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#MeToo in the U.S. Food & Farm Movement

The question at hand: Is the U.S. food & farm movement a JUSTICE movement? For those on the COMFOOD listserv, I think you’ll agree that we recently witnessed an important moment in the maturing towards that goal. Even as survivors were forced to retell and relive their pain, we should all be honored and grateful to them for doing so, so that we as a movement can take a clear and more immediate stance against future violence and sexual offenses against women.

This post was originally sent to three food & farm listservs in U.S.:
— REGENERATION MIDWEST (12-state coalition)

For those who aren’t on COMFOOD, this is a recap, including a resource that may be useful in the future, An Open Letter Call to End Sex Offender Tributes.

The author of the Letter is Gayle Woodsum, a member of the U.S. food & farm community based in Laramie, WY. Gayle has given me permission to share the Letter with (a) the larger U.S. food & farm community (represented by these three listservs), and (b) the general public as represented by women’s organizations (e.g., Women’s March, National Women’s Law Center). Based on Gayle’s permission, I encourage others to share Gayle’s letter as an exceptionally strong and nuanced statement as to why violence and sexual harassment within a social justice sphere violates not only the victims but “the social justice efforts of us all” and why we must speak publicly “as loudly and widely as possible”.

#MeToo in the U.S. Food & Farm Movement
RECAP: Part 1

Twitter thread, posted Nov. 27, 2020 
(I posted this thread 2 days before Gayle posted her Letter)

Good news in the FOOD & FARM movement re the #MeToo movement —
Women on the COMFOOD listserv (the oldest & largest “community food security” listserv in N. America, hosted by Tufts U.) have been telling their truth about a well-known & well-respected male colleague.

Unfortunately, it took his untimely death and a series of plaudits to cause a woman elder to break the spell (on behalf of a good friend of hers). 

[Clarification: At this point the plaudits had been ratcheted up to a more formal format by the editor of a food & farm journal offering to publish “brief tributes”.]

The elder simply wrote: “Alas, I do not have kind words to contribute.”

Twenty-four hours later, one woman shared her story and named the problematic behavior: he was a “notorious and persistent sexual harasser, stalker, and manipulator”.

Other COMFOOD members–men and women–quickly rallied round, expressing surprise, sadness, thanks, support, etc., according to their own knowledge.

One member shared her experience at the hands of our dead colleague and offered her legal assistance to anyone experiencing “sexual harassment in the workplace (especially agricultural workers)”. She doesn’t think it was a coincidence that she went into food & agricultural law with an emphasis in farm labor relations after her experience.

COMFOOD members seemed to agree: no more “open secrets”.

Now the real work begins: dealing with systemic sexism, harassment, etc., within our individual organizations where it is likely intertwined with many other hierarchical power structures–racism, income disparity, turf wars, ageism, etc.

For some systemic analysis within the U.S. food & farm world, see my two blogs from August 2020 that were precipitated by a June 2020 disclosure of serious racism in a well-known food & farm organization.

On June 25, 2020, I wrote to COMFOOD (and 3 other major listservs):
“In response to the letter that was just posted on COMFOOD (Racism & The Food Movement — The Destruction of Food First, forwarded by Hugh Joseph, the listserv manager), it looks like food & farm folks are going to be having a long overdue conversation—not just about racism, but about sexism, systemic problems with non-profit organizations, turf wars, elites vs. grassroots, democratic decision-making, etc.”  

Blogs from August 2020:
UPDATE: Food First and the U.S. Food & Farm Movement  (Part 1: August 3, 2020)
UPDATE: Food First and the U.S. Food & Farm Movement  (Part 2: August 14, 2020)

RECAP: Part 2 

From Nov. 23-29, there were 30+ COMFOOD emails from approx. 25 different people about 
–Hank Herrera’s recent death
–his contributions to the food & farm movement
–his behavior towards women colleagues
–the U.S. food & farm movement in general

It was not until Gayle Woodsum sent her Open Letter (on Nov. 29) that the right actions were identified and, seemingly, adopted. The last paragraph of Gayle’s letter reads:
“Let us all now have the courage and wisdom of victims who become social
justice activists. Let us act with conviction and justice on the devastating
truth finally widely and publicly revealed about one of the countless sex
offenders never stopped, never held fully accountable. We can begin by ending
efforts to turn the death of Hank Herrera into permission to misrepresent the
full truth of his work within the food justice movement. We can also use this
lesson to take a next, much more important step in the direction of actively
seeking out sexual offenses wherever they exist, and put an unflinching,
permanent end to them.”

The complete letter is here:
An Open Letter Call to End Sex Offender Tributes in JAFSCD
(Gayle’s given me permission to post it on my website for lack of another internet location.)

The offer to publish “tributes” has been rescinded.
I think everyone was relieved.

RECAP: Part 3

More emails have been posted on COMFOOD since Gayle’s Letter, and are still coming in as we all continue to reckon with at least two questions:
—how do we maintain the momentum in the food & farm movement to support survivors and put a “permanent” end to sexual offenses?
—how will we know when we’ve reached that end?

One reckoning that has not taken place publicly yet is with Food First, Hank Herrera’s organization for the last 16 years. On Nov. 24, 2020 Food First posted a blog, Remembering Hank Herrera. Whether they want to rethink that tribute I don’t know. Food First has not yet published any findings from their Aug.-Sept. (?) listening sessions, organized to deal with charges of racism. Based on responses that I got on my UPDATES on Food First (in August), charges of chronic sexism were also likely to surface. Whether such charges were brought up during the listening sessions, I don’t know.

If you think Gayle’s letter might help other survivors and/or others who are looking for language and support to take a strong, public stance against sexual violence—sooner rather than later, please share.