Unlike the 2021 insurrectionists, 1980s farmers in Kansas had legitimate reason to protest

January 31, 2021 12:33 pm

Farmers drive tractors at night on Pennsylvania Avenue in December 1977 as part of an American Agriculture Movement rally in Washington, D.C. (Thomas J. O’Halloran/Library of Congress)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Richard Gannon, a Democrat formerly of Goodland, served three terms in the Kansas Senate.

In his recent Kansas Reflector op-ed, “Today’s insurrectionists echo the 1980s sound of western Kansas,” Leroy Towns recalled a period during the 1980s when people in western Kansas were radicalized, and it reminded him of the insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month.

Towns was a staffer for then-U.S. Rep. Pat Roberts, and he remembered Roberts facing “a group of grizzled ranchers angry at Washington. Their shouted solution: automatic rifles wielded by ‘patriots’ like themselves against the U.S. Capitol.”

Towns’ piece was historically accurate, well written and a pleasure to read.

During this particular time, from 1976-1988, I served as a Democratic state senator from the 40th District and represented the northwestern counties of Kansas.

I remember well this tumultuous time in Kansas history. I recall cross burnings, armed state troopers, at times standing watch at my Statehouse office door, and every outdoor event was held with an eye for snipers.

However, I personally didn’t feel threatened by the events or the protestors. You could talk, reason and sympathize with most of these people and they had good reason to be incensed.

The farm economy was tremendously damaged and the main streets of rural Kansas were also suffering. Furthermore, the United States’ grain embargo against the Soviet Union destroyed the grain markets and, unlike today’s Chinese trade war over soybeans, no financial help came from Washington.

Kansas lost many family farms, and those surviving were financially crippled for decades. At the time, my wife and I were living on our family farm and sadly watched as neighbors moved away.

Far too many unfortunate people had no other option but to forcefully protest in their attempt to survive.

So, there is a great difference between today’s protestors and those of rural Kansas 40 years ago.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, people were protesting to save their family business. Most were good people. They may have surrounded the U.S. Capitol with tractors, but they didn’t storm the building searching for people to kill.

Today’s protestors are dangerously radical, brainwashed and uncompromising. They lack common sense and have adopted a cult-like mentality. Many appear as intellectually deficient, having failed to grasp the basic concepts of 8th grade science and refusing to wear masks in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. They portray themselves as Constitutional scholars, armed with statements procured from radical, obscure, right-wing websites hidden in the bowels of the internet.

Today’s protestors reject reality and facts, and inhale garbage “news” from social media. Few ever read newspapers, relying instead on Facebook to formulate opinions. Additionally, they are addicted to certain “talking heads” spewing a fountain of lies on electronic media.

It is difficult to determine if the protestors of 2021 are being willfully ignorant, blatantly stupid, or are simply despicable people. But they are recognizably and significantly different from the rural Kansas protestors of the 1980s.

The protestors of the 1980s answered the call from their president and fought for democracy in Europe and in the Pacific. The protestors of 2021 answered the call of another president to take their fight to the U.S. Capitol where they ravaged the citadel of democracy.

The protestors of yesteryear fought against Nazis while Jan. 6 protestors wore Nazi symbols and regalia.

Yesteryear protestors followed the Stars and Stripes onto European battlefields while their brothers-in-arms dramatically erected Old Glory at Iwo Jima. The early January protestors followed the Stars and Bars into the U.S. Capitol and arrogantly displayed Trump flags.

The Kansas protestors of the 1980s had tremendous character, were true patriots and simply good people caught in a difficult time. On the other hand, the protestors of 2021 are simply thugs and blight on society.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Richard Gannon
Richard Gannon

Richard Gannon is a retired three-term Democratic Kansas state senator and former director of governmental affairs for the Kansas Press Association. He served newspapers in a nonpartisan role as chief legislative lobbyist on First Amendment issues. Richard and his wife currently are “living the dream” and reside high in the Rockies above Alma, Colorado.