REINING IN CORPORATE MONOPOLIES
American farmers and rural small business owners work hard to contribute to their communities and take care of their families. But these days, they often feel like they can’t get ahead no matter how hard they work. It feels like the economy is rigged against them – because it is. Giant global corporations are the ones setting the rules. They outsource jobs, take advantage of crises like the pandemic to increase their own profits, and influence policies so they stay ahead while working people fall behind. Rural Americans have seen their communities change as a result of greedy corporations: these companies set their prices so low that local businesses are driven out of business, and then raise prices again once there are no more competitors. They take advantage of tax exemptions so they do not have to pay their fair share to local maintain roads or fund education. They pressure state and federal policymakers to craft laws to protect them but that too often leave local communities picking up their tab.
Framing: integrity, stewardship, fairness
As progressive policymakers, we aim to unite communities across our shared values. We are taking on the power of faceless corporations and advocating for policies that respect local workers and families and promote integrity, stewardship and fairness. These values are deeply-held among working people, no matter where they live or what they look like.
Addressing the policy priorities linked below will give local communities what they need to solve local problems. Opposition continues to talk at families and purposely divide communities; we are forging a new path to ensure legislators are speaking with families and unite communities. By using effective communication strategies, we can neutralize inflammatory language, unite our coalitions, and pass the policies we all need.
USE SHARED RURAL VALUES TO CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
Effective communication requires not only facts but leveraging the values people share to resonate across race, class, age, gender, and place. The best messages follow the VPSA model: Values, Problem, Solution, Action. First, we unite along shared values to introduce the issue, then demonstrate the collectively-held problem, name the solution to the problem, and finally, when appropriate, leave with a call to action joining you to solve the problem. This formula keeps our messages concise while disarming opponents who seek to divide us. To get you started, here are three rural values that are particularly relevant for communicating with rural constituents about corporate monopolies:
- Framing: Rural constituents value integrity in their interactions. Too often, large corporations say one thing and do another, like promising many jobs in exchange for tax breaks if they open a new operation, but then the jobs never materialize. Hardworking families then have to pick up the tab.
- Example Statement: (Value) In Rural America, even if we don’t see eye to eye, we deal with each other honestly. (Problem) But corporate agriculture interests take advantage of regulatory exemptions to get tax breaks intended to support hardworking local farmers. (Solution) Our bill closes these loopholes so that the tax structure deals honestly with family farmers rather than giving big breaks to corporate investors.
- Example Talking Points:
- So-called “right to farm” laws are supposed to protect family farms from complaints by new neighbors about the sounds and smells of a working farm. Instead, huge confined livestock operations use the laws to protect themselves when rural families oppose a proposed new facility that would move thousands of cows or tens of thousands of chickens into the community.
- Hardworking family farmers pay a fee for each bushel of corn or head of cattle they sell. The funds are intended for product research and promotion, but in reality they go to fat cat corporate groups that push for policies to advance their own interests instead of those of family farmers.
- Framing: With an identity rooted in a deep connection to the land, rural constituents value stewardship. In corporate-driven agriculture arrangements like contract livestock farming, the local grower provides the infrastructure and all the labor, but the company sets the rules, including those that determine pollution management. Local community residents can steward their land much more appropriately than corporations whose headquarters may be across the country.
- Example Statement: (Value) Farmers care deeply for their land and their animals, often putting aside their own comfort to protect their animals in harsh weather. They are proud to show off their farms and talk about the care that has gone into maintaining the soil and raising the livestock. (Problem) Big meat companies make demands on their livestock growers that require them to use inhumane practices. The companies want to hide what the growers are forced to do, and have pushed a so-called “ag gag” bill to prohibit transparency at big livestock operations. (Solution) We must trust hardworking family farmers and the pride in their stewardship for the land and their animals. (Action) That’s why I am voting “no” on the proposed “ag gag” bill, and I call on my colleagues to take the same stand for our rural communities.
- Example Talking Points:
- Big global companies have too much power over our natural resources and our local economies. Too often, the contracts they offer to livestock growers require certain practices or use of chemicals, which strips the farmer’s power to make their own decisions about their land and how to farm it.
- In rural communities, we have a deep connection to the land we grew up on, their air we breathe, and the water we drink. Rural residents shouldn’t be silenced when speak out against corporations polluting our drinking water, our soil, and other natural resources.
- Framing: Fairness is another value important to rural constituents. Family farmers work hard and play fair, and they expect that others will do the same.
- Example Statement: (Value) In rural America, we play fair. (Problem) Global agribusiness companies have rigged the system so that they can pay less in taxes, take conservation money intended for family farmers, and pay less than the cost of production for most of their raw goods. (Solution) I am sticking up for our hardworking independent family farmers and ensuring these corporations play by the rules.
- Example Talking Points:
- Industrial meatpacking facilities take a disproportionate toll on small town resources and infrastructure. They should be subject to fair taxation so the rest of us aren’t left literally cleaning up their mess.
- Agribusiness companies benefit from loose regulations, which is one of the unfair advantages they have over hardworking family farmers and small business owners.
In practice: Media getting it right
Opinion | To Win in Rural Areas, Dems Must Take on Ag Monopolies, 2019
- WHAT WE LIKE
Personalizes the impacts of corporate monopolies as observed by rural residents. Centers farmworkers and working families in how corporate greed not only harms them, but consumers as well. This combines all working people–regardless of where they live–as being harmed by monopolies.
Draws direct lines between working people struggling to make ends meet to the record-breaking profits food corporations pulled in over the years.
Uses shared values to display the role of antitrust law and how the two are aligned.
Follows the VPSA model, ending with direct action legislators (and their constituents) can implement immediately.
- MOVING FORWARD:
Lead with values, then follow with numbers and data. Nearly everyone knows the numbers are not in favor of working people. Rural Americans want to hear how legislative champions are preparing to act to address inequities.
- Acknowledging the lack of movement on this issue affirms the anger rural communities feel. So often rural working people are told that the impacts of this issue have gotten
If you have questions or feedback about these communications guides, please be in touch with the SiX Agriculture and Food Systems Team. We love to hear from you!