The Gateway Green Alliance/Green Party of St. Louis has over 10 years of experience picketing Monsanto World Headquarters (MWH). Long before the company was contaminating and dominating the food supply, it was producing toxic chemicals such as PCBs for insulation and Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. Its herbicide Roundup links its chemical past to its present focus on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Two-thirds of GMOs are created to make herbicide- and pesticide-resistant crops.
The demonstration at Monsanto was the largest of three during the last day of “GMO-Free Midwest,” the St. Louis portion of Occupy Monsanto. Many picketers came by bus, first from the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis. There, those attending a panel on the use of GMOs for global economic domination were rudely greeted by a hotel supervisor who had reassigned them to a room as far away as possible from the industry-sponsored Symposium on Biosafety of GMOs. But Dr. Irina Ermakova, a researcher known internationally for verifying harm experienced by rats fed GMOs, left the industry symposium to comment at GMO-Free Midwest and later join its picket.
The second stop of the day was at Whole Foods Market (WFM), where safe food activists walked through a group of police protecting the store from “protestors” and proceeded to fill up shopping carts with food which might contain GMOs. Checkout lines slowed down as they asked cashiers to verify if each item was GMO-free or not. The shop-in changed to a talk-in as they spoke with customers all over the store about WFM’s coziness with agribusiness. The talk-in then changed to a gawk-in as shoppers watched police gather at a car with a sign which had suddenly appeared on top of it saying “GMOs Contaminate Food” on one side and “WFM Sells GMOs” on the other.
With two highly successful events, the safe food activists expected the demonstration at Monsanto to be an uneventful repeat of the many actions held previously at that location. It was not. For years, the company had pretended to be accepting, even having pitchers of water and cups prepared for protestors on some occasions. But not on the day of Occupy Monsanto, September 17, 2012, the year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.
No corporate greeters were on hand. A sparse line of police stood in military rigidity behind yellow rope. The cop apparently in charge walked over, saying, “You can demonstrate on your side of the rope as long as you stay on the grass and don’t step on the pavement.”
As he swaggered away John Wayne-style, a woman muttered to me, “Last time I was here they ordered me to stay on the pavement and not get on the grass.”
People were coming in so fast that it was hard to distribute banners and signs. They included three sets of “Burma-Shave” type signs that had to go in the right order if they were to make sense to motorists driving 40–60 mph down Olive Blvd. Each sign had 1 or 2 words:
“WHY IS – MONSANTO – SUING – FARMERS?”
“STOP – MONSANTO’s – GENETIC – CONTAMINATION – OF OUR – FOOD”
“WHY IS – MONSANTO – PUSHING – FOOD THAT – RATS – WON’T EAT?”
Event coordinator Barbara Chicherio was off taking a veteran demonstrator to the hospitals after she slipped and cut her head at WFM. So I was left coordinating the picket and making sure that there was enough room between people so drivers could read signs. I asked several people to go to the other side of the road and be sure to comply with police wishes for us to cross over at the light.
Several came back saying a cop had told them that they had to stay on this side of the road and could not cross over to reach drivers on the other side. “It must be my friend, John Wayne,” went through my mind.
Luckily, we had spoken with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) who provided legal observers. Attorney Maggie Ellinger-Locke asked the cop about his interpretation of safety law and he replied, “Oh, yes, you can be on the other side of the road, as long as you stay on the grass.” Maggie and I glanced at each other, both aware that an argument explained by an attorney can be effective while the same statement put forth with the identical logic by an average citizen can be ignored.
That problem was solved and picketers and banner-holders were having lively conversations. As everything was going dandy, cops invented a new problem. “Cars in Stacy Park can be towed if the driver is not using the park,” they told us.
Monsanto World Headquarters is at two busy streets and the few neighbors are a church and businesses that have ties to or dare not offend the Biotech Master. Parking is a real hassle. For years, no one cared if people left their cars at Stacy Park, especially at the time of day of our picket when the park is bareely used. So off went several people to move cars, somewhat suspicious that Creve Coeur police might not be completely neutral defenders of public safety.
What a great victory it was! For years, Monsanto had judged us to be such a minor nuisance that they could ignore us or mock us with the feigned graciousness of water pitchers. But Occupy Monsanto was different. For the first time, Monsanto felt so much against the wall from global opposition that it felt the need to harass a picket at its front door.
Political activists do not use the word “transcend” to mean that someone’s mind is going into outer space, disconnected from reality. “Transcend” means to include while going into a deeper meaning. Occupy Monsanto was becoming transcendent. It included the basic concerns that people have with human health — the poisoning of our food and our families. But it went beyond personal experience and linked up people across the globe.
Those who had lost a family member due to poisoning while working for Monsanto. Low income communities of color which have become uninhabitable due to toxic releases. Veterans who still suffer from Agent Orange as well as Vietnamese who endure ghastly effects. Farmers who fear their land being invaded by seed police. Argentineans who see once diverse fields turned into Roundup-ready monocultures. Africans who watch traditional cultivation wisdom ploughed under mounds of greed. Indians whose neighbors commit suicide following GMO crop failures. On September 17, 2012, those who simply want to feed their families safe food knew that they had allies throughout the world and that they must stand with these allies if they are to win the quality of food they want.
One person who did not stand in solidarity was the woman going around with a camera obtrusively filming each demonstrator. As she walked up wearing a stern look, Crystal Washington asked, “Hey, why you got that gun on your hip?” Crystal is the Green Party Committeewoman for Ward 4 of the City of St. Louis.
Wearing no identification connecting her with Monsanto, Homeland Security, or local police, the woman did not answer but continued to film. Nor would she answer anyone else who requested that she identify herself.
Truly, the biotech company was not putting on its happy face for Occupy Monsanto.
As the departing hour of 5:00 pm approached, I asked Maggie to join me in posing a question for officer John Wayne. Standing well on the other side of the yellow rope, he yelled out asking what we wanted. I motioned for him to come over, indicating the seriousness of the question. “Officer, I want to apologize for not giving you guys much of anything to do today. But there is something that you could help us with. We would like a group picture and wonder if you could snap it so we could all be in it.” I held my camera toward him.
“We don’t do photos.” He strutted off.
Oh, well. He had the chance to transcend his John Wayne role; but, he blew it and will never go down in history as the officer who took the culminating photo at Monsanto World Headquarters.
During the entire event at Monsanto, reporter Charles Jakko had his mobile TV antennae extended 20–30 feet in the air for recording. Jakko is the reporter known internationally for interviewing Todd Akin, the candidate for US Senator from Missouri who educated the world on “legitimate” rape.
As people were putting their signs in a pile, Jakko’s cameraman shouted, “You’re not leaving, are you?”
“Yes, people want to be on the bus by 5,” I told him.
“We were going to show you live on the 5:00 news!” the cameraman let me know.
A quick huddle and we decided to march in a circle for the live shot. Rain dribbled down at first but slowly got heavier each minute we got closer to the taping. Remembering what she learned from the panel discussions, Crystal Washington came up with the background chant as Jakko put us on the air…
“Rats who eat ‘em already know,
GMOs have got to go!”
A few minutes after 5 and the camera shut down; rain was heavier; and people were off to the Community Arts and Movement Center (CAMP) for the final wrap-up and reflection.
At Biodevastation 7 in 2003, CAMP was one of several locations raided by St. Louis police for the Monsanto-inspired hallucination that we were bringing 50,000 anarchists to destroy downtown. In 2012, Anne Petermann had come from New York to speak at GMO-Free Midwest. Explaining that she was originally from St. Louis, she let everyone at CAMP know, “Today, I was told that I was unwelcome at three different locations. It feels just like the St. Louis I left. It’s so good to be home.”
Don Fitz works helped plan GMO-Free Midwest and is active in the Greens/Green Party USA.