According to Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero, Western powers have been grabbing seeds from the global South for centuries in order to develop new plant breeds. His talk provided a political and historical context to the current global battle around the patenting of seeds and crops with genetically modified organisms (GM0s).
It was September 16, the first day of GMO-Free Midwest, the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto. On the panel with Carmelo was Dr. 011ie Fisher, whose first job after getting his Chemical Engineering degree was working at Monsanto. He left that position after becoming distressed with the way the company uses its technology to coerce Africa into producing food that compromises human health.
Priti Gulati Cox also joined the panel "GMOs as a Weapon of Global Domination." She described effects of GMO crops on her native India. Monsanto advertises heavily to persuade farmers to switch to its new wonder seeds. After multiple crop failures, thousands of Indian farmers have gone bankrupt and committed suicide.
The following day, September 17, Occupy Monsanto sponsored actions across the globe. Beginning with a day of panels, the St. Louis event encouraged a dialectical interplay between thought and action. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) had expanded the practice of having discussions interspersed with activities. Panels and lectures provide core information. Demonstrations, marches and direct actions "concretize" or give meaning to ideas. Post-activity discussion helps "synthesize" the thought/action dichotomy.
Nowhere are these processes more important than in combating GMO contamination of food. Several contradictions confronted organizers of GMO-free Midwest.
Contradiction 1. Currently, safe food is viewed largely as a white intellectual concern in the US. This creates an enormous contradiction because farmers, and especially peoples of Latin America, Africa and Asia most affected by the international campaigns of agribusiness. Today, it is people of color in the Global South who are most often forced to give up sustainable agriculture and adopt industrial growing methods.
Multi-ethnic panels strengthen the movement as participants realize that they share a common opponent with their allies. But, until the US safe food movement becomes truly multi-ethnic, its effectiveness will be severely limited.
The St. Louis forum covered the basics: Daniel Romano described Monsanto's role in advancing herbicides and pesticides; Suzanne Renard looked at the specific effects of chemicals on bees; Stan Cox went into the big picture of industrial agriculture; and, Eric Herm gave a personal account of a farmer making choices about using GMOs. Anne Petermann linked these US experiences, the global advance of genetically engineered trees, and the current push to drive indigenous forest protectors from their homes.
Contradiction 2. The time is more than ripe for safe food efforts to move from symbolic to substantive actions. Symbolic actions are necessary for building a movement. The Gateway Green Alliance (GGA) continually meets people coming from the other side of town or from across the globe because marching at its world headquarters is personally significant for them. Never underestimate the importance of ritual. Whether singing, chanting, standing in a circle, or picketing Monsanto, symbolic actions strengthen the bonds of community.
Yet, picketing Monsanto World Headquarters (MWH) is not substantive--if there were a thousand times as many pickets, it would not affect Monsanto's profits. A substantive action against Monsanto would interfere with its functioning in some way. It is difficult (but not impossible) to organize substantive actions against Monsanto because it distributes to other companies rather than to consumers. But Whole Foods Market (WFM), a newly arrived stepchild in the Monsanto extendedfamily, distributes directly to consumers. This makes it a potential target for substantive actions. Even more so because those who shop at WFM think that higher prices buy them better quality food. WFM customers very often suffer the illusion that it does not sell GMO food.
A picket in front of WFM or signs on top of cars in its parking lot are symbolic actions which may irritate its management but do not interfere with its business. In contrast, a shop-in slows down the check-out line as participants ask if each item contains GMOs. It is substantive because of its potential. If thousands of people were to participate in dozens of cities, sales at WFM would plummet. Facing a potential boycott, WFM might reverse its hidden love affair with Monsanto and begin labeling GMO foods.
Contradiction 3. In seeking to make the WFM action more substantive, organizers faced the contradiction of openness vs. guardedness. Everyone agreed on guardedness. After the 2003 Biodevastation 7 Gathering in St. Louis, an ACLU inquiry discovered our personal emails in files of Homeland Security, which had been working with Monsanto. Similarly, several reports on OWS actions in 2011 noted how police knew of plans before events happened.
A guarded approach in 2012 meant not putting details of the shop-in on the website or in email or discussing them during phone calls. As a result, police and WFM management had no idea of what we were doing until we were in the middle of doing it.
But there was a downside. More open planning has the advantage of reaching a larger number of people eager to participate in direct action. Discussing plans with everyone weeks in advance gives them a chance to rehearse it in their minds. In our post-action discussion, we covered ins and outs of how the shop-in went and how it could be improved on. These thoughts are now being shared via personal contact with multiple organizations.
One type of open inclusiveness did not enter into planning because it recently proved so damaging to OWS. That is "consensus decision-making" by dozens or hundreds of people who come to a General Assembly. It has the advantage of empowering people who have...