More than you might imagine, according to third-generation professional logger and motivational speaker Bruce Vincent from Libby, MT. I've heard him speak twice in the past few months and both speeches were very thought provoking.

When Vincent returned to the family owned logging business in the mid-'80s, he soon realized that some outside forces — tree huggers and grizzly bear preservationists — had emerged with an agenda that didn't exactly match his.

That's when Vincent learned the first of three “truths” he couldn't ignore if the family business and their coveted lifestyle were to survive.

Truth #1 - “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

The grizzly bear aficionados had no idea whether the area suited the big bear, nor did they seem to care. Other do-gooders likewise didn't understand the merits of controlled cutting and controlled burning, so critical to proper forest management.

It's not a big leap for Vincent to understand and identify with the challenges facing modern-day hog production. The abolitionist movement to ban individual sow stalls, the attempts to curb standard management procedures such as early castration or merciful euthanasia, have a familiar ring to Vincent.

Quoting from the wit and wisdom of Will Rogers, Vincent reinforces the point: “It's not what you don't know that's a problem; it's what you know that ain't so that's the problem.”

Just before the elections last fall, Vincent told an allied industry group the country isn't so much divided between Democrats and Republicans as it is split between urban and rural. Loggers and hog farmers are amongst the 20% who make up the nation's rural population, only 3% of which are in the business of supplying food and fiber. Still, the pinnacle of democracy — the right to vote — is critical, and in the 2008 elections, 20% is the “swing vote” if we stand together, he added.

Truth #2 - “When people lead, leaders follow.”

In one keynote address — “With Vision, There is Hope” — he declared the American public is ready for a new vision of conservation and environmental stewardship.

Vincent summarized the old environmental movement's vision in three simple words: “Stop doing that!” Problem is, that vision will not feed, clothe and shelter future generations while protecting the environment.

“We need a new vision of environmentalism,” he declares. “One based on hope instead of fear, science instead of emotion, education instead of litigation, resolution instead of conflict, and employing rather than destroying human resources.”

Focus on where the impact is first felt — at the local and county levels of government. Take a proactive approach and address not only the activists' concerns, but also the general public's concerns about clean water, animal care and husbandry and food safety.

“In order to share this vision, we must first reintroduce the American consumer to the processes and the people of production and then lead — not just fight — the discussion over our environment. Those who work at the ground level in implementing society's framework for protecting the environment are positioned at the leading edge of the changes and challenges of this discussion,” he says. “Those at the ground level include you.”

Vincent is passionate about bridging the gap of understanding and respect between urban youth, rural youth and the natural resource providers (loggers and pork producers), so in 1997, he launched the Provider Pals (www.providerpals.com), a cultural exchange program that links urban and rural classrooms with the people who get their hands dirty every day — farmers, loggers, pork producers and others who provide the basics of everyday life.

Truth #3 - “The world is run by those who show up.”

This truth is what activism is all about and it's not limited to the tree huggers and the vegans of the world.

Vincent reinforces this truth by quoting from Bobby Kennedy's famed “ripple-of-hope” speech, given to the people of South Africa after they experienced the tyranny of apartheid: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

This challenge is not for the faint of heart, nor to be tackled on your own. Gather those who are like-minded and have a vested interest in the pork industry, in agriculture. Identify the policymakers who understand the issues and are willing to join the fight.

“If you lose in the court of public opinion, you will eventually lose in the court of law,” Vincent warns.