Farm Rally: ’It’s Been Building All Winter″
AMES, Iowa (AP) _ Thousands of farmers jammed a basketball arena Wednesday to protest ″ruthless″ federal farm policies and cheer speakers who said ″this administration has declared war on the family farm.″
″I come before you today to tell you that if we do nothing, the bells will have tolled the end of an American dream,″ Bishop Maurice Dingman of Des Moines’ Roman Catholic Diocese told the rally.
An overflow crowd jammed the 15,000-seat Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University for the ″National Crisis Action Rally,″ and some had to listen to loudspeakers outside.
″We are producing $2.50 corn in a $6 world,″ said Darrell Ringer, a Quinter, Kan., farmer who said he was facing foreclosure. ″Thirty-three years of wrong farm policy and now this administration has declared war on the family farm.″
″People are in a rally mood, they want to do something,″ said Dean Kleckner, a Rudd farmer and President of the Iowa Farm Bureau. ″This is just a culmination of what’s been building all winter long.″
There was a carnival atmosphere around the rally, as high school bands played and farmers sported signs like ″Save the Heart of America,″ ″Keep the Faith″ and ″Doesn’t Anybody Hear Us?″
Farmers complain that a combination of high interest rates, falling land prices and low prices for their products are forcing thousands off the land. Dr. Neil Harl, an ISU farm economist, has estimated that 10 percent of the nation’s farmers will be driven from the land unless more help is offered.
As a series of speakers berated federal farm policy, lawmakers in Washington debated measures expanding farm assistance for the spring planting season, and organizers said they hoped the mass rally would build pressure on Congress.
Rally organizers, including 10 farm groups, brought in consumer advocates and union members to demonstrate the broad base of support for providing aid to farmers.
″In order for our government to hear our complaints and do something about it, all laborers must come together,″ said Carlos Polit, a United Auto Workers member from Rock Island, Ill.
″We are a proud people, yet our pride has sometimes been a barrier rather than an aid,″ said Joan Blundall, who works in a farm counseling office in Eagle Grove. ″That silence makes fertile ground for suicide, family discord, health risks and violence.″
″I think this is certainly going to have a beneficial effect on what action is taken on debt restructuring,″ said Roger Blobaum, a National Farmers Organization spokesman and an organizer of the rally at the university campus about 30 miles north of Des Moines.
″Farmers are good managers and we’ll be better in the future,″ said Kleckner of the Farm Bureau. ″We’re hard workers. But we need a boost, some short-term assistance.″
″It is unacceptable in these United States to have growing hunger and at the same time complain about overproduction. It is even worse when those chosen to govern blame the hungry and those who produce food for the problem,″ said Cy Carpenter of the National Farmers Union.
In Washington, a delegation of congressional Democrats led by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa planted small white wooden crosses in Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, to dramatize their demand for administration help for farmers.
Harkin said the 250 crosses represented the number of family farms that go out of business each day and added: ″If President Reagan wants to preside over the death of the American farm, I want to assure you that it is not going to be a quiet funeral.″
″This assistance has to come almost immediately,″ Kleckner told the rally. ″We’ve got no more than 30 days in Iowa to help some of these farmers continue their operation this year.″