Ontario’s premier, Dalton McGuinty, may well be wondering if meeting with Michael Schmidt might involve a loss of “face”…that he will look weak if he accedes to the dairy farmer’s request.
He might want to take a look at the photo here. It’s from March 1968, and shows Robert Kennedy, then a U.S. senator from New York, and a candidate for the Presidential nomination, meeting with migrant farm leader Cesar Chavez on day 25 of his hunger strike on behalf of laws to protect farm workers. Chavez ended the hunger strike after meeting with Kennedy. And here is some video footage of Kennedy speaking to reporters after meeting with Chavez.
It might be said that Kennedy had an important political agenda associated with his decision to meet with Chavez–the California presidential primary was coming up that June. But Kennedy was the only one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination to take up the cause of Chavez. The gesture didn’t hurt, since Kennedy won the June California primary (only to be assassinated the evening of his victory).
I don’t think political advantage was all that motivated him, though. In the process of serving as U.S. attorney general and then becoming a senator, he had become ever more sensitive to the desperation of America’s underclass. His ability to relate to America’s poor and disadvantaged was the primary factor in his rising popularity.
He would go on the next month, after his meeting with Chavez, to make one of the most courageous speeches any American politician has ever made, the evening of Martin Luther King’s assassination. He was to speak at a political rally in Indianapolis. When the King assassination occurred just a few hours before, Kennedy was advised to cancel the rally. He insisted on holding it, even after Indianapolis police refused to accompany him into the city’s black area.
Here is a video of that speech. It is well worth watching, Premier McGuinty (and everyone else), for an inspiring example of a politician trying to appeal to the best in people, rather than the dark side.
I spoke today with one of Premier McGuinty’s press aides. I wanted to know whether the premier had made a decision on whether to meet with Schmidt–this in connection with an article I was doing for Grist about Schmidt’s hunger strike. No, the spokesman said, the matter is still “under review.” Could he tell me when a decision might be made? No, he didn’t want to “speculate” on that.
There is little for the premier to lose in meeting with Schmidt, and much to gain. Even citizens who don’t agree with Schmidt about making safe raw milk available on a private basis almost always respect his argument, and his dignified approach to the matter. The only people who might not care for a decision to meet with Schmidt are the public health professionals and the dairy industry bigwigs, but I guarantee they will get over any upset when McGuinty makes clear that he is simply respecting the idea of having an open dialog about a matter of much meaning to an important and fast-growing segment of the people.
All I can say at this point is that time is running very short. Cesar Chavez was nearing death at day 25 of his hunger strike in 1968. Michael Schmidt is now at day 27, and his health is increasingly at serious risk. It’s time Premier McGuinty, to end the suffering, and allow everyone to exhale.