Monthly Archives: May 2013
The Event and The Senator
Saturday May 25 at 11 a. m. PST, concerned citizens and food activists around the world will sip freshly-juiced, locally-grown, organic fruits and vegetables on the way to their local March Against Monsanto venues. Organizers plan 421 synchronized, family-friendly rallies across six continents to increase public awareness about the infiltration of GMO’s into the global food supply and to protest biotech-giant, agri-corporate, Monsanto’s, alarming influence over the federal legislative process.
Portland, Ore. local, Tiffany Ayers, a first-time organizer and food activist and her small cadre of volunteers and friends has been tirelessly working on the logistics and promotion for Portland’s event which will begin at 11 a.m. in Halladay Park. “Success (for this rally) will look like more public awareness of GMO’s,” reports Ayers, adding in “increased public pressure on legislators to create mandatory labeling on foods containing genetically modified organisms.”
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley is also concerned about Monsanto’s involvement in food legislation. According to Ayers, the Senator’s office contacted her and asked if today’s rally could also promote his online signature-gathering campaign. Merkley’s goal is to force a vote in the United States Congress to repeal the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
For security reasons, Juan, Senator Merkley’s receptionist was unable to confirm whether the Senator planned on attending today’s march. He was also unable to speak to the Senator’s knowledge of allegations that Missouri Senator Roy Blunt worked with Monsanto to craft the legislation in question, stating, “You can find the Senator’s opinions on his website.”
In preparation for today’s event, Ayers filed a “Special Event / Special Use Permit” with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. Applying for a permit for a special event with the City of Portland is a process that eventually involves law enforcement. “We want to work with the police to make sure this is a peaceful event,” Ayers says.
“It has nothing to do with free speech or the content of the gathering,” Sergeant Pete Simpson, the Portland Police Bureau’s Public Information Officer emphasized in a phone interview late Friday afternoon. He is addressing criticism he has heard from protestors that frequently accompanies the requirement for groups who gather to get permits to do so. “(The permit) is all about logistics,” Simpson continues. “If we know the location, the number of people, and the proposed route, we are better able to work with organizers to adjust routes to take traffic into consideration.”
Simpson explains that police have a duty to uphold all citizens’ rights: not just event attendees’ rights. “We also need to consider the rights of citizens who want to be able to drive on roads that may be blocked by unorganized assemblies,” he reasons.
Not all events are as organized as Ayers’ and not all event organizers apply for a permit. “When we hear about groups that are gathering and have not filed for permits, or groups that have content that has been historically confrontational, we have red flags from Jump Street,” Simpson says.
Not filing for a permit is an indication to law enforcement that organizers don’t intend to work with them cooperatively to manage the flow of people, and it puts law enforcement on alert that there may be trouble brewing. Simpson cites anti-police brutality marches and anti-corporate marches as examples of previous marches that have led to property damage in the City of Portland.
The Safety Tutorial
Simpson reports that he had been on the March Against Monsanto Facebook page and had seen the threads from parents asking if the event was going to be safe for children. He reports that he has no indication of threat whatsoever about this morning’s march, adding: “We get the issue. This is global.”
Video captured by Sue Edmunson on May 25, 2013 at Holladay Park in Portland, Oregon
According to Simpson, trouble-makers thrive in the anonymity of a crowd; they can become emboldened and confrontational and put other people at risk. He offered the following general tips for individuals and families to remain safe in public gatherings:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention.
- Be on the lookout for alarming behavior. If people start putting on masks, carrying sticks, or shouting obscenities, it’s time to get your family out of that area.
- If the speakers’ content changes from what you came to hear and the crowd begins to feel confrontational, move away.
- Stick with groups of people you know and feel safe with.
- Report suspicious activity to law enforcement. Alert, intelligent crowds are the best deterrent to trouble.
“Crowd behavior can be a funny thing,” Simpson explains. “People gather because they feel passionately about something and they want to express that, but people can get caught up in it. Use common sense and pay attention.”
Sitting on a porch, Internet twizzling, on a tranquil breeze-kissed afternoon in the Pacific Northwest is an idyllic way to time-while. In late March of this year, Tiffany Ayers found that it also works well for stumbling into instantaneous activism, and that’s how she did.
The Accidental Making of a Food Activist
“I was sitting outside reading an article about the passing of HR 933 and I got so angry I had to do something.” Ayers refers to Section 735 of the bill: the “Biotech Rider’” also called the ‘Monsanto Protection Act,’ a piece of legislation crafted by Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri that has amplified the global conflict between agri-business and food activists. In 2011-2012, between campaign committee and leadership PAC committee donations, Blunt received $98,250 from Missouri-based agri-business giant, Monsanto, a company under intense public pressure.
“I don’t remember exactly how I got there, but I found a site by Tammy Canal and contacted her to ask how I could get involved,” recalls Ayers. Canal is the founder of March Against Monsanto, a grassroots NGO seeking to raise awareness of GMO’s in the world’s food and crop seed supply, promote the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, and increase grassroots activism to insure seed diversity and eliminate environmental pollutants.
Two months later, Ayers, a media student with an event-planning background, finds herself rally organizer for Portland, Ore. “I had no idea how much work this was going to be,” says Ayers, sounding like a harried mom after of a long day who finally gets to sit down for a full deep breath. She pauses, gathering her thoughts:
“I’ve always worked with an established team, but I’ve had to do this from scratch… We’ve had to do this from scratch,” Ayers revises, citing the assistance of a handful of friends and volunteers. Of the 421 cities, spanning six continents, this small band of first-time Portland activists expect the second highest projected turn out of them all, trailing only New York City, New York.
The Welcome Reach of Social Media
Ayers credits social media for the sudden rise in organized food activism, and Facebook in particular for increased March-Against-Monsanto awareness. On March 26, when, President Obama signed the bill, she had 750 Facebook friends. She sent invitations to them all, and like the 1980’s Faberge shampoo marketing campaign, word spread exponentially. As of this writing, the Portland rally has 6,500 “confirmed” and “maybe” attendees, with just under 49,000 non-responding invitees.
With a sudden semi-celebrity status, Ayers has had to make some changes in the way she interacts online. The campaign dominates the content of her Facebook page, and she has gained over 150 new “friends”: she will create another private page when she regains some dispensable time.
Connecting online, Ayers and other rally leaders, many of whom are also first-time organizers, offer one another support. Their goal is to create a family-friendly feel to what they view as a first step in a food revolution: building community awarenesss. According to Ayers, organizers recognize that certain elements will use any public gathering to create discord. “That is not what this is about,” Ayers affirms.
Ayers, in the interest of creating a safe, family-centered, community-awareness event, welcomes the support of Portland Police. “I initially got some flack for that on the Facebook page, so I made it very clear that no violence of any kind will be welcomed.” Ayers recognizes that pesticide contamination and threats to bio-diversity threaten us all equally — that March Against Monsanto isn’t an “us” vs “them” issue. “Policemen need to eat real, whole, safe food too. This is about all of us,” she says.
The Full-Circle Journey to a Calling
According to her LinkedIn profile Ayers worked at Ashland Chemical from 1999-2005 where she was first trained to read and file Material Safety Data Sheets (“MSDS”), the informational sheets that OSHA requires businesses and commercial vehicles to carry for each chemical present. She always felt a bit of tension about being a “bit of a tree-hugger working for a chemical company,” but it was there where she realized the pervasive reach of petroleum chemicals in her everyday life.
Reflecting more, she appreciates the inside view she gained of the industry as the big six petro-chemical, bio-tech, agri-business giants were consolidating with various mergers and acquisitions.
When the bullhorn is neatly tucked away Saturday evening, Ayers’ activism and community organization will not be at an end. Her life has a new trajectory. Ayers looks to get involved in the food labeling movement, locally, with GMO Free Oregon and has been talking with staff from Food and Water Watch. “I have found something I am really passionate about that matters,” she notes.
The Logistical Details of the Event
View MAM Route Map in a larger map
When you pass the reserved and smiling Martha Hurlburt with her trusty nine year-old black lab, Finnegan, hiking through the Columbia Gorge, humming praise songs, do not be misled. This woman possesses the heart of a lion and the technical skills to produce a circus. In fact during the school year, that’s exactly what you’ll find this 23 year veteran teacher doing: taming and training 26 ten- and eleven year-old fifth graders at Illahee Elementary School in Vancouver, WA, running the school’s Raven News, and serving on the musical technology team at her church. But that’s not all.
Martha was born and grew up in southeast Portland, Ore., the younger daughter of Hugh and Clarene Hurlburt. Her father, Hugh, was born in the Congo in 1929 and lived as there as the son of missionaries for a bulk of his childhood, moving to the United States to attend college. Martha loved the classroom from the beginning. “I always loved school. I was valedictorian of my graduating class,” she reports. She graduated from David Douglas High School in 1978 and is a self-proclaimed history buff, favoring the colonial era and the Revolutionary War.
When talking about school, Martha isn’t just talking about academics. “I love basketball, and played in middle school and high school.” With a mischievous glint, she recounts a story: “My freshman year in high school, there was a basketball game and an orchestra concert on the same night. My teacher said I would not get an ‘A’ in class if I did not go to the concert, so I went to the concert because I valued my grades, and then I quit orchestra the next year.”
Martha continues, “I did not go back when he asked me to because I liked my basketball better. I went back and helped out a couple times because they were shrinking. But it’s like, ‘Nope. You made me choose, and I don’t choose you.’”
That tenacious conviction followed Martha into her career and was partly responsible for leading her back to education. Martha’s first career move after graduating with an accounting degree from Portland State University was a junior auditing position at then accounting giant Arthur Andersen. “This was before the Enron scandal,” she reports. An opportunity to work for a smaller local company opened up about the time she figured out that she didn’t like her supervisor under whom she would be tracking if she stayed with Arthur Andersen.
But Artline Printing, Inc. in Beaverton, Ore. was no stranger to scandal. After being asked to cook the books by her supervisor, Martha refused and was moved elsewhere in the company. When a more successful printing company out of Salem came in to buy the company, she was asked to come back in and clean up the books in preparation for the sale. Having had enough of accounting, she soon left the company and decided to return to her Christian roots in a more substantial way. Martha Hurlburt, female valedictorian, accountant, and grand-daughter of missionaries decided to go to seminary.
“I didn’t go straight from accounting into education. I made a brief stop in seminary,” Martha recalls. I loved it, but I realized that even though I was in seminary, my church wouldn’t allow me to work with youth because I was a woman. It made me mad.”
“You made me choose and I don’t choose you,” Martha had said once before to her high school orchestra teacher. This time, instead of basketball over orchestra, Martha chose education over seminary, returning to Portland State University to complete her post-baccalaureate teaching work. Her graduate work was completed at Washington State University.
Martha’s first teaching job was a two-year stint back in her home David Douglas district. She said she felt at ease during her first interview when she walked into a room of district principals and the one who had been Activities Director when she was in high school stood up and gave her a hug.
After two years at David Douglas and then a year of ‘inbetween,’ Martha landed a teaching position in Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Washington. 2013 marks her 20th year with the district. A co-teacher enters the room and asks if Martha saw a post it note – an invitation to lunch. She spends a few minutes sorting through piles trying to find it. After a few moments, she makes a sweeping gesture with her left hand, illustrating the piles of piles that line the flat surfaces of her room. “It’s possible I have too much going on,” she laughs.
In addition to teaching full-time and being part of her church’s technical sound team, Martha (with a co-teacher) is advisor for student council. She also oversees Raven News, the school’s student-run video news program and is a vocal advocate for Junior Achievement’s BizTown simulation that is in its fifth year at Illahee. “My desire to have my students be financially literate probably stems back to my accounting days.”
And Then There’s Slovakia.
Martha attends New Heights Church in Vancouver, Wash. The church has a robust global outreach program, supporting missionaries “directly in places like Indonesia and Japan” and it partners with the Christian mission organizations Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Papua, Indonesia and The Center for Christian Education in Slovakia. Seven years ago, the director of the Slovakia program was unable to attend the program and Martha’s natural heart for outreach, teaching, serving, and leading made her the ideal candidate. She has returned every year since.
“Every year, I incorporate an art project with a theme. This year, our church did a study on joy. It was very powerful,” Martha says. “I really want to find a way to connect joy in my students’ lives that is tangible. Real.” Making meaningful soul connections is what motivates her. When offered the opportunity to ask any person contemporary or historical any question, Martha pauses and mutters that she hates those kinds of questions.
She thinks for another few moments and then hops up from her chair, rummages through a pile on her desk, and brings back a book her Slovakia team has been reading in preparation for this year’s trip. It is the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff and Don Miller. Martha summarizes it as a book about love that shows the power of putting action behind words. That theme resonates with her. “This is the guy I would like to talk to. Listen to this story:”
Leaning forward with elbows on knees in the familiar teacher-to-an-enraptured-classroom voice, Martha shares a powerful story of a mom, and dad and three kids who travel around the world after 9/11, making friends of world leaders and asking them what their goals are, thinking that if people know each other’s common goals, they can find ways to connect better. The children send letters inviting each of the world’s leaders they can find using the CIA’s database to sit down and talk. Of the hundreds of invitations they send, only 29 heads of state respond favorably. Their family pays a visit to each of those 29; after making friends, the children offer a key to their house in America and an open-ended invitation to visit. They meet leaders in Hungary, Switzerland, and Russia. A prince accepts their invitation and reciprocates a visit.
When asked what it is about the story that resonates with Martha and what she would ask its author, Bob Goff, she replies, “I just like how it is so in the present. I want to know about how he does what he does.” She is referring to his ability to connect meaningfully and simply.
Shelly Johnson, women’s minister of New Heights Church serves with Martha on the Slovakia team and recognizes this same disarming emotional intelligence in Martha, “I would say that (her) sensitivity to the culture is invaluable. She’s found a way to bridge a gap between the two cultures. She does a great job identifying and utilizing the gifts and talents of the people on her team. She uses the things she knows are of interest to our Slovak students - technology, music, drama, art - to draw them out and keep them interested in what they’re learning. Her classroom is always fun!”
Shelly continues in an email, “We have students who come back every year, many of whom should move up to the next level. But, they so enjoy Martha and her teaching, they choose to stay with her…”
One of those students is, Alexandra Menzlova. Alexandra and her sister, Monika were in Martha’s very first class in Martin, Slovakia in 2007. Just last September Alexandra, who is about to start pre-medicine study at university came to visit Martha in Vancouver. Monika was studying languages in Vienna and was unable to join her sister. Martha has become good friends with the Menzlova family and plans on tagging an extra week on to her trip to Slovakia this summer. Martha wants to visit the Bonijce Castle. They may travel to Spain.
When asked what it is about Slovakia that keeps her going back, Martha pauses a minute to consider. “Honestly, it’s the people. They love nature and are always outdoors. They are active. They walk everywhere. It is a simpler life.”