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This Just In: Arrow Rock, MO, pop. 79, Matters

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Slavery ended and women got the vote because ordinary people defied bad policy and worse laws. The corporate stranglehold on America may be undone by people standing together in places like Arrow Rock, MO, population 79, and other places you've never heard of.

Corporate predation is possible because we stipulate to a lie - that corporations are people. They are not. Yes, ending this pernicious fiction will take a Constitutional Amendment. Did I mention slaves and women? Contrary to the belief and practice of many in the Republican Party, in America the people are still sovereign (at least for awhile, but that'll be my next post). Governments and politicians work for us, not the other way around.

My "This Just In" is set in an honest-to-goodness village. With their future threatened, Arrow Rock, Missouri citizens are standing up to big corporate agribusiness (a.k.a. "Big AG"). in one of America's most intensely agricultural states. And together, contrary to appearances, they are gaining ground.

Here's the story.

Arrow Rock is tiny, as quaint and lovely as its name. For 10,000 years, Native Americans came to this Osage Trace crossing of the Missouri River for flint for their "Arrows", taken from the eponymous "Rock". Lewis and Clark's enthusiasm for the site half way between St. Louis and Kansas City attracted white settlers and their black slaves -- remember, this is the "Missouri Compromise" state. Today, the 19th century is frozen there, attracting tourists like bears to honey.

Like Mt. Vernon, the Statue of Liberty and Monticello, the village of Arrow Rock itself and the George Caleb Bingham home in the village are both National Historic Landmarks. Much of the town is included in a new State Park. Thousands of school kids and all kinds of visitors come through, year 'round, for its quiet and peace, its history, a bit of summer theatre at the historic Lyceum Theatre, and that increasingly scare delicacy - fresh air.

Enter Dennis Gessling, his wife Chrissy, corporate America and, possibly, 4,800 hogs.

The Gesslings own a farm 1.9 miles from Arrow Rock. In defiance of Arrow Rock neighbors, Gesslings want to construct a "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation" (CAFO) for hogs on their land. When you hear "CAFO", think "factory farm". When you see Gessling's CAFO, think hogs. Lots and lots and lots of hogs.

CAFOs are a Faustian bargain for the operator. A very large corporation (Big AG) provides and owns the hogs. Big AG contracts with a private land owner to provide the location; to make promises that there is a plan to get rid of the significant amounts of feces, urine, and other waste generated in such an enterprise, including a lot of dead hogs; and to make the application for permits when required. In addition to shifting costs, this also creates the fiction that Big AG's CAFO is a "family farm". It also removes Big AG's liability when things go wrong.

Because the Gesslings want to confine more than 2,999 hogs, they must get a construction permit from the State's Department of Natural Resources (DNR). (Imagine living next door to a totally unregulated factory farm with "only" 2,999 hogs.)

So Mr. Gessling made the application. But the rules are surprisingly lax. The only substantive promise he had to make was about water quality - promises which his Arrow Rock neighbors say he cannot keep. Except for an embarrassingly scant 1,000 FEET "buffer zone" between the CAFO buildings and any neighbors' building, the air quality considerations are ZERO. They kick in only if one confines 17,500 pigs. And then reportedly the enforcement is lax.

Air quality. Hmmmmmm. That includes the SMELL ... from almost 5,000 HOGS!

Four-thousand-eight-hundred hogs, to be precise. Four-thousand-eight-hundred hogs spending their entire lives in two very large barns in whiffing distance of a nationally recognized tourist attraction. Now, this is Missouri, where summertime temperatures often rise into the high nineties. And the Gesslings propose to "compost" the 3-5% of the hogs which everyone expects to die in those barns, plus urine, feces and general farm detritus...but ODOR is not considered a factor and no rules apply?

Who would blame tourists and students, Arrow Rock's only economic resource, for staying away in droves from such an odoriferous opportunity? Proposed tally: one dead village.

Arrow Rock villagers learned of Dennis Gessling's application in January. Alarmed by the threat to their existence, they immediately formed "Citizens to Protect State Parks and Historic Sites" < HYPERLINK> HYPERLINK>>. Others objected too, flooding the DNR with what DNR says is the most public responses they've gotten on an issue. Ever.

As you would expect, the twists and turns have been many in these intervening months, attracting ever-increasing attention and scrutiny. One example suffices. Reportedly after Mr. Gessling had submitted his application -- and to be sure Big AG got what it wanted - the DNR, albeit furtively and behind closed doors, helped Mr. Gessling change his application so that it would meet minimum requirements. Turns out this is not news, it happens all the time. The DNR has reportedly never turned down a permit to construct a Big AG CAFO.

Missouri's Republican Governor Matt Blunt sides with his Big AG Big Donors, the Republican Lt. Governor is still on the side-lines, and the DNR's Director Doyle Childers dances slavishly to Big AG's tune. This despite Mr. Childers' federal responsibilities as Missouri's "Chief State Historic Preservation Officer" for U.S. Department of Interior's National Park Service.

Now, Missourians love their parks. More than 70% of them recently extended their tax on themselves to support those parks. So people noticed when a bill to protect places like Arrow Rock with a 5 mile (not 1,000 foot) buffer zone was introduced in the State Legislature...but never got a hearing, much less a vote. Why? Politicians fear the Farm Bureau, megaphone for, you guessed it, Big AG.

Contrary to its bucolic sound, the Farm Bureau is an insurance company rooted in long decades of extremist right-wing politics. (See the Defenders of Wildlife expose "Amber Waves of Grain: How the Farm Bureau is Reaping Profits at the Expense of America's Family Farmers, Taxpayers and the Environment".) Cheap insurance policies keep traditional farmers hushed up while the Farm Bureau carries Big AG's baggage, including but not limited to the devastating laundry list of effects on our food supply, our health and our environment.

Substitute the names of many large and not-so-large corporations, their industries and henchmen, and it's the same story. Corporations win; people - real people - lose.

In the news-doldrums of the Labor Day weekend, DNR's Doyle Childers took the lowest road. Ignoring a host of pressing reasons to delay, Mr. Childers and his Department rushed to issue Dennis Gessling his construction permit. Forget citizen-voiced human health concerns including those of the Centers for Disease Control*; water quantity issues; soil protection; property values and local economy; animal rights or corporate ownership issues, highway issues, or the future of Arrow Rock.

End of story? Hardly! "We've only just begun" is more like it. "Citizens to Protect" had publicly warned the State in July: Issue this permit, expect a law suit. One shoe has dropped. Expect the other.

And here's what's exciting. Many shoes are dropping. Arrow Rock is not alone and the sparks coming off the flint of Arrow Rock are part of a larger blaze. The Missouri Parks Association has awakened to this issue, concerned that CAFOs pose a significant threat to the quality and integrity of state parks and historic sites. They quite handily just passed a resolution in support of Arrow Rock, which will also help other parks and sites actively resisting Big AG.

Plus, "Citizens to Protect" are receiving other David-and-Goliath stories of people fed up with corporate greed. That's how I learned about the residents of Barnstead, NH, where the town is pushing back against a giant corporation intent on usurping the local water. And the people of Humboldt County in California. They have passed a referendum making it clear that corporations are not "people" there and have banned corporate participation in elections. (Doug Pibel highlights these and others in the Fall, 2007 issue of "Yes! Magazine".)

Democracy shares the tenacity of a seed. Grass may not get much respect, but given enough time and energy, a single blade can -- and will -- crack through concrete if that's what it takes to live. "And a little town shall lead them..."

Now that you've heard to my story, I want to hear yours. Perhaps it will be the example to which people will one day point and say, "See? That was the turning point away from a corporatist state. Everyday people defied corporations and proved that 'government of the people, by the people and for the people' would not perish from the earth."

In the "Know The Truth and The Truth |Shall Set You Free" category, no one has done more than the courageous Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, to show us the devastating consequences of "Big AG" and its predatory behavior.

Paul Hawken has a wealth of stories in Blessed Unrest, people in a million or more organizations around the world pursuing similar paths of resistance.

Thom Hartmann documents in UnEqual Protection how yesterday's corporate behomoths (the railroads) cheated to gain their fictive "personhood".

Michael Pollan has also opened a lot of eyes to the dangers of concentration and of monocultures of all kinds in a number of books.

You'll find and can listen to "Conversations" with all of these people and more on our website HYPERLINK ""

* The Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website states, "People who work with livestock may develop adverse health effects, including chronic and acute respiratory illnesses and musculoskeletal injuries, and may be exposed to infections that travel from animals to humans. Residents in areas surrounding CAFOs report nuisances, such as odor and flies. In studies of CAFOs, CDC has shown that chemical and infectious compounds from swine and poultry waste are able to migrate into soil and water near CAFOs. Scientists do not yet know whether or how the migration of these compounds affects human health."