Radical media, politics and culture.

Patrick Reinsborough, "Busting Up Biotech"

Anonymous Comrade submits:

"Busting up Biotech:

Mass Resistance in Sacramento to the Corporate Take-Over of Food"

Patrick Reinsborough, smartMeme project

From June 20-25, 2003 Sacramento became an unlikely frontline in the
ongoing clash
between the Bush administration's imperial agenda and the
diverse movements
demanding democracy, justice and ecological sanity. The
occasion was the
U.S. government sponsored Ministerial Conference and Expo on
Science and Technology, which was supposed to be another
opportunity for the
Bush administration to quietly push its corporate agenda in the
lead up to
the September World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun.Instead the Ministerial was countered with a week-long
mobilization that
brought together grassroots activists, policy experts, small
democracy advocates and representatives of farmer and social
movements from around the world. The mobilization highlighted
the dangers
of many of the corporate technologies being promoted within the
such as genetic engineering, food irradiation and pesticide
farming. The largest march had nearly 5,000 people making it
the largest
demonstration against industrial agriculture and genetic
engineering in U.S.

The mobilization was a series of creative and strategic actions
ranging from
teach-ins to marches, guerilla theater, targeted actions and an
group based mass action to "greet and disrupt" the start of the

Forest Activists launched a campaign against International
Paper, one of the
most prominent funders of genetically engineered trees and did
a powerful
banner hang at UC Davis, a hub of GE research. Local urban
farmers joined
with guerilla permaculturists from the Green Bloc to occupy and
replant a
community garden slated for destruction. The pagan bloc
paraded through
the streets with "a moveable feast" giving away free organic
food. 50 naked,
mud-smeared, earth spirits writhing and flowing through the
streets to
protest genetic tampering. Creative theater actions like the
Attack of the
Killer Tomatoes provided humorous, messaged sing-alongs like
"Springtime for
G-M-Os" and "Old Monsanto had a Farm". Family farmers from
around the U.S.
upstaged the official ribbon cutting ceremony of the Expo
(sponsored by Sure
Beam, the maker of food irradiation technology) with an action
dumping a
truckload of genetically engineered corn.

Through out it all the magnificently costumed Beneficial Bug
oriented new arrivals, Food not Bombs fed thousands and a crew
from Portland
Independent Media Center helped launch a new global biotech IMC
(http://biotechimc.org) while setting up one of the best public
computer labs in recent memory.

Around the planet, there is massive popular resistance to the
of local economies into the corporate controlled global economy,
particularly in the area of agriculture. Genetically
engineered food is a
long running controversy that has isolated US policy makers from
international public opinion. Whereas 70-80% of the processed
food that
Americans eat is now estimated to contain some form of
unlabelled genetic
contamination, countries around the world have largely reject
GE food
instituting extensive labeling, moratoriums and import bans.
dramatically in early 2003 several famine stricken countries in
African rejected U.S. food aid shipments of genetically
engineered corn.

Enter the Sacramento Ministerial, timed to be a key pre-Cancun
session to force feed world governments the U.S. position on
controlled "free trade" and genetically engineered (GE) food.
To set the
tone the Bush administration made two significant policy
announcements in
the months leading up to Sacramento. First the U.S. delivered an
Eat-GE-food-or-Die ultimatum to sub-Saharan Africa by
announcing it would
link African AIDS relief funds to their acceptance of GE food.
afterwards the U.S. filed the long expected WTO challenge to
the European
Union's (EU) restrictions on GE food.

Whether its using the unfair trade rules of the WTO or using
starvation as a
weapon, forcing U.S. controlled GE food on the world is as much
a part of
U.S. Empire Inc. as the ongoing military operations in Iraq,
the Philippines, Colombia and dozens of other countries. Bush
even went so
far as to use the same "coalition of the willing" terminology
(created to
white wash the invasion of Iraq) to describe nations willing to
join the US
challenge to Europe's GE moratorium.

The message is clear: the US government sees GE foods as a
means for U.S.
corporations to seize control of the global food supply. To do
so they are
hell-bent on irreversibly contaminating the global food supply
genetically engineered organisms. Unless we stop them.

Among the many lessons to take from Sacramento is that
effective mass action
organizing allows us to contest power not just on the physical
Streets!?" level but also in the far more sweeping symbolic,
cultural and
ideological arenas. Impacting this abstract area of popular
is the real bench mark of success, it means we are waging the
"Battle of the
Story" the inevitable conflict between power holders and change
agents to
control public consciousness. Power-Holders strive to tell a
story which
discredits and demonizes people demanding change while we
strive to organize
actions that sound the alarm and awaken a complacent public to
a crisis.
Sacramento reminds us that even when we can't control the
streets we can
still contest the story.

Sacramento was a snap shot of the future police state, a
thousand officers
in state-of-the- art riot gear (courtesy of a generous Homeland
Grant) insuring that the authorities never lost control of
physical space.
The favored police tactics were intimidation, harassment and
containment including repeatedly surrounding hundreds of
marchers, forcing
them onto the sidewalk and then herding them 10-15 blocks back
to the
protest HQ at the edge of downtown.

However far from crushing morale or limiting the effectiveness
of the action
in many ways the Mobilization was able to effectively use the
police state
backdrop. The power-holders can't play both the "Move along,
nothing to see
here" routine and simultaneously militarize a city without
creating some
very fertile cognitive dissonance in the general public.

The police state was justified with the usual fear mongering
campaign - repetitive TV news images of the same smashed
Seattle window
(presumably taken straight from biotech industry video news
However when demonstrators responded to police provocation with
discipline, creativity, humor and clear messaging, the public
was forced to
entertain the mobilization's implicit story that the
Ministerial was both
significant and sinister.

Having framed the conflict the next step in waging the Battle
of the Story
is the show down between the messengers, after all, believable
story telling
relies on sympathetic characters. The power-holder's main
messenger was
Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman with a background chorus of
self-promotional corporate "experts" on development. Inside
the Ministerial
they explained to the corralled press that genetic engineering
and corporate
globalization will feed Africa and help family farmers.
Meanwhile, outside
in the streets and at the Mobilization press conferences were
the afore
mentioned Africans and family farmers, denouncing the biotech
industry as
"genetic conquistadors" and the Ministerial as a thinly veiled
attempt to
push U.S. corporate control of the global food supply. Even the
dis-interested reporters couldn't help notice that Secretary
Veneman is
neither African nor a small farmer and subsequently wire
stories ran around
the world about the growing opposition to genetic engineering
America. Add in streets full of other sympathetic messengers
like soccer
moms, ex-genetic engineers, economists, environmentalists, farm
chefs and local residents and we see a movement with the power
to win the
Battle of the Story.

The call to protest the Sacramento Ministerial was endorsed by
over a
hundred and thirty groups around the world including Via
Campesina a global
network of campesino, peasant and small farmers groups
approximately 400 million people! This backdrop of agrarian
helped re-framed genetic engineering as not just a single issue
problem but
rather part of the broader corporate assault on all ecosystems and
sustainable communities.

Biotechnology and the corporate take over of food systems are a
attack on the most basic aspects of sovereignty and local
By successfully linking genetic engineering to the WTO, corporate
globalization and U.S. Empire, the Mobilization provided an
opportunity for earth-centered activists to stand in solidarity
with popular
movements around the world. One group that deserves great
credit for
pushing this powerful framing is the Institute for Social
Biotechnology Project who not only provided a systemic,
ecological critique
but also threw almost all their limited resources into

Sacramento, much like last year's thousand person ECO-Bloc at
the World
Bank/IMF actions in D.C. showed the potential for articulating an
earth-centered critique of globalization to a wide audience.
these times of thinly veiled resources wars, blatant hypocrisy
and imperial
chauvinism are exposing the doomsday trajectory of the
corporate global

What if we were to continue re-framing our issues to build
connections with land based people's movements around the
world? What if we
organized more effectively around life's basics - land, food,
Imagine a truly global ecology movement that can unite Cascadian
tree-sitters with small farmers from Iowa, Brazil and Africa.
Perhaps that
would be a movement with the power to stand up to empire,
resist corporate
capitalism and truly put the earth first. Seeds were planted in
More will be planted in Cancun and the FTAA protests in Miami.
Let's work
to make sure they bloom and grow.

Patrick Reinsborough is a SF-based direct action organizer and coordinator
of the smartMeme training and strategy project.