Rhonda Perry and Jamala Rogers

Local control is under attack, in rural and urban Missouri

By Rhonda Perry and Jamala Rogers

For The St. Louis American

Coming from two diverse places and backgrounds, our organizations (Organization for Black Struggle and Missouri Rural Crisis Center) are bringing people together from our respective communities to identify our commonalities and mutual values and to work together for policies that positively affect Missouri families, urban and rural, workers and farmers.

It’s clear the deck has been stacked against working and farming families in Missouri. Our communities have been devastated by years of policies that put narrow ideology, big donors and multi-national corporations before the needs of Missouri families and communities.

This is why our organizations are working together. We organized successful campaigns on Amendment 1 (CLEAN Missouri) and Proposition B, fortified by the determination of many others around the state. Both were enthusiastically supported by Missouri voters (urban and rural) by a two-to-one margin, and in some areas of St. Louis the measures received 80 percent of the vote.

We had to take these issues to the ballot because our state legislators refuse to address many of the issues affecting a large swath of Missourians and oftentimes create polices that undermine our local success.

In 2015, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed a staggered increase in the minimum wage to $11/hour. The increase was the result of the Fight for $15 campaign and withstood a legal challenge in 2017 by lobbyists of the restaurant industry.

Then lobbyists in our state capitol convinced our state legislature to override the local minimum wage ordinance and take away the right to local control. 

Our legislature’s blatant disregard of the will of the citizens and our local control was met with voter outrage and spurred a ballot initiative petition. Over 120,000 signatures were collected to put Prop B on the November ballot. The ballot measure, which increases Missouri’s minimum wage to $12 by 2023, passed statewide by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin.

After voters saw how corporate lobbyists influenced their state lawmakers, they knew something had to change. In response, our organizations and allies took the issue directly to voters to make our state government more transparent, limit the power of big money in our legislature, and make sure we can hold our elected representatives accountable to the people and communities they are supposed to represent. CLEAN Missouri, a constitutional amendment, passed statewide by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin. 

Now, in an unbelievable show of abusive power, Missouri legislators are taking a wrecking ball to these decisive democratic victories attempting to undo these democratic votes. The fact that lawmakers are ignoring the will of voters is shameful and an affront to democracy.

Rural Missouri is fighting back on the farming front. Local control is being threatened by the state legislature and corporate agricultural lobbyists. They want to leave Missouri family farmers and rural citizens defenseless by taking away the right to protect themselves from unaccountable, absentee and foreign corporations that are bent on controlling the food supply and making profits at any cost.

Why? They would rather have decisions being made where their money and lobbyists have the biggest impact – at the state and federal levels. It seems that democracy is being re-defined as a pay-to-play game.

Senate Bill 391 would strip local control from all rural counties, exposing family farmers to the negative impacts of corporate-controlled factory farms. It is an attempt to force industrial livestock operations into our communities with no accountability by taking away every avenue we have as Missourians and Americans to protect ourselves, our land and our way of life.

Factory farms create millions of gallons of waste, dead animals, and degradation of our water and air. Most are controlled by entities that are not based in Missouri or even in the U.S.

Twenty rural counties have passed health ordinances to protect their communities from factory farms, including common-sense protections for our health, communities, and wells and water sources. Many of these local safeguards have been in place for decades, protecting the air and water and family farmers and rural citizens that have lived there for generations.   

Our elected representatives should be working to protect the majority of Missourians, instead of a small elite minority. The Missouri legislature’s attacks on our fundamental rights as citizens will not go unchallenged.

Rhonda Perry is a farmer from Howard County Missouri and the program director of Missouri Rural Crisis Center. Jamala Rogers is the executive director of Organization for Black Struggle.

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