Michael Pollan: Make me do it
Michael Pollan was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Organics Conference March 21, 2009. The event was held at Agnes Scott College. He addressed the audience after they enjoyed a farmers feast (made from local food) about his thoughts on the "state of the movement." The address is available for viewing in its entirety or in separate parts.
Michael: Now, this agenda that I’m talking about, your own agenda, is not gonna happen just because we have a President and a First Lady who are sympathetic. That’s not how change comes. Change is much, much harder than that. Presidents cannot flip the switch and make things happen and we’re learning that every day. Our work is really just beginning. You know, Obama was pressed on these issues, on this kind of agenda, shortly after the election. A friend of mine had occasion to have dinner with him and Michelle, and Obama made it clear that he got it, that he really did understand the issue, but he also said he didn’t think the time was right to push hard. He understood the forces arrayed on the other side and the great amount of political capital it would take to defeat them. He understood all about the Farm Bureau. He comes from a farm state. He knows how it works. And he understood about the farm lobby in congress and the constitution of the ag committees. And he did two things, he challenged my friend, he said, “Show me the movement. Make me do it. Make me do it.”
And he also said, he turned to his wife at that very dinner and said, “This is your issue, baby.” And she has evidently taken up the challenge. Now, that language, that language, “Make me do it,” is very interesting. Presidents have uttered that word - those words before. Roosevelt used them when he was being lobbied about certain issues. There’s a very interesting scene when Martin Luther King came to Lyndon Johnson and said, “We need this Voting Rights Act. You know, we need your help,” and Johnson turned to him and said, “I wanna do it. Make me do it.” He wasn’t just gonna do it. He needed to be made. He was telling Martin Luther King to get out in the street and make it happen.
Another example, President Clinton in 1993, he had a very difficult budget negotiation in Congress. He lost a lot. He moved way to the right and gave up a lot of his campaign promises to get this 1993, his first budget. And, at the signing of this budget, Bernie Sanders, the member of his caucus furthest to his left was there, and he came over to Bernie Sanders and he started pounding on his chest like this and he said, “Why weren’t you screaming at me? I needed you to be screaming at me, because then I could have brought you something.” So, as kindly as you feel towards Michelle and Barack, keep those lessons in mind.
Vilsack said something similar to a group of activists he met with just last month, “I need your help. Build a movement.” And he understands. Because the farm lobby is already organizing against him. So, we need to get organized. We need to flex our muscles. When that first regulatory or confirmation or legislative fight comes, we need to turn out. Do you remember the 240,000 comments we turned out on the first organic set of rules? That blew their mind in Washington. How did we do that? We’re gonna need to do that again and soon. We need to sign those online petitions, track the issues, but we also need to turn up at the hearing rooms. We need to be writing people just like your Senator, who is a major player in this fight, Saxby Chambliss. Don't give up on him. Write him.
We need to master the farm bill and we need to be in touch with our legislators. Now is not the time to savor the moment or rest. Now is the time to make Obama do it. Let’s show him the movement. Thank you very much.
Thank you, thank you, thank you very much, thank you.
Now, now, I’m gonna eat some pie. Thanks a lot.