Joe Morse: A Champion of the People & the Land

The Land Stewardship Project is mourning the passing of Joe Morse of Winona, Minn., a long-time LSP leader and champion of social justice. We valued Joe greatly, fully appreciating the chance to work with him on our efforts to challenge excessive corporate power and expose corruption of the powerful.

His assistance in strategizing and organizing was crucial to LSP's efforts to pass strong restrictions on factory farms in Winona County, and, just in the past year, an outright ban on frac sand mining.

Joe’s life was dedicated to making his community and country a more just place through non-violent action and organizing. This meant working to end domestic violence and calling on men to be leaders in addressing this issue, standing up for voting rights and racial justice even at a time when people were being killed for doing just that, and standing up for family farms and the land against corporate power. Joe’s life example challenges us all to think bigger and do more. He was always ready and excited for the next organizing meeting and the next action to hold those in power accountable. He did this hard work with joy and enthusiasm that helped bring in many, many others.

Our movement benefitted tremendously from his spirit of courage and we miss him. Since becoming an LSP member in 1998, every time Joe walked into a meeting room or LSP committee strategy session, he brought with him decades of organizing experience. That experience tremendously benefitted LSP and our work for family farms, the land and water, and rural community life. By my count, Morse quite likely attended more than 200 LSP organizing meetings and events in the past 20 years. We don't know anyone who loved organizing more; he always had enthusiasm and energy for struggle.

Bobby King, director of LSP’s Policy and Organizing Program, told the Winona Daily News: “Joe’s life was dedicated to social justice and the non-violent struggle to make our country more just for all. It wasn’t what he did when he had extra time — it was the principle around which he organized his life, and it was an inspiring challenge to me and many others.”

Joe grew up on his family’s apple orchard overlooking the Mississippi River in Dakota, Minn. He forever considered himself a farm kid at heart, and he helped manage the family orchard when he returned to Minnesota in 1983 after two decades of civil rights work in the South, organizing against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in the Northeast, and co-founding the nation’s first group of men opposing domestic violence in Boston in the 1970s.

Rural community organizing is full of unique challenges. What I most valued about Joe was that, beginning with his first civil rights work in rural Mississippi—1964 Freedom Summer—and continuing with more than 50 years of local organizing efforts across 25-plus organizations, he had seen it all. He was fearless, knew what to expect from the opposition, was highly strategic, and always organized with great integrity. On countless occasions, I sought out Joe’s perspective and experience. His advice was always right on target.

And he wasn’t one of those that just liked to tell you what to do and sit back and watch you do it. He’d willingly do anything that was asked of him—do telephone-banking, give a membership pitch at a public meeting, line up a meeting with a county commissioner. And he would be the first to write a letter-to-the-editor when he’d spot a local injustice.

Joe Morse will be missed, but his legacy of fighting for what's right will live on in our community and on the land.

LSP organizer Doug Nopar is based in LSP's southeastern Minnesota office in Lewiston.