Weeding out dissent
Scores of visiting demonstrators were welcomed to the town of Jasper last week by constant noise and debris tossed from a weed-trimmer and lawnmower after they’d peacefully convened on the grassy Newton County courthouse square. They’d come to make their voices heard as international corporation Cargill Inc. entertained legislators with a lunch across the street at the popular Ozark Cafe.
The startled visitors, who shielded their faces from the flying refuse, had come from as far away as Missouri to display signs and chant. They opposed Cargill’s backing of C&H Hog Farms in the nearby community of Mount Judea and the risk that industrial farm poses to the purity of the Buffalo National River.
A half-dozen uniformed county deputies watched from across the street as this gathering of middle-aged folks peaceably milled on the side of the courthouse where two county workers suddenly showed up at noon to repeatedly mow the same relatively small area over the entire lunch hour.
It appeared to me that both workers clearly had been instructed to do what they were doing and to summon the police if anyone dared object, which is just what the 6-foot-five, 300-pound weed-trimming employee did as soon as a man asked if he’d please consider doing his work there later. His retort: “You’re interfering with my work!” Then he called the deputies across the street on his cell phone.
Good grief. Really?
When deputies strolled over, the officers wound up shaking their heads and soon returned to the cafe. It was obvious that no county worker had been threatened or even interfered with.
Meanwhile, the remaining three sides of the grassy square went unmown during the length of the demonstration.
It was plenty apparent to those who’d come to express their feelings about Cargill’s role in the factory hog farm and the corporation’s hosted lunch for lawmakers that this display of noise and potentially dangerous flying sticks was calculated. I wonder who’d have been liable had someone lost an eye.
While hungry lawmakers filed in and out for the Cargill’s lunch, I was surprised to learn not one walked across the street to speak with those in the crowd.
Oh well, hey, it was a ham sandwich or a pork chop on Cargill, a float on the nearby pristine Buffalo and a tour of the new hog farm that didn’t yet stink to high heaven since it’s only been operational for a short time.
I suggest holding another lawmakers’ tour and smell check in August 2014 after millions of gallons of waste are lapping in two lagoons and more waste has been amply spread across the fields surrounding Mount Judea and Big Creek.
Those attending the protest carried signs that read: “Cargill Shame on You,” “Cargill Go Home” and “Hog farms Yes. Hog factories No.” Among the videotaped crowd was a prominent Newton County family concerned about polluting the river. Afterwards, the wife described her perspective.
“I was part of the protest in Jasper in front of the Ozark Cafe while Cargill fed the state’s House and Senate Agriculture Committee members. We surely needed to let Cargill and others see some of the concern for the Buffalo National River. Many came early … and held very creative signs,” she said. “At one point I believe there were over 70. It felt good to get to be among others and chant … as [Cargill’s] guests filed into the cafe. We stood directly across the street in front of the Newton County Courthouse.
“At 12 o’clock sharp, mowing and weed-eating was going on all around us. [My husband] went inside the courthouse to speak to the County Judge [Warren Campbell] about postponing yard work until later and expected to get to do so by phone, but the woman he talked with seemed to just disappear. The yard workers insisted their mowing needed to be done at this time!
“One informed us he was a county employee and we could be guilty of obstructing their work,” she continued. “There was some risk for the bystanders who cooperated by moving. The mowers were old and didn’t have protective shrouds. No one was injured, though my son did feel something hit the side of his face from the weed-eater.
“The worker who was weed-eating explained how they had to mow at that time because it was for the holiday [six days later] for the veterans and the flag and also it was shady on that side of the courthouse. Then he wanted to explain how safe CAFOs are and how Mount Judea is fine. He explained how he prefers to eat a CAFO pig instead of an outside pig who wallers about in everything. Those swine are just not clean in his opinion. He thinks the real problem is that some bathrooms are closed at the national park.”
She concluded: “It’s disheartening when a local disdains this outpouring of concern and continues saying this [factory hog farm] won’t hurt the river. It’s obvious this CAFO is in the wrong place.”
And as further evidence of just how divisive this CAFO near the Buffalo has become in Newton County, one former official at the demonstration told me that, as he was leaving, a local business person leaned over to him and said: “Thank you all for coming.”
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.