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Jun-21-2013 19:23printcomments

What Would Tom McCall Do?

Thousands of Oregonians represented in protest of genetically modified food (GMO) products this week, but Oregon's Governor didn't seem to have much interest in the wishes of the people of his state.

Painting of Tom Tom McCall at the state capitol
Painting of Tom McCall at the state capitol

(EUGENE, OR) - A stalwart group of progressive activists showed up in the rain on the Capitol steps on Thursday to rally for the STOP GMO in OREGON petition. The group may have appeared small; however, we all stood shoulder-to-shoulder with almost 10,000 other Oregonians who signed our petition to stop open field trials, reaffirm the Public Good mission of our Land Grant Oregon State University, and sue Monsanto for economic damage to our Oregon farmers.

Representative Peter Buckley took time away from his brief lunch break to address supportive remarks to the crowd to much applause. I read aloud the letter to Governor Kitzhaber and the names of the 31 Representatives and 2 Senators who signed it, demanding that he direct the Attorney General to begin the process of suing those responsible for the GMO wheat contamination, Monsanto if necessary.

After the rally, a small but determined delegation committed to take our petition on a walkabout. Brave in the face of looming parking tickets, we carried our three boxes of signed petition pages through the halls of both the Senate and the House. We called upon ten members, leaving our concerns with their aides. Senator Betsy Close (R) graciously met with us, listened to our concerns, and told us that she and other legislators were being briefed on the situation. She also offered positive reassurance about her support of bill HB 2427 which would ban GMO canola from the Willamette Valley exclusion zone.

House Bill 2427 had languished in a subcommittee for weeks then had unexpectedly been returned to the Joint Ways and Means Committee this past week. The subject of another MoveOn petition specifically demanding that GMO canola be banned in Oregon, this bill now stands a good chance of coming to a vote. Nine of the legislators we visited are members of the Ways and Means Committee whom we urged to pass it to the House Floor for a vote before session ends in just one more week.


We eventually wound up cooling our heels in the Governor’s antechamber. I had called on Monday to request that Governor Kitzhaber accept our petition. The aide I talked to on the phone had asked me twice to declare our intent in delivering it to the Governor, and I stressed that acceptance of the petition did not mean an endorsement of the petition itself but the acceptance of the Oregon signers’ opinions on the matter. While we waited, I read aloud from Governor Tom McCall’s biography, Fire at the Gates of Eden: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story by Brent Walth. (I carried this book through the halls and saw people noticing it. This man still has power in this House.) I read an excerpt from his speech against Measure 6 which would at that time have destroyed Oregon’s landmark Land Use Planning legislation:

“You all know I have terminal cancer—and I have a lot of it. But what you may not know is that stress induces its spread and induces its activity. Stress may even bring it on.

Yet stress is the fuel of the activist. This activist loves Oregon more than he loves life. I know I can’t have both very long. The trade-offs are all right with me.

But if the legacy we helped give Oregon and which made it twinkle from afar—if it goes, then I guess I wouldn’t want to live in Oregon anyhow.” [Fire at the Gates of Eden: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story by Brent Walth]

We were told by the Governor’s secretary that we were not on the Governor’s appointment schedule, and he had no time to see us. She suggested that we take the petition down the hall to a room where his aides worked. In my mind’s eye, I visualized a room lined with paper shredders.


When I write a petition, it is mine until the first person signs it; after that, it is my responsibility. Petitions can be powerful—particularly when they accrue 10,000 signatures in just 20 days. Petitions can be stored and forgotten, or they can be used by legislators to bolster their arguments that people care passionately about an issue. After some discussion, we decided to give the petition to Representative Peter Buckley who had cared enough to come speak to us on the Capitol steps.

Our final stop was just outside the Governor’s door: Governor Tom McCall’s official portrait. Our legendary Governor is pictured larger than life, standing on an Oregon beach with his right hand stretched out to the viewer as if to say, “Here, Oregon, the beaches are yours forever”. I spoke to him and thanked him for giving us the Oregon Story which will continue as long as he is remembered. I told him that, if we still had him as our Governor, we would have no need for this petition.

Tom McCall would have understood that his “demure and lovely” Oregon had no need of immense transnational corporations in her Land Grant university or her farmlands. He understood that Oregon, her people and her lands were different, that Oregon truly “flies with her own wings”.

Let’s keep Oregon a place in which Tom McCall would always love to live.

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    Stephanie Hampton is a writer and urban organic farmer living in Corvallis with six chickens, six rabbits, three cats, three dogs and one husband. Her work has appeared in everything from International Diplomacy Journals to Woman's World.

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Gene Faber June 21, 2013 7:32 pm (Pacific time)

Far more than the current governor, to say the very least. The spirit of Oregon that McCall represented is a different matter from today, time for Kitz and the cronies to take a hike.

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