This is a Call to Action for a Non-Hierarchical Occupation of Monsanto Everywhere
Whether you like it or not, chances are Monsanto contaminated the food you ate today with chemicals and unlabeled GMOs. Monsanto controls much of the world's food supply at the expense of food democracy worldwide. This site is dedicated to empowering citizens of the world to take action against Monsanto & it's enablers like the FDA, USDA, EPA, GMA, BIO, and the processed food companies that use Monsanto's products.
Activist ties up the checkout line at Whole Foods by asking the clerk whether each of the items in her cart contain GMOs. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
Occupy Monsanto in St. Louis: Action 2
“Ma’am, Please Don’t Take Off Your Shirt in the Parking Lot”
by Don Fitz
Several dozen people at GMO-Free Midwest, the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto, went from picketing the industry-sponsored “Biosafety” symposium at the Millennium Hotel to Whole Foods Market (WFM) in Brentwood, Missouri. It was September 17, 2012, the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Safe food activists began a series of tactics which built on previous demonstrations and caught store management and local police completely off guard.
June 9 had seen a creative picket of WFM, including a 14 foot tall coyote puppet opposed to putting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. The picket provided an opportunity to talk with WFM workers who have been led to believe that the store does not sell GMOs. A few shoppers joined the picket upon learning that WFM brags that it labels GMO food when it only labels non-GMO food, leaving customers uninformed about potentially contaminated products.
On August 18 a new tactic challenged WFM. WFM aggressively censors “soliciting” which it says includes telling customers of dangers that GMOs poses to health and the environment. So, we went into its parking lot with signs on top of cars saying “GMOs Contaminate Food” on one side and “WFM Sells GMOs” on the other. Other cars had the same message on window signs or on home-made bumper stickers.
Police told drivers that they could not enter the parking lot with “protest signs” on their cars. But they were hard pressed to explain what was and what was not a protest sign. They were particularly befuddled at trying to figure out if they should order the removal of bumper stickers, since so many cars at WFM have safe food slogans on them. As we discussed what constitutes a protest message, other drivers came in, parked, and let their cars with signs on top remain throughout the afternoon.
Eric Herm, anti-GMO cotton farmer from Texas, stands by car sign in Whole Foods parking lot. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
A new level of action
On September 17, participants from GMO-Free Midwest took activities at WFM to a higher level. A few carried signs on the sidewalk. But most walked to the front of the store.
“If you are here to protest, you need to go to the sidewalk,” the police motioned. I buttoned up my jacket over my “Genetic Engineering — Don’t Swallow It” T-shirt and walked through the police. Since we didn’t appear different from the typical WFM customer, others did the same.
Some said, “I just came here to pick up a few items” as they walked by the police, who were again unsure of what to do.
Apparently warned that we would be there, WFM staff could be heard saying “What’s happening? They’re all coming in to shop.” Safe food activist wandered through the store looking at labels carefully. They did not put items in their carts if they read, “GMO-free,” “organic,” or “365,” which is the WFM house brand.
As shoppers went through the check-out line, they picked up each item and asked the cashier if it had GMOs in it. If so, it went in the “don’t buy” pile. Cashiers often weren’t sure; and that meant it also went in the “don’t buy” pile. One cashier claimed that everything WFM sold was GMO-free, which led to each item in turn being put aside by a disbelieving shopper.
Mindful of the bad working conditions at WFM, shoppers took the opportunity to explain our concerns to every employee. And there is no better opportunity to discuss potential food contamination than doing so with a customer waiting behind you in line. WFM is particularly vulnerable to such a tactic because the vast majority of its customers are concerned about food quality, but most think that store products are GMO-free.
From chatting with us, customers found out that, though WFM products cost more than those at other grocery stores, they are very likely to contain GMOs. With a bad rep for extreme anti-unionism and buying out competitors in order to destroy them, WFM is also resented for reversing its former opposition to GMO foods. It now babbles about “informed customer choices” but fails to inform customers by labeling food that might have GMOs.
A “superbug,” caused by consumption of GMO crops, argues with a police officer outside of Whole Foods. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
From Shop-In to Talk-In
Many safe food shoppers asked for the manager to come and verify whether food in their cart was GMO-free. At one point, a frazzled manager began grabbing handfuls of food and pushing it aside, saying “Yes, all this food has GMOs.” The manager seemed obsessed with keeping the check-out lane flowing as rapidly as possible.
Managerial distress was caused by two dictums: WFM policy says that every customer question must be answered; and, WFM also says that shopping must be a “pleasant experience.” But the shopping experience might be made unpleasant either by a slowed check-out line or by customers watching someone being hassled by police for the crime of asking if food quality is compromised. This particular manager decided that pleasant shopping would best be maintained by confirming that a large amount of WFM items might be contaminated with GMOs.
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) had told us that WFM could order us to leave and those who refused could be arrested. But it would have been impossible for WFM to determine who constituted “us.” WFM could have brought police from inside to harass those they thought were “protestors.” But doing so would run the risk of intimidating everyday customers who go to WFM concerned with the quality of food and happen to ask a question or two about what they are buying. Its liberal façade again makes WFM more vulnerable to a shop-in than any other supermarket chain.
Our friendly shoppers left the store with a single purchased item, confirming that they were, in fact, WFM customers. Others asked what all the commotion was about and what we were trying to accomplish. Some asked if they should boycott WFM. We explained that they could help lay the groundwork for a future boycott by telling everyone they knew about the true face of WFM.
The WFM ban on “solicitation” had been broken in store aisles, in check-out lines, and at the store entrance. Unable to distinguish “protesters” from “legitimate” customers, neither WFM management nor Brentwood police could stop people from asking “Why should we be concerned about what we buy at WFM?” Getting people to ask that question was the point of the action.
GMO farmer dressed for duty outside of Whole Foods. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
From Talk-In to Gawk-In
A stiff foam-board sign with holes for zip-ties can be fastened with bungy cords to the top of a car in 10–15 seconds by people who have practiced doing it. As cops and store managers were trying to figure out if they could do anything about the growing number of GMO conversations among customers, two people fastened a six foot long sign saying that “WFM Sells GMOs” atop a station wagon. By the time the cops figured out what had happened, the two were long gone.
Cops walked over and asked the people looking at the car who owned it; but they just shrugged their shoulders. Most picketers left their sidewalk location to see what the cops were doing. Friendly shoppers walked toward the car. Customers drifted over to hear everyone asking about why police were concerned with a car that had a sign on its hood.
There’s few things that people gawk at more than cops looking at something while a small crowd looks at the cops. Barbara Chicherio asked what bothered them. “Protest signs need to be on the sidewalk and not on cars,” a cop huffed.
Barbara talked through the car signs – window signs – bumper sticker questions concerning which needed to be removed as the cop scowled. Remembering that she was wearing a “Millions Against Monsanto” T-shirt, she had a flash: “Officer,” she asked, “If everything critical of Whole Foods and Monsanto is a protest sign, do I have to take off this T-shirt?”
“Ma’am, please do not take off your T-shirt in the parking lot!” The crowd laughed and even the cop chuckled. The absurdity of trying to wrestle through the twists and turns of exactly what type of free expression WFM could suppress was too much.
It had become clear that effects of the police presence had turned into their opposite. Intended to be soft-core harassers, the police were less than totally dedicated to protecting WFM customers from the horror of people asking about food contamination. As they drew a larger crowd, the show of police force served to increase discussion about WFM, thereby furthering goals of the action.
Many of the tactics used on September 17 had been worked out weeks before. Others arose as the event unfolded. Throughout the WFM action, neither store management nor police had any idea of what to expect next or how they should respond.
Within half an hour of the mini-confrontation in the parking lot, the police gave up efforts to get the sign off the car and walked off. Soon the crowd drifted away but the sign remained until the end of the action. Having reached over 10 times as many WFM workers and customers as all previous efforts combined, safe food shoppers boarded a bus and cars headed for their final destination of the day: Monsanto World Headquarters in Creve Coeur, Missouri.
Protest across the street from the GMO industry conference at the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
Occupy Monsanto in St. Louis: Action 1
“Stop Talking or You Will Be Removed from the Hotel”
by Don Fitz
On September 17 we were gathering to walk into the Millennium Hotel for the second day of “GMO Free Midwest,” the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto. Daniel (digger) Romano told us that we had been moved from the “Lewis and Clark” room to the “Laclede” room on the other side of the floor.
As we entered the new room, it struck me that it was half the size of the one we had paid for. Conference coordinator Barbara Chicherio went to find the supervisor in charge. She walked down the hall to a roped off area guarded heavily by hotel security. On the other side of the rope were attendees of the industry-backed “International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms.” [GMOs]
It appeared that the Millennium Hotel was as interested in making sure that we did not contaminate its audience as we were interested in preventing GMOs from contaminating the environment.
“Sir, are you in charge here?” Barbara asked. “Uptight” can barely describe the Millennium supervisor who starred back at her, stiff as a board. “I need to talk to you,” she continued. “Why were we moved from the room we rented?”
There was no answer.
“And why were we moved to the far end of the hall? And why were we put in a room half the size of what we paid for?”
Still, no answer.
“Could you tell me why there is a pot of coffee when I told staff that we could not pay $175 for it? And when can we get the table to go up in front of the room for the book signing that I explained we were having?”
“Did you read your contract?” finally came the response from the cardboard supervisor. “Read the BOE part of your contract.”
“What does that have to do with our being moved to a smaller room?”
“If you don’t stop talking to me, I will have you removed from the hotel,” was the most thoughtful answer he seemed able to come up with. Looking at his name tag, Barbara saw that he was “Rich Martin, Director of Catering and Convention Services.”
As the conversation was unfolding, Orin Langelle with the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) pulled out his camera to film the interaction. Rich put up his hand, growling “No photos! You get away from me or I’ll have you removed from the hotel.” Nearby Orin was Anne Petermann, also with GJEP. She slid her camera away as she quietly caught Rich on film.
Rich Martin threatens to throw out organizers and journalists from the GMO Free Midwest. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP
Months before, Brian Tokar had told Barbara that a major pro-GMO symposium would be happening in Monsanto’s home town of St. Louis during September 16–20. Occupy Monsanto activists thought it might be interesting to have an event critical of GMOs at the same time and place. Barbara went to work booking a room.
In May 2003, the need for early booking was driven home. Alerted to a major biotech industry event by Jim Scheff, the Green Party of St. Louis planned Biodevastation 7 to occur at the same time. Groups planning for street theatre hoped to reserve the park near the industry event. Unfortunately, they waited until 2–3 months before the event to ask the City of St. Louis for the park. By then, the City had been informed by the police of plans for protests and refused to rent it.
In St. Louis, virtually every large institution has received major funding from Monsanto. There is a history of people reserving hotel or college space for events critical of Monsanto having to confront the problem of rent zooming up or other pressure to leave the location.
With a contract signed months in advance of the event, we went to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) to ask about our legal options if history were to repeat itself. One of the many pieces of useful information the NLG gave us was that the hotel would have the right to prevent us from entering if we were wearing T shirts with slogans they did not like. So, we covered our T-shirts with jackets before entering and took jackets off once inside. (Though the hotel could have told us we could not wear them, it is hard to treat people as a group when they are milling around.)
Madeline Buthod and her two children protest Monsanto and GMOs outside of the Millennium Hotel. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
This second day of GMO Free Midwest was to begin with our last panel before having multiple actions. The first day had included discussions of Genetically Engineered Trees, Health Effects of GMO Foods, Round Up as the New Agent Orange, Bee Colony Collapse, Dangers of Industrial Agriculture and GMOs as a Weapon of Global Domination.
Just as we were about to begin the final panel, a woman came in wearing a name tag of the Biosafety Symposium. We wondered if she wandered into our room by mistake. She introduced herself as Dr. Irina Ermakova and said she was more interested in what we were doing than in that conference.
Irina Ermakova, a leading scientist at the Russian Academy of Scientists, speaks to GMO Free Midwest. Photo: Petermann/GJEP
She was recognized as the author of some of the most important papers documenting dangers of GMOs. Dr. Ermakova is a Russian scientist who replicated work of Dr. Arpad Puztai. Dr. Puztai gained notoriety in 1998 when after reporting his research finding damage to the gut of rats fed GMOs. He had been a supporter of GMOs prior to his research but announced that he would never eat them after what he discovered. His employer, the famed Rowett Institute, then suspended him. Later, it came to light that Monsanto had given Rowett Research Services a grant of $224,000.
Dr. Ermakova found that offspring of female rats who had been fed GMO soy had a death rate of 50% within three weeks of birth. The death rate of infant rats whose mothers had eaten non-GMO soy was 10%. Offspring of GMO-fed rats were smaller and unable to reproduce when they reached adulthood. After reporting her findings, Ermakova experienced frequent verbal abuse from biotech enthusiasts and discovered charred remnants of papers placed in her office.
She felt much more welcome at GMO-Free Midwest than at industry’s “Biosafety” event. Orin Langelle and I delayed our panel on “Green Economics: Reality vs. Fantasy” so that Dr. Ermakova could review her research and concerns with GMO food.
The final panel of the conference built on information which had been covered the previous day to explain how GMOs are part of an overall thrust by neoliberalism to control the world economy. Orin spoke of the tragedy of Monsanto workers dying from chemical poisoning in addition to the contamination of entire communities. He detailed how false solutions for climate change such as the Green Economy and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) only serve to make corporations richer.
I pointed out that, during the twentieth century, the food industry faced the problem of how it could continue to grow once it became possible to feed the entire global population. Agribusiness continued to grow by inventing needs for pesticides, herbicides, processing, packaging, storing, advertising, and genetic modification, none of which increased the nutrition of food. The food industry is typical of other areas of production, which have grown not by improving people lives, but by developing wasteful and destructive processes and products.
With the discussion portion of GMO Free Monsanto over, everyone left the room, with many wearing T-shirts calling for the labeling of GMO food or noting its dangers. As several St. Louis cops began moving toward our room, we briskly walked outside.
Mutant corn is turned away from participating in the 12th International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms. Photo: Langelle/GJEP
Across the street, our picket signs were joined by large puppets of mutant GMO corn and pesticide resistant larva. A banner was soon hung from the fourth floor of a neighboring parking building which read “THE WORLD DOESN’T WANT YOUR GMOs”
Banner hung across the street from the GMO industry conference Photo: Sandy Griffin
A few minutes later, the picket line was joined by our most honored guest, Dr. Irina Ermakova. We happened to have a “Burma Shave”-type sign series which read “WHY IS — MONSANTO — PUSHING — FOOD THAT — RATS — WON’T EAT?” Dr. Ermakova posed in the center for a photo that ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next day.
Irina Ermakova, a leading scientist at the Russian Academy of Scientists, joins GMO Free Midwest picket. Photo: Don Fitz
In a recent French lab study, rats that were fed genetically modified foods had a tendency to develop tumors and suffer severe organ damage. GMO’s have become a hot topic in the United States and in California people are demanding GMO food be labeled in the state. Many consumers feel humans will suffer the same fate as the lab rats and are hoping to put a stop to GMO food. Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director for the Organic Consumers Association joins us with more on the startling consequences and why Americans should be aware if they are buying GMO foods or not.
The Occupy Monsanto RTP protest in North Carolina was small in comparison to many this week, but many powerful outcomes have occurred. One woman drove three hours to attend over her concern for what toxins could be in the baked goods she sells to her customers, and others to demand that foods containing GMO’s must be labeled, but it was the children that attended who made the greatest statement of the day. The childrens protest signs simply said “I am not a lab rat, NO GMO’s” but that’s exactly what Monsanto and their affiliates have done to them and the entire population of the world.
The Occupy movement is holding coordinated events targeting the world’s largest producer of genetically modified crops. Around the world groups are organizing “Occupy Monsanto” week, including Maui, Moloka`i, Kaua`i, O`ahu and Hawai`i Island.