Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Marching in Lockstep or Moving Forward Together

One of the joys of Grange membership is seeing our members join together as one. Often unity is reserved for celebrations. When we gather to celebrate a member receiving a 25, 50, or even a 75-year membership award, the room is always filled with smiles and a few tears of joy, and the memories and good wishes wash over all present.

When an outstanding citizen from our community is recognized, the members join in the congratulations that the individual deserves. Unity seems easy to achieve when we are celebrating milestones and achievements.

Yet in the Grange, we somehow achieve a sense of unity through the family or fraternal atmosphere that permeates our Grange meetings. Through our Grange bonds, we hold that unity of purpose far beyond those moments of celebration.

Yet when we come together and debate an issue, the joys of Grange membership are in the diversity of opinion. I’ve heard members speak for and against an idea. Passion has been exhibited in every Grange by members in debate on almost any topic imaginable. Friends have taken the opposite side of discussions. They have pointed out the holes in others arguments and reinforced others. I’ve even seen opinions change on the floor and members acknowledge errors and new insights.

At the end of the debate, seldom do members fail to vote their conscience. I’ve seen wives oppose their husbands, friends vote against the desires of their friends, and others have cast a lonely vote in favor or opposition. Yet after the vote is taken, the members put aside their differences and return to the spirit of fraternalism that brings us together as family.

I wonder why we so seldom see the same from our elected officials. It seems that they spend so much of the time marching in lockstep with their party. I have trouble believing that all members of a party embrace the same ideas, in so many different instances. It is simply due to party discipline?

We understand discipline in the Grange. We practice self-discipline regularly. When we cast a vote in the minority, we often still show up and help with the project, we continue to open our wallets and make donations, and we applaud our fellow members when their ideas bear fruit.

I understand the good and bad that parties bring to the political world. I also understand the ebb and flow of partisanship in American history. Would it not be better if our legislatures and Congress heard the debate about what each bill would mean to each member and their constituents, rather than to inject partisanship as the core of so many debates? 

The Grange was formed with non-partisanship as a fundamental principle and while that principle is challenged now and again, it has stood the test of time.  When the Grange moves forward on an issue, it does so with unity created through our deliberative process and the self-discipline of our membership.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see our State Legislature or Congress moving forward in the Grange fashion rather than the majority of our lawmakers marching in lockstep strictly due to their party affiliation?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Founders’ Grange and Ours

April is Grange month and as the Grange organization turned 148 years old last December, it is appropriate to look at the roots of the Grange and wonder how the founders of the Grange would view us today.

America was very different in 1867. The civil war was concluded and the reconstruction was in progress, both in welcoming back the Confederate states, and in efforts to punish them. Most people lived in rural America and over 50% of the population was farmers. The economy was in recession following the war. The industrial revolution was in full swing and the country was changing.

Today politicians and their supporters demonize their opponents and partisanship divides the country. Most Americans live in urban and suburban areas and less than 2% of the population is farmers. The economy is out of recession, but stagnant and struggling in most states. The information revolution is in full swing and the nation is changing.

So who were the eight individuals credited with being the founders?

Oliver Hudson Kelley was from Boston and moved west ending up in Itasca Minnesota with a farm. He was the promoter of the organization and the initial success of the Order is largely due to his extensive correspondence and field work in organizing Granges. He resigned as National Grange Secretary in 1878 and pursued other vocations, including writing, farming, municipal public service, real estate development and oil exploration. He returned to the Order later in life.

William Saunders was from Scotland and worked in horticulture and landscape design. He was personally recruited by Isaac Newton, the first US Commissioner of Agriculture, to join the management team of the fledging USDA in 1862, where he served until his death in 1900. He brought a keen analytical mind and extensive contacts in agriculture to the Grange formation. He stepped down from the Executive Committee in 1875. 

William Ireland was a Pennsylvanian and worked much of his life in Washington, D.C. He was a significant contributor to Grange rules and ritual. He was the first Treasurer and assumed the duties of Secretary when Kelley resigned. He resigned as National Secretary in 1885 and then worked with Albert Pike in the Masonic Order until his death in 1891. 

John R. Thompson was born in New Hampshire. During the Civil war he was promoted to the rank of Colonel. He wrote much of the sixth and seventh degrees and contributed much to the lower degrees. He served as the first Lecturer and the second Treasurer. For 10 years he served as High Priest of the Assembly of Demeter from 1873 to 1883. He passed away in 1893.

Rev. Aaron B. Grosh was of Pennsylvania birth and of the Universalist faith. He was the only older man of the founders and contributed extensively in writing ritualistic work. He also wrote “Mentor in the Granges and Homes of Patrons of Husbandry,” He served as National Grange Chaplain until 1875 and died in 1884. 

Francis McDowell was a New Yorker who was a highly successful New York investment banker who sold US railroad bonds to European investors until his failing health forced his retirement. He then turned to growing grapes on the shores of Lake Keuka. He served as Treasurer until 1893 and died the following March. He contributed many ideas to the structure of the Grange and is credited with the addition of the Seventh Degree. The financial success of the Order was due to his counsel and guidance.

 John Trimble was born in New Jersey and received his Doctor of Divinity while serving as a minster. He provided constructive criticism during the formation of the structure and ritual of the Grange. He refused office in the Grange until 1884 when he filled in for Ireland. He was elected and served as Secretary and also as the National Grange’s lobbyist in Washington DC from 1885 until his death in 1902. 

Caroline Hall was born in Boston. She served as her uncle Oliver Hudson Kelley’s right arm, providing aid in correspondence and in providing much needed clerical assistance to him, especially during his tenure as National Grange Secretary. She is credited with insisting to the other founders that the National Grange give full voice and vote to women from the very start of the organization.  She served as Ceres from 1868-1873 and Lady Assistant Steward from 1873-79 and died from a car accident in 1918.

What would these individuals think of the Grange today? Would they recognize it? Would they approve of us?

I believe that that answer is yes. The Grange was formed with two main goals, provide and encourage education and to arrange for social connection and interaction. The purpose of this was to allow each member to learn and grow in order to reach their full potential while promoting agriculture as a noble endeavor. 

I have a hunch that many of the founders would encourage us to focus more on education than we already do, especially as they viewed the Lecturer as an educator or teacher. However, it is likely that they would smile in pride at the spirit of fraternity and friendship in the Grange of today.

Even with all the changes to the ritualistic work of the Order over the past 148 years, I have no doubt the each of the founders would recognize the Grange today. They might ask us some hard questions about why some ritual and rule changes were incorporated, but other changes would be greeted with a “well done” by even John Trimble.

It is my opinion that the achievements of the Grange would amaze all of the founders. They might even be surprised that after nearly a century and a half, we remain a non-partisan grassroots legislative force and that so many good works are accomplished for our local communities. I doubt any of them would be surprised that we still remain true to the principles of the Grange. They saw Faith in God, Hope, Charity to the needy, and Fidelity in all aspects of life to be essential characteristics. They would be proud that our organization has not abandoned these principles as they likely would have believed that the loss of principles would have doomed their organization.

In 1873 at the sixth Session of the National Grange, the founders and the first delegates adopted a new Constitution and By-Laws for the Grange. The big change was the elimination of the Grange Senate. In real terms, the founders bequeathed the Grange organization to the delegates of the National Grange. The organization we have today remains the gift of the founders to all of us.

If they could speak to us today, don’t you think that they’d encourage each of us to continue their legacy? Will you invite someone to Grange; will you bring in a new member this year, especially as we celebrate Grange month?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Is Net Neutrality Really Neutral?

The Internet – it just works, right?  Well it’s not really that simple, especially when Washington has its hands in it. 

Recently, three members of an unelected five-person federal commission approved rules that will likely make Internet service slower and more expensive.  Worse, the impact will be felt especially hard in small towns, farming communities, and other underserved areas whose residents depend on the current deployment of faster Internet service.

This is the result of the Federal Communications Commission’s regrettable decision on February 26 to begin regulating our Internet and wireless service with part of a 1934 law meant for rotary telephones.  While the FCC will not make the plan publicly available for weeks, enough details have come out to see why this action represents an alarming shift toward government control over the Internet and what we do online.

Given the Internet’s importance in rural communities, this news should be a call to action for our Members of Congress.  The Internet is increasingly important to our way of life – from satellite-based precision agriculture to real-time tornado warnings. Revitalization of our rural and underserved communities will be heavily dependent upon high speed connectivity for telemedicine, distance learning, and business models in the future.

Under the FCC’s new rules, which are referred to as “Title II” as they come from that section of the 1934 law, the federal government for the first time will have the ability to regulate the complex pricing system for transmission of data over the Internet.  Such regulations are unprecedented and will very likely lead to more problems than solutions.  

One of the dissenting FCC officials said that this action “welcomes litigation… as an appropriate means for regulating the Internet economy.”  Assuming this is true, the last thing a rapidly evolving and innovative internet needs is lawyers testing every new development in court.

The FCC’s action also gives state and local officials increased ability to raise taxes and fees on online services.  One study estimates that Americans would potentially have to pay up to $11 billion in new online fees. 

Yet these antiquated rules are what the FCC decided to use to regulate not only today’s high-speed Internet but also emerging technologies that will eventually make current communication as outdated as the Morse code.

Eight months ago, we warned the FCC that approval of these Title II Internet regulations would cause significant harm to Americans in rural areas.  “The rigid regulations and requirements mandated under Title II classification would restrict broadband development and hamper deployment of high-speed Internet access to rural areas,” we wrote.

Clearly, the FCC did not take into account the needs of rural Americans when it approved this policy.

That is why it is now up to our elected officials in Congress to correct this mistake. Given the interference with our online activities, our ability to access the Internet, and our online privacy, Congress must step in and correct this problem.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this recent FCC action is that it completely undercuts the country’s strong tradition of viewing the Internet as far too important to be used for political games. President Clinton’s administration came out squarely opposed to federal micromanagement of Internet technology in a widely praised 1997 policy. President Bush continued this stance, with Republicans and Democrats alike voicing support.

The Grange supports innovation that moves rural America into the world of access to high speed connectivity.   More federal government micromanagement would slow this down. If a handful of unelected officials can radically change Internet regulation to disadvantage rural America, Congress should take action to reassert a commonsense policy. In addition, if the news reports of political pressure on the FCC Board are correct, then the functioning of this politically independent commission needs to be reviewed by Congress.

Access to reliable high-speed Internet service is critical to continued success and sustainability of the country’s rural, agricultural, and underserved communities.  Congress should reject this outdated regulation and support action that will continue the effort to expand rural Internet access.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Grange Motto and Grange Month

In Essentials, Unity
In Non-Essentials, Liberty
In All Things, Charity

The Grange motto consists of just these ten words. This first day of Grange month, it seems appropriate to start with the Grange motto. These few words are a great way to start explaining the Grange to those who don’t know who we are.

Think about the first line, “In essentials, Unity”. When I think of essentials and the Grange, the vision of a group that puts personal integrity and shared values ahead of disagreements is what pops into my head. The core belief of our shared principles and values serve as the common ground to bring liberal or conservative together. We come together to both morn losses and celebrate successes because we are united through the Grange. A group of people, family by any definition, who care and aid each other to reach their full potential is true unity and essential.

The second line, “In Non-Essentials, Liberty” is truly American. Even while united by common cause, each member is free to follow their own path in their own pursuit of happiness. What church to attend, or not; which political party to belong to, or not; how to live your own life belongs to each of us alone. Liberty is the freedom to choose what to buy, where to go, what causes to support, and who to hang out with in our free time. The non-essentials are the material aspects of life, the raucousness of American politics, and so many other things that consume our precious time. It isn’t that these things are not important; it is a reminder that each of us has the liberty to indulge in the non-essentials as we choose to do so.

The motto ends with “In All Things, Charity”. Charity is giving of our valuable time to benefit others. Charity is giving of our abundant resources to causes seeking great things. Charity is giving the benefit of the doubt to those who disagree with us. America is one of the most giving countries every to exist. We open our wallets and hearts or we lend a hand to those needing help. Yet our motto is in all things, not just material or physical help. Grangers don’t call people names when they disagree with them. Grangers seek first to educate and lift people up rather than to chastise those who make mistakes. 

I hope that every Grange member will reflect upon our Grange Motto during the month of April. Share with someone what the Grange motto means to you and let Grange month become the moment that you add a new member to our Grange family.