Category Archives: Activists
Josh is hard to miss in the middle of the crowd that is harder to miss. His six foot six inch frame hoists an enormous polychromatic sign high into the air. His list reads like a Who’s Who of diseases — diseases that result from exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up, a common household weed-killer produced by Monsanto. Josh found out about the rally on Liberty News online and hopes for an eventual ban on pesticides and GMO’s.
Josh and thousands* of others from the Pacific Northwest descended upon Halladay Park in Portland, Ore. on May 25 as part of a coordinated and global March Against Monsanto, the Missouri-based biotech and pesticide-producing agribusiness-giant who brought to market the defoliant known as Agent Orange and the insecticide, DDT. It is now under public scrutiny for, among other things, introducing genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) into the global food supply.
Golaith and His Investors
Monsanto is the largest biotech kid on the block and sells itself as the global leader in food production and agricultural technology to feed an ever-increasing global population
In an interview with Bloomberg writer, Jack Kaskey, Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto, accuses “opponents who want to block genetically modified foods” of elitism. Eliminating genetically modified foods, Hughes believes, will eliminate more affordable food choices for people who can’t afford to buy organic produce.
Critics accuse the company of, with the passage of Section 735 of this year’s Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, subverting the democratic process; controlling mainstream media; and putting profits over long-term global food security by decreasing biodiversity.
Grant presented a strategic analysis of Monsanto at this year’s annual Sanford C. Bernstein investor’s conference in New York City, New York on May 29. According to slide #14 Business Growth is one of the key indicators of the company’s financial performance: “Global business portfolio drives gross profit expansion, with continuation of business momentum, expansion of U.S. base and international acceleration.”
That is business-speak for selling more expensive seed brands to farmers, extending biotech engineering into new crops, and planting more land both in America and abroad with GMO seeds.
According to the same slide, the company is using its profits to repurchase its own stocks, further consolidating its value to owning stakeholders. Monsanto’s unaudited quarterly earnings report for 2Q 2013 posts a net profit of $3.07 billion.
David and His Fellow Rock-Flingers
The March Against Monsanto rally was organized by Tami Canal as a response to the passing of the “Monsanto Protection Act,” a six-month variance that allows harvesting of genetically modified crops not allowed under current legislation. Local Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and other legislators are fighting to overturn the legistlation; signatures were gathered on Merkley’s behalf at the May 25 rally.
Skyler Veek learned about the March Against Monsanto on Facebook. She and her son, Rain, traveled to the Willamette Valley from the Oregon Coast to take part in the march. “Keep your laws off my seeds!” reads Veek’s sign. She wants to raise awareness about local Oregon Senate Bill 633, legislation that acts much as the Monsanto Protection Act but for the state of Oregon.
People from the small Oregon town where Veek originates may have considered her activism to be alarmist until May 29 when reports surfaced that some of Oregon’s wheat exports this year have been rejected by Japan and South Korea on the grounds that they contain genetically modified wheat. Thailand has put its ports on notice.
Monsanto has issued a statement that indicates it intends to fully cooperate with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) investigation into the “GE glyphosate resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states between 1998-2005.”
Annual wheat crops in Oregon range between $300-500 million, with 2011’s crop hitting $492 million. Oregon, which mixes its wheat with that of Washington and Idaho, exports 90% of its wheat. Japan and South Korea are not the only countries to reject GMO crop imports.
Julia Degraw, keynote speaker of Portland’s March Against Monsanto and Pacific Northwest organizer of Food and Water Watch, is not intimidated by the global scope and seemingly endless pockets of Monsanto.
“This is a huge warning cry (to Monsanto),” Degraw says about the day’s turnout, citing the support of over 2,000,000 people in 49 countries. “This is proof that we have a lot of power behind us.”
Earlier in the day, the articulate and undaunted Degraw encouraged the crowd to be fearless in its goal to unseat the global biotech giant. She cited multiple European countries that have successfully banned GMO’s; she cited civil protests that have had sweeping socio-economic results throughout American history:
- Anti-trust laws during the robber baron years
- The New Deal
- Women’s right to vote
- Unions and an eight hour workday
- Civil rights legislation
“For right now all the vegetables and fruit for human consumption are generally not genetically engineered,” Degraw explains. “This is why we want GMO food labeling sooner rather than later.” According to Degraw, for now, genetically engineered food is primarily in soy and corn found in processed food and animal feed. “You’re going to want to know where your meat is coming from,” her tutorial concludes.
While Degraw proudly identifies herself as a political food activist, she offers the following advice to people who simply want to affordably avoid eating GMO’s:
- Shop the edges of your supermarket.
- Buy real food.
- Avoid Processed food.
- Cook. You have to eat real food.
Degraw refers people to Michael Pollan, a non-political food writer who educates people about the food system, as a resource for people just learning about GMO’s and wanting to know more.
Gathering More Stones
But for Degraw and others who want to take an active role in eliminating GMO’s and pesticides from our food supply, the fight is just beginning. “We need to actually have legislation that works for us,” says Degraw. Citing Oregon’s SB 633 as did Veek, she points out that current legislation, “…actually encourages Monsanto to take over the food system.”
*Portland’s march was second in size only to that of New York City, New York. Estimates range between 2,000 (in an interview with Julia Degraw) to 6,000 from a local online news article. In an email, Sergeant Pete Simpson, Public Information Officer for Portland Police Bureau reports that his office is not in the habit of reporting crowd sizes.
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
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