This longform post was published on Medium back in September, but it's well worth reading today. It's a brilliant examination of the California water crisis from the perspective of the farmers who are abandoning land or leasing it for non-farming purposes because they can't get water for their crops: For 14 hours I drive around with Russ and Jim, seeing land, meeting people. Not once did we talk about my wife and kids. No idle chitchat. Only long discussions on the need for reservoirs, fear of groundwater regulation, advancements in irrigation technology, how what's happening in the west valley is beginning to happen in the east, too, with accompanying predictions of destruction and woe.
From what I've seen and heard I'm confused why the human tragedy has largely been ignored. It's puzzling why a valley of such agricultural importance is shown so little respect. I post photos on Facebook, one of a vast field of withered grape vines, one of unfarmed land not far from the Wakefields' home. Though I know many of my Facebook friends are the eco-conscious types the folks in this valley claim are pining for their demise, I'm convinced the photos will receive unanimous sympathy.
The comments on the photos begin as expected, folks thanking me for covering the story, outraged because they had no idea things were so bad. Then the first negative comment pops up. On the picture of the unfarmed land a "friend" posts: "Just saying — these must be really shitty farmers." Another comment follows saying that one person's tragedy and is another person's call for change. The next claims this is what happens when you "over-farm" land. Yet another suggests my story isn't about a water crisis, but about a "failed colony."
Before my eyes these "friends" become exactly what Andy Vidak and Russ and Jim claimed, unsympathetic partisans hurling knee-jerk accusations, validating what just last night I'd passed off as wild-eyed hysteria.
Everything's politicized these days: our schools, our churches, our music and fashion, even our food. Has political segregation disabled our desire to empathize? Must every problem pass political approval before sympathy is offered? What does this mean for America if suffering is so easily cast off with indifference or hostility?
If only they could see the land for themselves, I muse. If only they could meet Bill Son, meet the Wakefields. I decide not to engage the comment thread. I delete the photo and all the comments from my page, and even that feels like a betrayal.