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Voting together, healing together

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This interview is with Iowa Farmers Union Membership and Fundraising Director Deborah Bunka. In this blog, we chat with Deborah about the significance of the 2020 elections to Iowa Farmers Union members. 

Why is voting important for Iowa Farmers Union members? Why is the Iowa Farmers Union involved in get-out-the-vote efforts?

For Iowa Farmers Union members, it’s been a very difficult 2020. Crop prices are very low. COVID-19 has caused a lot of hardship, both in terms of loss of markets for our products, and illness and loss of family members. Further, the derecho storm devastation was severe for farmers in our network. 

There are things that the federal government can help farmers with. When you hear about government support for farmers, that doesn’t always reach our membership who are small to medium family-scale farmers; we need a better system that meets their needs. We need the best Farm Bill we can get to address the challenges our farmers face, and that means casting your vote, because you’ll be discussing the next Farm Bill with the person who is elected.

Last but not least, voting matters because rural vibrancy matters. Our communities are suffering and disappearing. If you want to hold on to our communities and the family farming operations that our communities depend upon, you’ve got to make your voice heard — and voting is one very important way to do that.  

What issues are important for Iowa Farmers Union members?

Corporate consolidation is a critically important issue for us. Seed and chemical monopolies have got to be reigned in. Companies are raising prices on farmers, and people have no recourse because they only have one or two companies to turn to. A few other issues include:

  • Climate change: For us, ethanol (a grain-based alcohol used in gasoline) is a big issue for addressing climate change. Corn grown by our members goes into the production of ethanol. We need to support ethanol production in order to wean us off of fossil fuel use. 
  • Medical infrastructure: Rural hospitals are closing for a lot of reasons, and frankly, people simply need access. If you don’t have a medical facility nearby, that’s really dangerous. 
  • Access to healthcare: Many farmers don’t have access to healthcare, or have very limited access to healthcare through fake “insurance programs” that are marketed as health insurance, but offer such poor coverage they aren’t legally considered health insurance programs. 
  • Trade: Farmers have suffered mightily in the last few years, and trade policy is partly to blame. We need trade policy that prioritizes farmer livelihoods. 

I know you can’t address all of the above with a single vote, but being politically active is one way we can build a political system that works for us, and voting is a part of this political activity. 

We’ve heard many candidates prioritize our issues this election cycle due to our political engagement. We have a lunch and learn program, and we have had politicians from both sides of the aisle join us. This is a great opportunity for our members to see what these politicians have to say unfiltered, and ask questions about our values. We’re hearing candidates’ opinions in their own words. 

What barriers to voting might Iowa Farmers Union members experience?

We have a pretty active membership in terms of voting. But rural voters are thinking... where are we going to vote? Will my ballot count? I’ve learned that you can track your ballot online, which is great.

Voter intimidation is another factor. There is so much effort to keep voting numbers down in our communities, and we can’t succumb to that. Mail your vote, track it if you want to, and don’t let anyone intimidate you into not voting. This is something we’re not just doing for ourselves, we’re doing for everybody, and it’s really important.

What would you say to folks who are interested in these issues, but are not sure about the importance of voting?

Although we may not have the candidates we want in either party, it is especially important to vote this year because we are at a tipping point. We’re at a tipping point in terms of climate change and so many issues important to our social coherence and functioning; collectively, we need to heal. 

There is absolutely no leader that can heal us, but by getting out to vote, we can do something to heal together. So much of the frustration around our political system comes from inaction. We can remedy that helplessness by taking action, and one action is voting by mail or standing in line for a couple hours. It’s not everything, but it’s something. I guarantee you, once you take even that small step, it will lighten your load, and put you on the path toward healing.

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