’s not popular with the grain speculators of the Chicago Board of Trade. It will cut into the profit margins of farm chemical and oil companies that produce fertilizers and pesticides. The multi-national food corporations that have been growing fat on farm subsidies are lining up against it.[1]

Government policy shouldn’t assist those who are out to farm the farmer. Profits for food processing companies increased 13% in 1986;[2] most farm prices fell 6-9%. This year 76 cents out of every food dollar will go to middlemen. The grocer gets more for the coupon on the box of Rice Krispies than the farmer gets for the rice in the product.

If managing supplies means consumers pay a few pennies more in the short run, preserving the family farm will save us all dollars in the long run. Monopoly agriculture will give a handful of huge food corporations undue influence over the prices that consumers would pay.

Farm policy needs more than a cosmetic change, it needs a new direction. Supply can’t control American agriculture. Agriculture must take control of supply. We need to restructure farm debt. We must add a temporary moratorium on foreclosures to our country’s political agenda.

The Farmers Home Administration has taken over 5000 farms – a total of 1.5 million acres. The Farm Credit System is holding 2.2 million acres. The FmHA and the FCS are selling off the land at firesale prices to speculators and agri-business. The men and women who worked the land, giving so much of themselves, must have the right to buy back or lease their land at today’s lower interest rates. Packages o sell inventoried land to corporate America must instead be prepared for beginning, restructuring, and minority farmers.

The world is full of hunger. The Iowa farmer is one of the most efficient food producers in the world. It is not rational that farms in Iowa are going under because too much has been produced. Nor does the Reagan administration’s refrain, “produce more for exports” make sense, it only results in other governments increasing their farm subsidies to stay in competitive and adds to the surplus in the international market.[3] Third word countries end up exporting more cash crops to get badly needed foreign exchange, while at the same time weakening their ability to feed their own people. We must correlate production with hungry people.

America has come to the fork in the road and new leadership is needed to take us in the right direction. Construction is better than destruction. Our national priorities must place farms ahead of arms, if we are to live in a secure world. Food to the hungry will do more to promote peace, than weapons to the contras. Dollars which are now pouring into defense boondogles must be shifted into nutritional programs for our nation’s children. A nation which neglects its young is a nation at risk.

Creative solutions are needed to solve the problems of rural America. I have called for an international conference that would bring together the feeders and the eaters, the producers and the consumers. We need trade that’s aimed at meeting need. We must bring food to those who are hungry, while assuring that farmers get their due. If we work to meet need while curbing greed, our dreams can be realized.


[1] This sentence may be misleading, in that it sounds close to a technical error even as it expresses the essence of the problem. Free markets are the economic cause of cheap market prices which subsidize these corporations, and the weakening (and later elimination) of market management provisions in the farm bill is the political cause. So this system of lower and lower minimum farm price floors, is the policy cause of the cheap prices that subsidize the food corporations. They get (from farmers,) something like 8 times more than the subsidies the government pays back to farmers. The (inadequate) farm subsidies are correlated with the cheap prices, but do not cause the cheap prices. Bottom line: the “farm subsidies” that the corporations get are paid by farmers, (are from farmers,) when farmers sell to them at cheap, below cost, market prices.

[2] 1986, right after passage of the 1985 Reagan farm bill, which made the farm crisis even worse.

[3] The Reagan administration and it’s friends in Congress, (and similar voices earlier and later,) promised that the cheaper market prices would lead to great increases in international sales, and later, higher prices, but we now know that neither one came true. See: Daryll E. Ray, Agricultural Policy Research Center: “Exports: Does Lowering the Price to Capture Market Share Work in the Grain Markets?”8/4/00, ; “Allowing Grain Prices to Fall Does Not Stave Off Loss of Export Market Share,” 8/11/00, ; “Corn exports: A case of unrealized expectations and farm policies that did not deliver,” ; “Are “things different now” so that low prices will cure low prices?” , etc.


“Jesse Jackson and Rural America: Together We All Win,” Jesse Jackson Campaign 1988, (see archive below,)

“1988 Presidential forum on Agriculture and Rural Life,” YouTube, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,

“Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters records, 1987-1988,” from Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters (Greenfield, Iowa) 1987, in Des Moines Historical Library Manuscripts (MS2014.7 ).