By Trudy Wischemann
I detained a cat Sunday night against her will. It was for her own good, I told myself, and maybe it was. She’d been ill for months with a nasty upper respiratory infection, but was untouchable, untrappable, too wary for words. Last Thursday I noticed that snot from her nose had collected a mass of leaves and grass stems through which she could no longer breathe, and Friday I realized she’d stopped eating or drinking.
Sunday evening she was finally too weak to evade me, though she tried. Restraining her gently with a blanket, I removed the leaf mass and forced some electrolytes into her mouth. Then I placed her in a cat carrier with food and water, hoping the slight chance to rehydrate would help. At least it kept her safe from the feral tom cats roaming the yard at night looking for you-know-what.
As I closed the door on the carrier, I knew I was taking from her the right to die where she wanted. It helped me to think I had tried my best to help her; at least she was secure. But in the morning, when I unclasped her claw from the door’s grate, her paws cold but her eyes still following me, her breathing involuntary, I knew my solution had been self-serving.
Seeing the parallel with our nation’s detention of migrants at the border, asylum-seekers and opportunity dreamers alike, was unavoidable. So was the sense of absolute loss of hope for a better solution.
“If we spent the money we’re blowing on detention facilities and guards to help those people in their own countries,” a friend proposed, “we’d do more good.” We went on to talk about how many of the problems in Central America have their roots in the North, from corporate banana plantations to the coups of the Reagan era, from gun sales to gang deportations. We have owned up to so little of our negative influences, whether it be raw capitalism or pretend democracy. Where do we start?
The other part of my weekend, the non-cat-tending part, was dedicated to editing a piece of writing on the Deep South for possible inclusion in my book on agriculture and the common good in California. The author’s premise, that something precious was lost when the agricultural South finally modernized, despite the long history of slavery that allowed that region to lag behind the rest of the country, resonates with what I’m trying to show is being lost with increasing industrialization of agriculture here.
“Most of the rural western world has undergone what is called modernization over the past two centuries,” he begins. “Countrysides have been almost depopulated; machines have displaced women, children, and work animals; and the corporate system has come to dominate in the production of food and fiber.” He then goes on to describe three different modes of rural modernization in the U.S.: plantations and monoculture, “characteristic of most of the south and most unhappy in its consequences for people and for the land,” the small-scale farms of the northeast and midwestern corn belt, and the corporate bonanza farms and hydraulic societies of the plains and far West.
As modernization has freed people from the burdens of tending the land (what Sec. of Agriculture Earl Butz once termed “excess resources in ag”) they were once freed up to become industrial workers in urban areas. We have only to look at Flint, Michigan, or Detroit, or other urban areas whose jobs have been shipped overseas, to realize that’s no longer the case. Those migrants wanting to cross the border for economic security as well as personal, do they know what’s waiting for them? Will they find themselves searching for a better place to die?
The alternatives to detention are few, but we all need to be searching for them, for we all suffer the dispossessing impacts of industrial ag production. It may be self-serving, but in seeking answers for them, we may find some for ourselves.