Angry farmers brought their protest to President Carter's hometown today, staged a rally in which they blocked the main street with their tractors and won an agreement from the White House for a Saturday meeting with the President.
Both the White House and protest leaders from the Georgia arm of the fledgling American Agricultural Movement said the meeting will not amount to a bargaining session aimed at resolving the farmers' demand for higher farm prices that led the movement to launch a nationwide farmstrike Dec. 14.
Instead, the meeting will offer the protesters their first chance to present their views firsthand and get a response from Carter, Georgia farm strike coordinator Tommy Kersey said today.
That is expected partially to assuage or satisfy the concerns of some farmers here that Carter - himself a peanut farmer from Sumter County, where farm conditions have been especially bad this year - has not entirely turned his back on "these boys down here," as one farmer put it.
For Carter, whose aides said "security consideration" prevented him from going to speak in the same town center where he gave several compaign addresses, it offered a convenient way out of a potentially embarrassing political dilemma.
"It has him not snubbing them but at the same time it has him not forced into a large boisterous situation," one White House official said. "We think it's important that he not snub them, that he meet with them and listen to recitation of the problem."
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] strike organization, which is [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Springfield, Colo., but has [WORD ILLEGIBLE] support in this region [WORD ILLEGIBLE] many other areas of the country [WORD ILLEGIBLE] five major concerns.
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] they amount to a demand for " [WORD ILLEGIBLE] cent of parity" for all domestically produced and sold farm products. Parity is an economic formula used by the Agriculture Department to compare current farm prices to those between 1910-14. For example, the full parity price for wheat in November was $6.04 a bushel. Farmers received $2.48 a bushel, less than half of the parity price.
Farm protest leaders likened that concept to "a minimum wage for farmers."
The leaders contend that the average parity now is about 63 per cent nationwide and that it is straining them financially. If 100 per cent parity is reached, federal agriculture officials assert, food prices could go up 20 to 25 per cent within a year.
About 200 tractors from various Georgia counties, some as far as 100 miles away, began rolling into town shortly before the rally.
Some blocked off the main street of this tiny town, whose downstown section is block long. Others lined the major highway route into the city, plastered with signs bearing such messages as "Hell No, We Won't Grow," and "On Strike: No Bread, No Meat; Good Lord, What Will You Eat?"
Plains Mayor A. B. Blanton welcomed the demonstrators, whose leaders spoke from the back of a flatbed truck in front of a hardware store owned by a former business partner of Carter. Even the Plains policemen who directed traffic wore baseball caps with badges sewed on the front reading "We Support Agricultural Strike."
Kersey, a cotton and hog farmer from Enadillan, about 40 miles away, was cautiously optimistic. "We're here today probably, maybe, hopefully, as the last major rally that we'll have to have before we get 100 per cent parity," he told the crowd.
Several members of Carter's immediate family attended the rally. His sister, Gloria, and her husband, William Spann, a farmer, wore farm strike caps and applauded the speakers.
But many of the farmers were clearly disappointed when they heard that Carter would not address the group.
"We've tried to farm. We've tried to be good Americans. I even got out and tried to round up votes for him," said Billy Johnson, a corn and cotton farmer from Cornell, Ga."I feel like he ought to have been here. I don't know what he could do, but at least he could have showed up."
In addition the Kersey, those meeting with the President will include Harold Israel, a 51-year-old peanut and corn farmer who runs a 1,300-acre farm outside Plains, has known Carter for 40 years and whose presence was requested by the President.Israel has been only "moderately active" in the strike here.