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.
Posted: September 22nd, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports, Photos | Tags: Boycott, Brentwood, Cashier, Costume, Demonstration, Eric Herm, Free expression, Free Speech, gmo, GMO Labeling, GMO-Free, GMO-Free Midwest, International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, manager, Millennium Hotel, Millions Against Monsanto, Missouri, MO, National Lawyers Guild, Occupy Monsanto, organic, Picket, Police, Protest, Shoppers, signs, solicitation, St. Louis, STL, Street Theater, Whole Foods Market |
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.
Don Fitz works helped plan GMO-Free Midwest and is active in the Greens/Green Party USA.
Posted: August 24th, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports, Photos | Tags: Brentwood, cars, Commercial Speech, Demonstration, Don Fitz, Free Speech, gmo, GMO Labeling, GMO-Free Midwest, GMOs Contaminate Food, Missouri, Monsanto, Protest, Sign In, signs, St. Louis, trucks, Whole Foods, Whole Foods Market |
Car sign in Whole Foods parking lot. Photo by Don Fitz.
On Saturday August 18 several cars and a pickup truck with signs on top, in the windows or on bumpers drove into the Whole Foods Market (WFM) parking lot in Brentwood, which borders St. Louis, Missouri. Police approached as soon as they arrived.
“Yes, officer, we will take the signs off of the cars if you tell us which ones to remove and which can stay on.”
“Take them all off,” the cop scolded from inside his squad car.
Brentwood police orders removal of car signs. Photo by Sandy Griffin.
“Could you tell us why some signs are allowed on the top of cars and others are not?” I asked. We thought that the 24” by 16” signs atop cars that said “GMOs Contaminate Food” on one side and “Whole Foods Sells GMOs” on the other side looked great at WFM. There was no apparent difference between our signs and those like “Domino’s Pizza” that regularly adorn cars. A banner on the pickup truck which was five times as large added even more to the décor of parking at WFM.
Truck sign in Whole Foods parking lot. Photo by Sandy Griffin.
“You can’t have protest signs on your cars in this parking lot!” the cop snapped back. “Do you understand me?”
“Officer, I am trying to understand. Could you explain the difference between a protest sign and one that is not a protest sign?”
“Nothing which is on the top of your cars is allowed in this parking lot.” The cop did not indicate any understanding of what a GMO is or show any interest in learning. This was in sharp contrast to WFM customers, who are more likely than those who shop at other supermarkets to know that modifying genetic structure can be damaging to food. WFM customers are also more reluctant to serve food with GMOs. Yet, they more often have the mistaken impression that food sold at WFM is free of GMO contamination.
“What about a sign on the side of a car or one in the window like this one?” I pointed to a window sign reading “GMOs Contaminate Food — Whole Foods Sells GMOs.”
“It has to come off,” the cop huffed.
Brentwood police discusses legal philosophy. Photo by Sandy Griffin.
“But officer,” I asked, “we have photos of cars on this parking lot with business slogans on them. Why would a sign like ‘Joe’s Plumbing’ be legal while a sign critical of GMOs be illegal?”
“Because they are protest signs.”
“What about a bumper sticker that says something like ‘I don’t like Monsanto?’ Would that be a statement of personal belief or a protest sign?”
“That would have to be removed” the cop informed the half dozen who had gathered for the conversation.
“Are you saying that everyone who comes to shop at Whole Foods has to remove any bumper sticker saying anything about food quality before they park?” I listened carefully because at least one car had a bumper statement saying only “GMOs Contaminate Food” with no reference to WFM. Do WFM stores across the country intend to ask police to harass every customer making any statement about food quality or Monsanto?
As the discussion continued, cars with the anti-GMO slogans drove slowly through the parking lot. Saturday afternoon is the busiest shopping hour at WFM and it is not easy to find a place for a vehicle. The more the cop talked the more WFM customers wanted to know what was going on. That provided even more opportunity to explain dangers of GMOs. And not just in the parking lot. Customers throughout the store were asking what people with GMO signs were doing and why the police came.
Former employees had explained to us that a central part of WFM marketing strategy is to make the shopping experience as pleasant as possible. While we did not intend to get arrested, the cops seemed at least as hesitant to arrest us. Would handcuffing people in the WFM parking lot for discussing food safety make the shopping experience less than peacefully pleasant for those who watched?
After a couple of more exchanges, the cop changed his mind on bumper stickers. “They would be okay,” he decided. It seemed like a good time to introduce him to the ACLU observer who had joined us. The cop lost interest in pondering the philosophy of law. Soon, he was circling through the parking lot and scrutinizing cars with GMO signs which had now parked. But he made no effort to locate the owners.
At no time did the store manager or security guard of WFM ask us to leave. Apparently, WFM acted stealthily behind the scenes by contacting the local police department. The police, however, became totally befuddled as to how they should enforce what law concerning what violation which might or might not have occurred.
Of course, it was obvious that concerns by WFM triggered police action. Had WFM not run whining to them, there would have been no reason for the City of Brentwood to pay two cop cars to waste two hours in its parking lot.
Known for its high prices, the WFM chain has a reputation for intense anti-unionism and driving competitors out of business in order to monopolize the natural food market. But the reactions of WFM on Saturday August 18, 2012 constituted a novel chapter in its history.
Tolerating GMO contamination of food is not new for WFM. It has a history of supporting FDA approval of GMO contaminated alfalfa as well as packing its shelves with GMO products.
Nor is being duplicitous new to WFM. The chain orders its employees to tell the falsehood to customers that it labels GMO products. In reality, it merely labels products that are GMO free while putting the health of its customers at risk by failing to warn them of food that does contain GMOs.
Interfering with customers’ learning more about GMOs is not a new practice at WFM. The chain has a policy of not allowing “solicitations” in its parking lots, which means it actively prohibits anyone from distributing literature about GMOs.
What was novel about Whole Foods’ response during the St. Louis event was its uncompromising attack on free speech. WFM, in essence, said “Just as workers lose their civil rights when they are on the job, our customers lose their right of free speech when they enter our parking lot. Our workers can only say what we tell them to say. And our customers can only have signs on the top of cars, writing on the sides of cars, posters in the windows of cars, or stickers on the bumpers of cars if the information they convey conforms to the dictates of our thought police.” WFM showed that, in its corporate mind, the suppression of free speech becomes morally acceptable if it is able to get away with it. In WFM-land, might makes right.
After a few tense minutes with the police, most of our group took signs to the sidewalk. But several cars with signs on top of them remained on the parking lot. Two hours after we had arrived, there had still been no attempt to find the owners. While every picket that we’ve had has attracted WFM customers to carry signs with us, the signs atop cars sparked more widespread discussion than anything else we have done.
Whole Foods not the only corporation suppressing free speech
Monsanto, the world’s largest producer and marketer of GMOs, has curtailed critics and lied to farmers and the public about the environmental and human health hazards of this technology. At Occupy Monsanto actions on September 17, 2012, people in many cities will be challenging efforts of the St. Louis food behemoth to use genetic technology to subjugate small farmers throughout the world.
Most recently, Monsanto provoked safe food activists with its intense efforts to block people from knowing what they are eating. In October, 2011, the “Millions Against Monsanto” project organized protests in dozens of cities. The corporation has come back with what could be called its “Millions of Dollars Against Food Labeling” project by funneling over $4 million into efforts to defeat the California labeling initiative in November.
The St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto will be “GMO Free Midwest.” It will include two days of workshops, panels, movies, puppets, strategy discussions and potential interactions with members of the Monsanto family. The event is hosted by the Gateway Green Alliance, Safe Food Action St. Louis, Organic Consumers Association, Workers Solidarity Alliance, Missourians Organized for Reform and Empowerment, and St. Louis Animal Rights Team.
Workshops will explain the basics of GMOs and how genetic technology threatens human health and ecosystems, including forests. The emphasis will be on what is happening to farming, with speakers focusing on Latin America, Asia and Africa. They will look at how Western corporations are turning farmers into vassals who grow food not for their communities but to serve the profit needs of multinational corporations. Participants will hear about the global food industry and how only a small portion of it is actually dedicated to producing nutritious food that people eat. The most significant portion will be discussion of how safe food movements can confront those who putrify our sustenance.
The “sign-in” at WFM was just one of the tactics and strategies that have been developed by those who resist increasing corporate control of food. GMO Free Midwest will be a time to compare notes from each others’ experiences. Please join safe food activist on September 17 (or 16 & 17), if not in St. Louis, then where actions are planned closest to you. Register for the St. Louis event at GMOfreeMidwest.org
This GCU Incident Report was submitted by Don Fitz who’s with Safe Food Action St. Louis and the Greens/Green Party USA. He can be reached at email@example.com
If you have an Incident Report, please e-mail it to Incident@Occupy-Monsanto.com
Posted: June 13th, 2012 | Filed under: Incident Reports, Photos | Tags: Brentwood, Coyote Jim, Don Fitz, Gateway Green Alliance, gmo, GMO Labeling, Kate Klotz, Missouri, Occupy St. Louis, Photos, Safe Food Action St. Louis, Survey, Tim Lloyd, USDA, Whole Foods Market |
This entry was supplied to Occupy Monsanto as a follow-up to last week’s action. If your organization has food democracy-related action in the works, please send details to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to post it here.
Coyote Jim Joins Picket Line
Whole Foods Rejects Dialog on GMO Safety
by Don Fitz
Drivers passing by the Brentwood, Missouri Whole Foods Market (WFM) on June 9 spied a 14 foot tall coyote puppet. Next to the puppet was a sign reading “Coyote Jim Says” followed by “GMOs Contaminate Food” and “Whole Foods Sells GMOs.”
Twenty members of the Gateway Green Alliance (GGA) and Safe Food Action St. Louis (SFA), along with Occupy St. Louis supporters were reminding customers that higher prices at WFM do not necessarily buy better food. The action followed the refusal of WFM to discuss the safety of food it sells which contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Many of the customers who stopped to talk were aware of health and environmental problems caused by GMOs and wanted to know how to avoid them. But they were mostly unaware of the large number of GMO products sold by WFM.
In April 2012 GGA and SFA presented WFM the results of a survey they did on attitudes toward food labeling by 315 participants in St. Louis. The poll found that 95% wanted labels on foods containing GMOs. If also showed that WFM customers were the least likely of five groups to be willing to serve GMOs. But, at the same time, they were the most likely to expect food at WFM to be free of GMO contamination.
Safe Food Action sent the April findings to WFM and asked management to contact them by May 14 to discuss the findings and recommendations. When WFM stonewalled them, the safe food advocates called a picket for June 9.