IT HAS BEEN, I don't mind telling you, one of those weeks. It's snowed and rained and sleeted and everything underfoot is cold, wet and mushy. The traffic's been terrible and there's no place to park and the city has maybe a million tow trucks cruising the streets, waiting to get you if you so much as slow down near a hydrant. Maybe in better times we'd all feel different, more hospitable. What I'm trying to say is this: Farmers, go home.
I mean, enough's enough. They sit down on the Mall on their tractors, belching diesel fumes into the air, messing up the Mall, tying up traffic when they move out and costing the city money for the cops it needs to watch them break the law. What they have on their side is this feeling we all have for farmers, who, after all, are not in plastics. That is something in their favor.
There is something to be said for their cause. They are talking about not being able to make a living -- anyone can understand that. No one suggests that a man would drive a thousand miles on a tractor for the fun of it or that we don't know that some farmers have a net worth of millions but the cash flow of a failing grocery store. Still, farmers go home.
The other day they came to The Washington Post. They did not like an editorial. Big deal. Neither did Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter -- or me some of the time. They came on their tractors, parked them in the middle of 15th Street, the engines running, their flags waving, and they tied up traffic all over town. People trying to make a living sat in cars that didn't move and people couldn't get to work and it was all because some farmers didn't like something they read. Poor boobies. Why couldn't they write a letter like everyone else?
Why should we suffer? The people of the Washington area are not the ones stopping them from making a buck. We don't hold their mortgages and we don't sell them fertilizer and we don't even know what parity is. We're into real estate and the Scarsdale Diet, having no energy for group sex and no inclination for hot tubs. We suffer enough as it is. The weather is miserable and Jimmy Carter is no fun, and now the farmers come and make the traffic a mess. Do us a favor -- go home.
All week people have been coming to me, furious. Write something about the farmers, they yell. Write how the cops don't do anything to enforce the law. Write how they let them drive all over town in vehicles that don't even have license plates and how they grind up the Mall and how they park their tractors where ever they want and make the city have a fit. Write that, they yell.
Write how when the hippies and others came to town to protest the Vietnam war they got their heads busted, and how when the Indians came to demand their rights they had to at least obey the law, and write also how if the orthodontists of America parked their Cadillacs and late-model Buicks in the middle of 15th Street, the cops would tow them all away and maybe bash a few heads. Write that, they say.
Things are not quite so simple. The cops didn't break heads here in the antiwar days until the kids started to break windows, and the farmers are not the first to use the city of Washington for their own purpose. They have a right to demonstrate, say their piece. They've done, I bet, a lot less damage to the Mall area than was done, say, by Resurrection City, the tent town erected in the name of the poor.
But enough's enough. If the law is broken, the cops ought to do something about it. If traffic is in knots, it ought to be unknotted. When free speech becomes a criminal act, it ought to be treated as a crime. Grace Paley and other members of the War Resisters League were fined $100 and given suspended sentences last week for stepping on the White House lawn to make a political statement. The farmers, though, never have to pay for anything.
So down on 15th Street, the other day the tractors were parked in the middle of the street and no one did a thing about it. Every day the farmers do something to mess up traffic and no one does anything about it. When they came to The Post to complain, the whole city had to suffer. Traffic didn't move and if you went downstairs and looked you saw nothing but a mess, police cars cordoning off the entire area as if each farmer has diplomatic immunity or something.
So here's to the farmers. They're all wonderful folks. They represent a way of life we all cherish. We wish they could make enough money to keep their land and raise lots of children and swim in water holes and swing on porches and talk in a twang, the way they all do. But it has been a miserable week here. It's snowed and sleeted and the traffic's been a mess. We get the message. The farmers want some help. We understand. Now, do us a favor.