By Barb Hauge
It has come full circle. Hi-Line business communities are saying, Ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community.
I recall when, as local and county officers in Montana Farmers Union, we were begging Main Street businessmen to sign petitions on a number of issues vital to us as farmers and ranchers. We were pushing for Roosevelts 100 Percent Parity Income for Agriculture, which would have tied our prices to our cost of production. We tried to get business groups and Chambers of Commerce to support The Brannon Plan which would have kicked back a percentage of the market price to primary producers. The only group who got this was the sheepmen. We got very little support from the business community. Our greatest boosters were organized labor.
We told local merchants that for every seven farm and ranch families who were economically forced off the land, another business will close its doors. But they did not listen to us rural hicks. To them we were not important and they cared not at all.
Yes, it is sad to visit shopping malls that are half-empty and towns with business districts boarded up. But it is also sad to live in the country where you used to have 10 neighbors and now you have two. We import kids from other towns and from foreign countries in order to maintain our school.
Montanas governor has now signed a tax-relief bill for business. It will help big business enormously. Legislators say they want to move Montana out of its bottom spot in the nationwide rating of wages paid to workers. Does that mean everyone currently employed will enjoy a substantial wage increase? Will power companies, mining, oil and railroads hire more workers at higher wages? Well need the money because the Legislature will soon be searching for ways to replace this lost revenue and the hated sales tax, no doubt, tops their list of solutions.
Many years ago I wrote a pageant A New World Calls, which was performed at Montana Farmers Union Convention in Great Falls:
We are people spewed from the womb of America. Out of 16s and 20s and 30s, her depressions and wars. And what are we? Molded men and women? Molded to the hum of steel machines, trapped in the turning, churning wheels of Industry? Pawns on the chessboard of international war? All this and more, we are.
But why have we become this? Because Americas founding fathers sought freedom only for themselves and their posterity, not for the workers in the new industries and certainly not for the Indians or the slaves in southern fields or the uncouth pioneers pushing westward. But freedom for themselves; to carve their empires of industrial wealth.
And they carved. With the sweat and toil of our fathers they carved vast wealth from coal and iron and copper; gold and forests and rivers, with no question of human need; no value of human life. Use the man! Take the wealth! Get all you can!
In only the past two decades America has lost over two-thirds of our farm and ranch families.
Ask not what we can do for you, you have already done it to us.