As he enters the fourth week of a hunger strike, Michael Schmidt’s life still hangs in the balance. This from Jon Duschinsky, a Canadian organizer:
“Spent an awe-inspiring afternoon with Michael & Elisa and other campaigners today. He’s doing well. Tired, but well. We taped a little videomessage for all his supporters which should be online tomorrow and there are a LOAD of things in the pipeline for this week. Watch this space – we’re hard at work and will have more to share later tonight or tomorrow. Thanks all and keep up the fight!”
No matter how the Michael Schmidt affair ends, it will no doubt mark an important turning point in the food rights movement. And that is exactly as Schmidt would want it.
Here are five of its accomplishments thus far:
1. It has educated thousands of people about the realities of food rights–that we aren’t necessarily the final arbiters of what goes into our bodies, and that public health and elected authorities aren’t interested in correcting the situation. If a dairy farmer with hundreds of eager consumer share owners can’t get a single individual in a position of authority to engage him on safety issues in 17 years of trying, you know something is wrong. And if, after starving himself, those same individuals are still unwilling to talk, well, you begin to realize how high they see the stakes. You understand that Schmidt could have spent several lifetimes just hanging around being polite seeking out someone to speak with him.
2. It has radicalized thousands. Once you realize the authorities are willing to let people die to maintain the existing system, your perspective changes. You don’t have to look very far to see how upset people have become about the Michael Schmidt sacrifice. Mark McAfee pointed out in a comment on this blog how he had lost his appetite. I had a similar reaction. One woman on the “Support Michael Schmidt” Facebook page stated: “All of this is making me so emotionally exhausted! But, I am NOT complaining, what Michael and his family are going through must be unimaginable!”
3. It has elevated the issue of food rights to a new level. No longer will food rights simply be about accessing raw milk. Increasingly, it will be seen for what it is–the right of each individual to decide what foods should go into their bodies…and which should not. For a long time, I felt as if I was the only one writing regularly about this issue. It’s gratifying to see a variety of bloggers, and even establishment media, taking note.
4. It has forced the beginning of important organizational work. No movement can go very far without serious organization. Sure, the efforts of the last couple weeks sometimes appear more like uncontrolled chaos. Some people pleading for a concerted media campaign. Others pleading for donations for Schmidt’s legal campaign. Still others trying to organize a day of fasting. But any number of people have gotten their feet wet on political organizing, and made contacts with individuals similarly inclined. The effective use of social media has been important. More significant, a cadre of leaders is emerging in both Canada and the U.S., which will hopefully prove important in promoting new efforts beyond Michael Schmidt’s hunger strike.
5. We see how far we have to go. It’s sobering, but important, to appreciate that this fight won’t be won because a few public officials or judges will suddenly become sympathetic with Michael Schmidt’s plight. They will do what their financial sponsors tell them to do…until they see their actual power being threatened because they are losing votes, or sponsor financing.
For those wondering how they might join in the efforts, Ann Marie Michaels at Cheeseslave has some excellent advice. We don’t know yet the outcome of this high-stakes drama. But Michael Schmidt has already performed a huge service to many thousands, and eventually millions, of people.
Here’s one person’s take on the sometimes acrimonious debate about the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI). I sense a number of small-dairy owners are scared to death about the prospect of yet another national institutional force in their lives. They have learned well to distrust the many forces arrayed around them, at least some of which are openly hostile. They fear that one of their own could easily evolve into yet another enemy.
I sense as well a desire to keep as much of their lives on a highly local, community basis. Some kind of standards-based association entirely local and community-based–might this be more desirable?
I hope Mary Martin gains satisfaction from the Weston A. Price Foundation. Its perceived lack of sensitivity seems to have been the source of much of her anguish.