Today is a big day for all of us who believe not only in sustainable food and agriculture systems, but also in the democratic process. The months since the election brought an outpouring of engagement from citizens urging the Obama Administration to appoint change-makers to lead our country.
And it paid off.
Kathleen Merrigan is headed to Washington.
It is because of you.
And we are not done yet.
Because thousands of us raised our voices on Food Democracy Now website, signed petitions like the one at the Center for Rural Affairs, wrote letters, called senators and generally raised a democratic ruckus, Kathleen Merrigan was nominated today to be the Deputy Secretary at the US Department of Agriculture. As the second-highest ranking official at USDA, Dr. Merrigan will have a portfolio of issues assigned to her by Secretary Vilsack and will act as the Secretary of Agriculture if Secretary Vilsack is unable to do his job.
Dr. Merrigan is a thrillingly unexpected pick. Currently the Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment MS and PhD Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, she previously held a variety of policymaking jobs at the state, federal, and international level, including running the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA under President Clinton. She also worked at Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and at the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She was a staff member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry under Chairman Patrick Leahy and helped to write the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 that mandated national organic standards, later guiding the federal organic labeling program at the USDA.
As an organizer, I recognize that our work is just beginning. There are hundreds of political appointments to be made at USDA, and we cannot be satisfied with this one. Democracy won today, but it will win tomorrow only if we stay engaged and keep pushing for great people to fill these positions.
What will your next steps be?
If you already looked through this list of USDA positions, it’s time to go over it again and think of another suggestion, or convince another qualified person to apply. Call your Senators and remind them to recommend candidates who embody the values of sustainable food systems. These positions aren’t all filled yet, and your legislators need to know that you’re still paying attention.
I’ll leave you with the words of Mahatma Gandhi, and remember that now is the time to fight:
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.