Some media reports have forecasted hundreds of thousands will March against Monsanto corporation on May 23rd in over 400 cities around the world. We went into Richmond to join the fun.
The march began with background information about how it got started 3 years ago. The inspiration was the US congress passing the despicable Monsanto Protection Act, which was basically written by Monsanto to make things better for them. The most horrific parts of the 2013 Monsanto Protection Act are that even if it is found that GMOs have adverse health effects on consumers, companies using them 1) can not be sued, 2) can not be stopped from harvesting them and 3) cannot be blocked from planting more and selling more of them. Little could be more revealing of how sold out our elected leaders are.
The perhaps 100 marchers went through the fashionable Carytown portion of Richmond with a substantial police escort. The response from the many people who saw us was pretty warm, especially the staff at the many restaurants on that trendy street. As for the tactics of the MAM i have strong split feelings (the technically correct definition of ambivalent). I love the decentralized approach to the organization of these events. People come, bring signs, and a megaphone.
There is a fairly informal rotation of speakers at most of these, anyone who is inspired can grab a megaphone and address the crowd. While I did not speak this year, i did in 2013 in Washington DC.
This type of decentralize approach is important, because it is at its base populist. Also it proves that the internet can be a highly effective organizing tool (not requiring strong–read authoritarian–leaders) with global reach and the capacity to facilitate multi-city/multi-country mass actions.
The problem with this lovely grass rootsie approach is that these decentralized groups do a third rate job with media. There was some media at the Richmond event, and there might even be a bit of press coverage. But overall, this movement is pretending that it is possible reach millions without a media budget, without media handlers and without carefully crafted messages sending. While i appreciated the considerable decentralized effort, i remember working with the experienced media folks at Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Greenpeace US. They speak at a high level about when a story has to be out by, what images make sense to broadcast, what are the talking points, what is the group demanding. With hundreds of protests around the world, there are but dozens of articles up (mostly in small papers or on local tv stations). I can’t help but think if one of the better big green groups were to take on this cause, we would have much larger media echo.
Acorn’s primary income engine is the seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. There are lots of wonderful things about this business. We are advancing organic, heritage and non-GMO seeds. We are fighting Monsanto’s effort to contaminate the food supply and bankrupt small farmers.
Every so often the government asks what we think about what is happening in the world of agriculture. Until March 4th you can comment to the USDA on the “agricultural coexistence between GMOs and non-GMO crops.” Here is the link if you want to comment identifying yourself. Here is the link if you want to comment anonymously. Here are the perfectly reasonable things which Southern Exposure wrote in our formal comments.
But i don’t want to be reasonable, because i am furious. When i describe to people what is really happening with Monsanto the first general reaction is disbelief. As it stands now, Monsanto’s army of lawyers have completely trampled property law. As it stands now, Monsanto can sneak onto your property, steal your crops, have them tested and then if they find trace contamination by their GMO strains (at even trace levels) they begin a legal assault on you which forces you to choose 1) to go bankrupt defending yourself or 2) require you to agree to their terms which include never going public about the abuse they put you through. This is classic corporate criminal behavior.
Monsanto has been extremely effectively silencing farmers on GMO contamination for many years, with threats of lawsuits and legal action. One of the few silver linings of the case we mostly lost against Monsanto is that it does set a 1% contamination threshold so that real trace amounts can’t be used to bankrupt farmers.
But what i really want is for some Monsanto criminal technician to bust onto some farmers land who lives in a Stand Your Ground state or one which has strong trespassing laws. And then for the property owner to shoot him. Okay i don’t want to kill anyone, but the current madness is Orwellian and must stop. Monsanto should know that this predatory legal behavior is not safe.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Thanks to all the fine folks who contributed to our Indiegogo campaign; yesterday we made our goal of $10,000 with several days left to complete it.
There were some enlightening and curious things about this fund-raising campaign for me. The people who are supposedly our competitors turned out to be some of our larger donors. The folks who know our business are not surprised by this. We do not really operate as competitors, especially when it comes to operating experience and mistakes made.
The shared desire to practice and spread heritage and organic plants has created a collection of companies which support each other in ways competitors usually do not. For many of us we see our competitor as Monsanto.
Acorn was also given $5000 by an anonymous donor, which was the cause for some celebration.
New member Falcon also arrived early in a somewhat vain effort to surprise his partner Dragon. The smoke shack was hopping after our brief community meeting, and Falcon burst in to many welcomes after driving all day from Minneapolis. But after perhaps too little festivity, i pulled the trick where i recruit from the smoke shack and get people to pick orders. It was the first day of the busy season, we had over 100 orders in.
It was also the first full day of orders which was picked in the new picking room. The space was large and much better able to handle the 6 and 7 people who were picking there late at night. We finished the 100 orders in about 40 minutes, which bodes well for the busier days to come.
When i talk with Acorners about the busy season they are excited. Not because we will finally get back into Heartwood after the Arson repairs. Not even because we will have this new beautiful seed palace to work out of, but because (in my read) it brings the group together and directs our sometimes scattered efforts.
After our flash mob picking event, some of us went to the hot tub to relax. For all the struggles of the last year, it is still an amazing place to live and work.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
A dozen Southern Exposure folks got up and on the road before dawn to attend the oral arguments for the next phase of our lawsuit against Monsanto at the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, DC. The hearing went better than I had expected, especially given that the previous judge had claimed our case was not worth her time and dismissed it. The three long serving and experienced federal judges making up the Appeals Court asked sharp questions for the hour long session of our lawyer (Dan Ravicher from the Public Patent Foundation) but especially of the lawyers from Monsanto. [We are challenging Monsanto’s GMO patents and preemptively suing to protect ourselves from suits if our farms should become contaminated. See details here]
The Monsanto lawyers have a tough job. They need to sound reasonable and fair, and they need to not give anything away. This is problematic because some of the things they should be giving away are pretty clear. At the heart of our case is the desire to assure farmers who are contaminated by GMO seeds, who don’t want them and have no intention of using Monsanto’s Round Up pesticide, to be free of fear of lawsuit. This is actually not what Monsanto wants; they want everyone to be afraid of their lawyers swooping in, finding contamination and then suing the farmer and destroying them financially regardless of whether the farmer is using their products or not. They want this because they want a monopoly on seeds, because monopolistic prices are far higher than market prices and the profits are fantastic.
But the lawyers can’t very well say “we want to destroy every farm which is not paying us for our patented seeds even if they got them through contamination of their fields.” Instead they have to say things like “Farmers are our customers, why would we create bad blood with people we want to sell to?” And they quote the very reasonable sounding things on the Monsanto website. And if you have been a Federal judge for over 20 years, you have heard every type of dodge, redirection and elusive answer ever created.
“Are you saying that you would not sue farmers who are not using your Round Up pesticide?” asked one judge. The Monsanto lawyer returned to the text from the website, like it was a religious doctrine. He certainly had no intention of answering the reasonable question of the judge. The judges pressed on. “What if hypothetically a farmer was found to have 50% Round Up Ready seeds after 3 years, just from contamination and replanting their own seeds. This is certainly beyond “trace” levels. Would Monsanto sue then?” More reasonable questions, more evasive answers.
Our lawyer believes that this hurts Monsanto, that you dont actually compel judges by evading their direct questions. I hope he is right.
This is approximately what I said to the crowd in Lafayette Park near the White House and the Appeals Courthouse.
This is where Monsanto wants to be fighting us, in the courthouse. Here they have all the advantages. Laws which invert the idea of trespass so they can steal crops from farmers lands and test them for their poisons. Patent laws designed to protect their profits, not public health. Here they can out-gun us with fancy lawyers and technicalities.
We need to take this fight to the media, to activists like those of you in this crowd today. We need to stop these predatory law suits that Monsanto is initiating with the intent of controlling the market and destroying farmers. We need to ask the hard questions that the judges were asking today, but in forums where Monsanto can’t hide their answers in obscure precedent and legal terms which can’t be understood.
One reader was inspired to offer financial support for this important work. We are directing donations to the Food Democracy Now travel fund for Farmers. Please donate here and specify “Travel Fund for Farmers fighting Monsanto”.