OPINION – For decades now, singer Neil Young has been a spokesman for the rebels among us, the folks who refuse to settle for the status quo, the ones who realize that compromise is for losers.
Saturday night, I tuned in to the Farm Aid concert webcast to watch Young and fellow Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp.
It was sad because I remember when Farm Aid was created as a way to help the U.S. family farmers who were being thrown off the land that had been in their families for generations when the corporate farms took over the agriculture business.
It was 1985 and they were responding to a comment mumbled into a microphone by Bob Dylan at the Live Aid concert. Dylan told the crowd that he hoped some of the money raised that day would go to help the farmers in this country who were losing their land because they couldn’t earn enough to make their mortgage payments.
That first year, Farm Aid was held in Champaign, Ill. before a crowd of more than 80,000 and televised nationwide. Nelson, Mellencamp, and Young were joined by Dylan, B.B. King, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Sammy Hagar, and a host of others from the music business elite. They raised almost $10 million, but also focused the spotlight on the plight of the family farmer. In fact, Nelson and Mellencamp brought family farmers to testify before Congress to explain how they were being pushed out of business and their homes.
It resulted in the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, which helped somewhat, but not enough because all these years later, we still have family farmers getting crushed by the big corporations that poison our food with growth hormones and dangerous pesticides and continue to raise and slaughter livestock inhumanely.
But, for a bright and shining moment, it was working and things were beginning to change.
Things change and focus shifts, which is why Saturday’s benefit was reduced to about a dozen performers and relegated to the Internet. Just before Willie took the stage, a meager 1,600 viewers were tuned in online. And there were only 30,000 people in the audience.
Times have changed. Neil is a lot more gray, he has a bit of a paunch. But, he is as defiant as he was back in the days when, as a young musician on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, he sang, with Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills, about “battle lines being drawn.”
It was nice to see he is still as defiant as ever.
During his set with Crazy Horse, Young stepped to the microphone and said: “We are not going anywhere — we are going to stay right here and fight as long as we can stand … Be a rebel. Become a farmer. It’s a mission from God. We need young blood on the farm.”
It got me wondering, where have all the rebels gone?
I thought we were getting a foothold when the Occupy Wall Street people took to the streets to protest the corporate greed, mismanagement, and misdeeds of the captains of industry who have robbed us of our dignity by pandering to the investor rather than remaining loyal to the people who make the company go.
I’ve been told that it’s “the American way,” that profit, money, power are the things that really matter.
I hope not.
In “Grapes of Wrath,” arguably the greatest American novel ever written, the hero, Tom Joad says: “If there was a law they was workin’ with maybe we could take it, but it ain’t the law. They’re workin’ away our spirits, tryin’ to make us cringe and crawl, takin’ away our decency.”
I thought, for awhile during the earliest stages of the Tea Party, that we had some rebels getting together, but was disappointed when the movement was overcome by regressive conformists who don’t realize that the Constitution is a living, breathing document that needs change now and then via amendments that reflect our current state of affairs instead of those experienced by those true rebels—the founding fathers—more than 200 years ago.
All I see is bitter enmity in the rupture of decency that has degraded this election cycle and the rich gobbling up the houses and businesses left behind by the broken, those taken advantage of, those who have become disposable; and, I wonder where the sense of community has gone, the sense of being responsible to each other, the sense of unity.
“A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody,” Tom Joad told us.
But, is anybody listening?
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not necessarily representative of St. George News.
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