[WORD ILLEGIBLE] 5,000 farmers returned [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in a row to Capitol Hill [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Congress for higher [WORD ILLEGIBLE] before about 200 of the more militant farmers marched into the Argiculture Department and took over the office of Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland.
The sit-in was the latest in a series of distruptions by the increasingly angry and vocal farmers in their Washington crusade to gain farm prices equal in buying power to those paid their ancestors 60 years ago. Earlier in the day, confrontation-minded truckers sympathetic to the farmers plight blockaded morning rush hour traffic on the 14th Street Bridge, making many commuters late for work.
As farmers left Bergland's office late yesterday afternoon, many of them shouted barnyard epithets at Deputy Secretary John C. White. Bergland was reportedly flying toward Washington from Colorado.
"We expect the secretary to be there at our rallying point tomorrow and, if he's not there, America might learn that the farmers are not the God-fearing people they're always been," said the American Agriculture Movement's previously mid-mannered leader, Alvin Jenkins of Spring field, Colo.
There were several tense confrontations between police and the farmers as they marched back and forth between the Capitol and the Agriculture Department. Police, as one officer put it, were fearful that a "few soreheads" might provoke violence; so they pulled back often to the cheers of the marchers.
The dramatic blockade and sit-in were, according to some protesters, a prelude to a tractor parade the farmers have scheduled for an 8 a.m. this morning around the Mail.
If the "tractorcade," as the farmers call such marches, follows the pattern of their marches yesterday and Wednesday, it is almost certain to once again snarl commuter traffic in the District and overshadow the Capitol Hill lobbying that protest leaders say is the focus of their rally.
Yesterday, as a crowd estimated by police at between 5,000 and 7,000 gathered on the west steps of the Capitol, it was obvious that many of the farmers were already becoming frustrated in their efforts to win congressional support for higher prices.
Waving his hand toward the dome of the Capitol, one Georgia farmer spoke for many in the crowd when he announced: "There are some things I hate: bird dogs who eat eggs, the Chicago Board of Trade (which sets prices on many farm commodities) and all these people (Congressmen) running around here lying."
As most speakers cautioned the farmers not to resort to violence, members of the Independent Trucking Association were heard in the audience boasting of how confrontations - like the 14th Street Bridge blockade - had helped settle their disputes.
"You guys are going to have to be violent," said one man wearing a red jacket carrying the emblem of the Los Angeles-based trucking group. "We've been living with that (violence) for 20 years."
Such talk did not please many farmers, but there were some at the rally sho seemed to welcome the prospect. "You ain't going to accomplish anything by being peaceful," snapped Tommy Findley, a young bearded Arkansas farmer, at the rally.
Indeed, many of the 1,500 farmers who marched down Independence Avenue to Bergland's office conceded yesterday that they still have difficulty seeing themselves as part of a mass protest. "It's the kind of thing that's not in a farmer's vocabulary to do," said Larry Dennis, a 34-year-old Georgia soybean farmer.
Despite their basecall caps, bib overalls and often-twangy speech, few of the farmers here are from small, impoverished farms. For the most part, they come from large and middle-sized farms whose acreage is measures in the hundreds and whose debts have soared into the tens of thousands of dollars.
It is often this morning debt and what the farmers say is their inability to control it that has motiviated many of the protesters to come to Washington. In hopes of overcoming some of the charges that the protest lacks organization, leaders armed the farmers with mimeographed fliers on how to meet the members of Congress and score points with their arguments.
Both their increasing frustration toward Congress and growing demands for some symbolic gesture against the government surfaced repeatedly during their Capitol Hill rally. As Eliot Janeway, a New York economics writers, droned on over his proposal for increased use of albohol as a fuel, many farmers became restless and eager for the march on to the Agriculture Department.
"Talks like one of those dams politicians doesn't he?" murmured one farmer near the speaker's stand. When Janeway announced, "I'm a city farmer and I'm with you," the jeers seated. "Yeah," moaned one farmer shaking his head. "I've been hearing that all my life."
Congressional support for the farmers' demand for 100 per cent parity with 1914 farm prices for their crops has been slow in coming. "What they don't understand is the politics of this," said Gene Moos, a senior staff analyst with the House Agriculture Committee.
"They are making a case for their high production costs, which nobody disputes," said a staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, "but 100 per cent parity is not the cars. The cost would be staggering, and no one knows how you go about doing it."
A staffer on the House Agriculture Committee said a Department of Agriculture study estimated 100 per cent parity would cost $30 billion to $40 billion. Another study put the price on crops alone, without livestock, at $15 billion to $20 billion - figures the protesters dispute.
The farmers' protest was officially noted on the House floor yesterday as the second session of the 95th Congress convened.
Rep. George H. Mahon (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was among the representatives who made a brief speech urging his colleagues to meet with the farmers.
Mahon said about 1,000 farmers had come to Washington from his west Texas congressional district. House Majority Leader James C. Wright, Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen and other members of the Texas delegation listened to spokesmen for the 2,000 farmers who overflowed the room and adjoining hallways.
The support the farmers got yesterday from their elected representatives was most often moral, rather than practical.
"We're not talking too much about the possibility" of achieving 100 per cent parity, Mahon admitted. "I'm telling them I support that goal, but want to work within the realm of the attainable."
Another large delegation of farmers, this one from Georgia, met with Sen. Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga.), who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. At a coffee in the Dirksen Office Building Talmadge repeated what was becoming a familiar speech to the farmers: He was totally in sympathy with their goals but he was limited in what he could do. He said the Senate is more sympathetic to farm problem, and blamed "urban interests" in the House for watering down last year's farm price support bill.
Again, the farmers were told that 100 per cent partiy was "very unlikely." Talmadge noted that even the best of times, farmers have been unable to get full parity.
To the farmers, the idea of 100 per cent parity is no different from a federally imposed minimum wage for hourly workers. If Congress can mandate that employers pay their workers a fixed minimum wage, why can't it guarantee famers a fixed, minimum price for their products, they asked over and over.
Rep. William C. Wampler (R-Va.), ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee, told farmers who stopped in his office yesterday that "the marketplace is the place to get parity."
Wampler, who said he encountered little lobbying during the recess in his home district in Southwest Virginia, contended that the "ultimate answer" to the farm problem is to expand exports.
On the Senate side, some Hoosier farmers buttonholed freshman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) outside the Agriculture Committee hearing room and pressed him for support.
Lugar also told them that "the only way to proceed is to increase the market, through exports." He too supports working toward full parity, but he told the delegation they should realize "you don't have enough clout to tell Congress to give this to you."
Sen. George S. McGovern (D-S.D.) told farmers from his state they should spend their time lobbying urban members. McGovern told them to emphasize "your bottom line, that you can't sell food at a cost less than what it costs to produce."