The Interview starts at about 15 minutes in …
The Interview starts at about 15 minutes in …
Making the decision to walk away from a sixteen year career at a major class one railroad was not easy. The “fragment of a speech” that is posted below was one of the turning points that greatly fueled my decision to leave a place that in some ways, was a place that I very much enjoyed working.
When I first heard this “fragment,” I was brainstorming for a conference that the organization Railroad Workers United was hosting in Richmond, California. As the national organizer, my task was to welcome many organizations, many that do not normally work together, to an environmental conference to find common ground on very complex issues of public safety, working conditions and labor.
The inspiration that I found from this “fragment” was a question that I had to ask myself over and over for about two years.
How complicit do I want to be?
After watching the video many times I wanted to find the book that the speech came from and couldn’t find it, So, from the YouTube video, I typed out the “speech” that Mr.Berry gave at Yale University word, by word and in the process, was deeply moved.
I later contacted Mr. Berry to ask him where I could find this “speech” in print, and sent the words that I had lifted from the YouTube video. He sent his book, Our Only World, with a note explaining that the Yale presentation was “fragments” found within the pages of the book.
The opening statement “that we are all complicit in its violence,” really was the haunting thought that fueled my decision to leave driving trains for a living behind. I found myself not wanting to participate in the destruction of Our Only World.
I found myself not wanting to drive military trains, fertilizers and GMO poisoned soybeans and corn. I found myself not wanting to haul coal, oil, fracking sand and waste. I also found myself not wanting to be exhausted mentally, and physically from the excessively long hours and harsh working conditions. And …
After the railroad that I was working for completely cut the union out of the safety conversation, I found myself not wanting to participate in a violent relationship that included a one-sided behavior based safety working environment.
I enjoyed my union work,
and the folks I worked with. I will miss the many wonderful people who I had the honor of working with for sixteen years of my life. I will in my music and poetry, continue to tell of my passion for the place I labored that is simply called the railroad! I will continue to care about what happens on the rails and will be inspired by what the railroad could be …
Since the California conference in 2015, I have twice had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Berry in his home. I have come to find myself deeply inspired by his work, deeply moved by his poetry and looking forward to a new life away from a haunting question rolling around in the back of my mind.
Below is the fragment of a speech that inspired me so deeply.
For more information about Wendell Berry go here.
The Industrial Economy From Agriculture To War – A Fragment Of A Speech
Wendell Berry – Introduction to the Yale Chubb Lecture Discussion. 12-07-2013
The industrial economy from agriculture to war is by far the most violent the world has ever known and we are all complicit in its violence. The history of industrialization has been violent from the start, as the Luddites quickly learned. The purpose of labor-saving technology has always been to cheapen work by displacing workers, thus increasing the flow of wealth from the less wealthy to the more wealthy.
It is a fact, one we have never adequately acknowledged or understood, that at the end of World War II, industry geared up to adapt the mechanical and chemical technologies of war to agriculture and other ways of using land. At the same time certain corporate and academic leaders known collectively as the committee for economic development decided that there were too many farmers.
The relatively self-sufficient producers on small farms needed to become members of the industrial labor force and consumers of industrial commodities. Reducing the number of farms and farmers became a devastatingly effective national policy.
The first problem of a drastic reduction of the land using population is to keep the land producing in the absence of the people. The committee for economic development and their allies were fully aware of this problem and they had a ready solution. The absent people would be replaced by the mechanical and chemical technologies developed for military use and subsisting upon a seemingly limitless bounty of natural resources mainly, ores and fuels.
Agriculture would become an industry. Farms would become factories like other factories ever more automated and remotely controlled. Industrial land use became a front in a war against the living world. And so with a few exceptions the free market was allowed to have its way.
Finally, nearly all of the land using population have left their family farms and their home places and moved or commuted into the cities to be industrially or professionally employed or unemployed and to be entirely dependent upon the ways and the products of industrialism.
This process of eliminating the too many farmers still continues. Nobody ever said how many were too many. Nobody ever said how many might be actually necessary. Even so, to remove the farmers from farming required of shift of interest from husbanding the fertility of the land to burning the fossil fuels with consequences so far less famous than terrifying.
But there was another problem that the population engineers did not recognize then and have not recognized yet. Agricultural production without land maintenance leads to exhaustion. Land that is in use, if the use is going to continue, must be used with care and
care is not and can never be an industrial product or an industrial result.
Care can come only from what we used to understand as the human heart – so-called because it is central to human being. The human heart is informed by the history of care and the need for care also by the heritage of skills of caring and of care-taking.
The replacement of our displaced rural families by technologies derived from warfare has involved inevitably a supposedly acceptable and generally accepted violence against land and people. By it we established an analogy between land use and war that has remained remarkably consistent ever since.
The common theme is a terrible pragmatism that grants an automatic predominance of the end over the means. The sacrifice of land and people, to the objective of victory, domination, security or profit. In oblivion or defiance of moral or natural law that may stand in the way. All of our prevalent forms of land use which is to say – land use minus care produces in addition to commercial products, massive waste and destruction.
War is politics minus neighborly love plus technological progress which makes it – ever more massively wasteful and destructive.
There is in fact no significant difference between the mass destruction of warfare and the massive destruction of industrial land abuse.
In order to mine a seam of coal in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, we destroy a mountain, its topsoil and its forest with no regard for the ecosystem or for the people downhill, downstream and later in time. The difference between explosion in the coal fields, and the erosion in the corn and soybean fields is only that erosion is slower. The end, the exhaustion of nature’s life supporting systems is the same.
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For – Mrs. Bonita Points
My neighbor, she is 96 years old –
came out and walked around our
pond. we share this place –
i watched as she and her cane –
hobbled around a little path that
she maintains – her mind almost gone-
her look – far off and she reaches out
her hand- i take it into mine
as if i am greeting
a royal queen.
i already knew
she wouldn’t remember
when she called the police
on us for chopping down
one of her trees. And when
the policeman came …
he asked me how long her
husband had been gone …
he asked me what we should
do to make this right.
and on that day, i told him
he had been gone a long time
and that we should listen to her –
she won’t remember this anyway!
(… all she really wants is to find her
husband on that path, she wants
to look up from her weed pulling
and see him standing there,
her partner – who she talks about
every time we meet …)
… and as neighbors do,
she parted with some kind words –
she made a mention that soon
she will meet him up there!
I told her, that he has been
waiting a long time! she
shuffled away into the afternoon …
seemingly content that all
of this is here, the pond, the trees
and the yard that she
once bought with him,
planted with him,
soon my neighbor will be gone …
the 96-year-old angel
of his dreams …
… and he asked me “what are your politics?”
I told him Frank Zappa was my favorite
guitar player. Because he paid his musicians
a fair living wage.
Why don’t we talk
like that anymore?
I believe in my Djembe!
I believe in collectivism,
like as in an Arkestra …
Who followed the leader,
because the leader knew he
would need to make another
mistake and do something
wrong … and make another
mistake and do something
(and … all of this is but fragments
of thought radiating from years of
experience. Nights, burning away,
high on life’s blood surging
like panic and inspiration.)
It’s after the end of the world,
so … workers … fellow workers,
as we are forced to build their
pyramids – and as we are forced
by gun point and neglect – to watch
the takers of the world destroy all
that is … don’t forget to look at the
stars – remember to look into the
water at the mirror image,
and remember this is all about you!
and me too …
ashes to ashes –
we all fall down
if we fall to fear …
our religion is reason,
my political views
are man-made. The laws of nature are
relevant to us all. Self-help comes
directly in action and inaction.
We revolve …
If we build a new world?
They will try to destroy it.
I, don’t want no part of theirs.
They can keep their ashes –
their corpses – and monuments.
(Yours for the Alter Destiny…
Space is the Place….)
From a recent show at Lettersong Gallery
from today – Sunday – Oh, Louisville .. SMH …
the slaves cry from the field …
master – with watchful eye
his employee shall do his
so as to keep his hands
free of responsibility –
master doesn’t whip his slaves –
he sub-contracts out that labor …
(now turn over the tag
on your shirt)
and ask this question …
Do I Support Slave Labor?
How do we defend that?
Pick up a rock!
Are you (triggering) –
A revolt – a slave
insurrection – intersection
from the other
side of the tracks?
(I’ll clean a pane of
my glass house
the slaves cry some more –
and X – Marx the spot
where they killed the
reformer – turned
against him –
they listened to all
the critical judgement-
the name calling-
the War of factions –
(now, turn your clothing
inside out- and walk
a mile in my slave made
Buy into my story –
gather round me children
a story i will tell –
of a code talker
and a heroine-
the slaves knew her well-
(now, i am holding a tool
made by machines)
wave that flag
wave it high
i got the US blues –
(this is madness)
that freak flag
and kiss the sky –
and now call me
a punk… and pick
up another rock!
(now, let us remember that
LP’s are made from oil)
and what about this
and what about that –
the house slave is getting
nervous – it’s awfully
comfortable and cold
so, he fracks a bit of coal
(now, slaves- have you
Agitated- ill sip
some more of my
made by farmers
own a coop –
and the seller owns
his business – yet
(this is a family business
you can talk to us directly)
Now ask yourself …
What is a union?
and X Marx the spot
where ISLAM and Peace
rests. (They) killed Malcolm
The code talkers?
No! (A black mass)
(and X Marx the spot
where C+C still = C if there
is no slave to trade in
a market that is free)
and 2+2 still = 4 unless
you fall to fear –
a caged mind
(i’ll change a pane
of broken glass)
You could think
about time …
grab another rock
because X Marx the spot
where (They) killed
MLKjr … the code
for Change …
The slave slips
away – and the
as the animals
(have you learned
the lesson yet?)
I’ll go (Even Further)
so gather round me
Hop on the buss
and a story i will
about the hero
who stole from the rich
and gave to the poor …
and then Quit!
He had gone far enuf!
(now, get back to
shit floats to
I B of C local 1
amen & Sisters too!
Dear Mr. Berry.
I am a forty five years old locomotive engineer Kentuckian. I have read only but a few of your words and have watched only two videos that you are featured in. I have learned in my middle age that it is very unfair and dangerous to put someone on a pedestal. I have and just might be somewhat in what some might call a midlife crisis.
I feel as if I am being pulled.
I must mention, that I have a reading disability and have a very hard time enjoying books. I also must mention that I have found an amazing resource in a service called Librivox. This service is a crowd sourced audio book collection.
I just finished listening to everything Upton Sinclair ever wrote. “They Call Me Carpenter” and “The Profits of Religion” being my favorites. I am now upon suggestion from a very good friend of Utah Phillip’s, listening to the “Iron Heel” from Jack London …
I feel as if I might mention that their words have only further grounded and centralized my feelings that I was raised to have. I am the son of an activist who knew and worked with Anne Braden. My mom did not get national credit for her work. My mother was a teacher in Jefferson County, Kentucky but she did not write a book, but she was as instrumental part of getting the University of Louisville to divest its funds from South African Apartheid.
I was raised by activists, railroaders and electricians, in Kentucky.
My front yard was George Rogers Clark Park in Louisville, Kentucky, Mulberry Hill, The Clark family home is where I played … in a creek that ran into Bear Grass Creek, catching crawldads and building dams with grey clay.
In this park, there is a very large tree.
The Tree is located very close to where the Clark family positioned their spring house. It was at this tree that I found the Great Spirit. Where I read “Touch the Earth”. (I got it from John Gage’s son ….) I spent many a day with my back leaning against this tree reading speeches from the great native chiefs of our land called America. This tree is where I fell in love with our Mother Earth. I visit this tree when I miss my mother. Sometimes I visit it alone. By myself. I loved my mother and miss her … She loved the tree too.
I have fallen in love with one of your poems, but, before I fall any deeper in the well known as Wendell Berry, I must mention, that I feel very drawn to your vibrations. Maybe it is because we have drank of the same water, maybe it is because we share a love for the same state. Maybe it is because our accents are very close.
My mother in law is from Henry County. I suspect you might know who Vernon Rucker was. He was my wife’s grandfather and at one point the Sheriff of Henry County. Florence, her Grandmother, worked at the Chat and Nibble in Eminence for many years.
I am writing you to ask a favor, but to further explain somewhat my request, I must explain something that I am still trying to figure out. So I, a brave to the elder, might suggest that maybe you should organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries.
The labor movement sure could use it.
I am a rank and file union activist, and that don’t get you very many friends in the labor movement these days. I am a serious defender of union democracy.
The men of today have been taught an aggressive union thug mentality.
I am struggling to survive at CSX railroad. This is partly the pull that is fueling my crisis. I am afraid…. but… I am only afraid for others, or at best, very confused.
As I write this, I have put it out there in the air, that I request a meeting with you, to ask a favor. I am helping to organize a Labor / Environmental conference in Richmond, California and Olympia, WA with my organization Railroad Workers United.
If this letter was to make it into your hands, I would be extremely excited. I have tasked longtime friend and somewhat spiritual adopted father John Gage with the task … to see what he could do to get this meeting done. John is getting old and his heart is well … John is another of these folks who have not received the national attention that I personally feel he should have been bestowed.
He has played a million camp fires …
at least that is his figure. I am a folk singer labor activist train driver, and that brings me to this statement.
I feel a very “fierce urgency of now” of course that is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. I am hoping to get a solidarity statement from you. Let me explain. Some more. I love talking, as you can probably tell, I am not the educated seasoned writer. But if you have ever read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you would understand the reference to the trees that I make. I feel that many of you Ents are waking. John Gage is one of them, his versions of your poems are amazing.
I am inspired, by the few words of yours that I have read, but it is in your cadence of voice that I feel shaken and moved. So far what I have heard of your voice from Youtube videos has been music to my Kentucky tuned ears. I know, now, why I should have listened to you earlier. I know you have been “working on a ship” that we are building for a while now. That is a U. Utah Phillips song. If I get to meet with you, I’ll sing it to you and further explain the conference.
So, therefore be it resolved that …
I think I may start reading Wendell Berry. I might as well … but, I promise not to put you on a pedestal. It is your sincere unapologetic honesty and willingness to be mindfully truthful that I am most inspired by. I can feel your passion. I am listening.
I can only hope to influence and resonate
with as many people as you have.
So far as I can tell, I can make heads or tails of this that and the other when it comes to the words and voice of a one Mr. Wendell Berry … thank you for your time. That is what we all seem to need more of …
And be it further resolved ….
“we all put our paints on the same way….”
John Paul Wright
Railroad Workers United