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Context of 'Late 1978-Summer 1979: Farmers Flood Washington to Protest High Interest Rates'

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In a message to the US Congress, President Jimmy Carter again outlines his position on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (see 1975-1976). Carter threatens to cut off US supplies of nuclear fuel and technology to countries that do not accept international safeguards on their use. However, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, the Carter administration will turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program (see December 26, 1979). [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 62, 239]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The “tractorcade” in Washington, DC, in 1979.The “tractorcade” in Washington, DC, in 1979. [Source: Kinsley Library]Thousands of farmers protesting the harmful effects of high interest rates in the United States drive their tractors onto busy streets in Washington, DC, congesting traffic and complicating access to some prominent areas within the capital. During the late 1970s, inflation has emerged as an economic and political challenge, and the Federal Reserve has experienced the strongest political attacks and most widespread protests in the history of its existence due to the effects of high interest rates on the construction, farming, and industrial sectors. On December 10, 1977, some 5,000 farmers riding tractors in Lincoln, Nebraska, protested rising agricultural costs. Historian Bill Ganzel will later comment: “[R]ecord crops had pushed prices down and the cost of fuel, seed, pesticides, and other farm costs had risen.… In addition, the value of farmland—the ‘equity’ or value that farmers use to secure loans to operate each year—had dropped. Banks were no longer willing to loan to smaller farmers. Many were in danger of losing their farms.” The protest was organized by the American Agriculture Movement, which also organizes the protests in Washington. The Lincoln protests sparked similar demonstrations in other states, with Gloria Carter Spann, President Jimmy Carter’s sister, even participating in one of the rallies. In 1978, the American Agriculture Movement brings its “tractorcade” to Washington, which, as the Pittsburgh Press reports, brings “a flurry of legislative activity and some adjustments in agricultural law.” [The Pittsburgh Press, 7/2/1979] In January 1979, farmers on tractors descend on Washington again. Thousands of demonstrators go in and out of Washington throughout the first two months of the year. On February 5, an estimated 277,000 tractors enter the capital, surpassing a previous record of 250,000 from January. [Evening Star, 9/2/1979] The 1979 protests are more disruptive; farmers purposely clog traffic during rush hour and incidents of violence lead to at least 20 arrests. [The Pittsburgh Press, 7/2/1979] The demonstrators attempt to disrupt the National Mall. Some tractors are impounded there and the large vehicles damage the soil. [Modern Farmer, 5/2/2014] This causes some to see the movement in a more negative light. Having already dealt with the American Agriculture Movement in the past and critical of the deliberately disruptive nature of these demonstrations, both the Carter administration and Congress are uninterested in appeasing the organization. “This is not a legislative year and there ain’t much going to happen,” Representative Ed Jones (D-TN) says. “You cannot find the sympathy for them they had last year. We did a lot for them and they were given credit for some of it.” [The Pittsburgh Press, 7/2/1979] The protests will slowly lose their numbers and, in the summer of 1979, be virtually nonexistent due to the 1979 oil crisis. [Washington Post, 1/7/1979; Dodge City Daily Globe, 7/2/2013]

Entity Tags: Gloria Carter Spann, Ed Jones, US Federal Reserve, National Mall, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., American Agriculture Movement

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

The US Federal Reserve, under recent Carter appointee Paul Volcker, declares that it will begin a major policy shift by tightening the money supply. Its main method of doing so will be significant increases in the interest rate. [Campbell, 2005, pp. 194-195]

Entity Tags: Paul Volcker, US Federal Reserve

Timeline Tags: Neoliberalism and Globalization

Israel secretly changes its policy towards Iran, and now seeks a level of rapprochement with that nation. Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon proposes that President Jimmy Carter, who is struggling to find a diplomatic means to get the 52 American hostages released, begin secretly selling US arms to Iran. Carter angrily refuses. But unbeknownst to Carter, Israel will begin selling its own arms to Iran shortly thereafter. Interestingly, some officials in the US State Department and the CIA know of the Israeli arms sales to Iran. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Ariel Sharon, US Department of State, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair


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