On July 11, 2012 the House Agriculture Committee met to markup the 2012 Farm Bill. The media focused on the 16.5 billion cut over ten years to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the replacement of subsides with insurance. I wonder if anyone noticed the three crucial minutes when Congressman Joe Baca introduced what he called a “Sense of Congress” amendment. In his limited time he explained the number of children affected by the long working hours and the associated high school dropout rate. While recognizing the importance of the parental exemption, he simply requested agriculture “follow the widely accepted age requirement of sixteen for jobs that require long hours of difficult manual labor.” I am proud to say I assisted his team; I dare say I was the catalyst.
Almost a month earlier, June 8, 2012 I met Congressman Joe Baca at the TELACU scholarship gala. Kismet? Can’t say. What I can say is that David and Priscilla Lizarraga, leaders of TELACU, share the goal of improving the lives of children. The Harvest trailer and my talk were probably sufficient but I continued to advocate for the children, saying to the Congressman: “Agriculture can survive without our children. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.” Congressman Baca offered his assurances and he delivered.
In less than a month’s time, a spoken idea had turned into a reality. The inspiration arose from the 2008 Farm bill, which had a provision to certify that agricultural products imported into the United States were not made with the use of child or forced labor. In 2008, it struck me as hypocrisy, now it strikes me as precedence.
So, I watched the Congressman speak with passion and authority (see link
start at 01:16:20 – 1:19:20)
As I watched the proceedings I was struck by the civil procedures and language. I wondered who would “move to strike the last word”, the language used to request to speak on an issue in counter or support. The odds were not in our favor. Well, Congressman Baca agreed to withdrawal the amendment, if Chairman Frank Lucas would work with him. I admit I was momentarily surprised, not privy to the overall strategy. However, Chairman Lucas requested Congressman Baca yield to him and professed his support. He sounded sincere when he said he would work with Congressman Baca because “it affects the most important part of our society, our young people.” I congratulate Chairman Lucas on responding from the heart. Don’t offer to sell me a bridge but I believe him. I believe the cooperation of both political parties is required to bring equality in protections for children in agriculture. By reaching across the aisle, we may finally give all children the protection of a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Will history show it was a bipartisan voice that finally brought justice to the voiceless?
Julia Perez is an electrical engineer and writer. She is currently writing Among the Forgotten, which tells of the behind-the-scenes challenges of filming The Harvest and the untold stories of children in agriculture, who are treated as separate and unequal.