A couple weeks ago, Rev. Ford and Ms. Jagannath wrote an op-ed for the Fresno Bee, contrasting Westlands Water District’s demands for irrigation water with those of the farmworkers within the district, who often don’t have access to clean potable water. Last week, the Deputy General Manager of Westlands Water District responded with his own op-ed in the Bee. I will let my readers judge the respective merits of the pieces for themselves. Instead, I want to talk about the tone of Mr. Amaral’s piece.
Mr. Amaral’s op-ed clanged for me the same way the old, male panels at CA Water 2.0 did. I hypothesize that both efforts were reflexive attempts to persuade the people who have always been in power, and that the important audience has changed enough that the mismatch calls attention to itself. Mr. Amaral’s tone in that op-ed is personal and condescending, asserting a great deal amount of power for itself. He claims the power to declare who is an activist, what other people’s real concerns are, what they ignore and what they understand. Given the relative societal power of the authors, it is a pretty nasty example of punching down.
Now, an op-ed is an attempt at persuasion. So who is Mr. Amaral trying to persuade with a condescending tone towards two women, one visibly of color? Perhaps he never considered the question. Perhaps his unconsidered default reader is a man with power. But that’s not how it is anymore. I watched carefully as you subscribed to my blog, and I can tell you. Half of y’all are women. The internet (or maybe the new era) has taught us to consciously notice the dynamic rather than subconsciously accept it. What we see is that Mr. Amaral does not care if he pisses off at least two substantial groups in the water conversation. He never thought of them, or he doesn’t believe they have enough power to matter. That’s the old way. As times change, it stands out more and looks uglier.
A kinda funny side note is that there is another group of farming advocates who is tirelessly working to be personally appealing ambassadors. They are friendly and widely available and a visit to their farms show that they’re doing really neat agricultural work. The heart of their argument is “but you’d be taking water away from nice people.” Which is true but irrelevant and only part of the story. (This piece is a good example of someone falling for that hard.) Anyway, ag ambassador people. Mr. Amaral’s undoing your good work. You might want a word with him.