Planet Waves | Genexhibitionst by Maya Dexter | Sept. 2000


"Gaia Aware," by Via Davis | Studio Psycherotica

Seeds of Change
Maya Meets Monsanto

Genexhibitionist | By Maya Dexter

Planet Waves Digital Media | Click Here for Outrageous Article on Monsanto

I went to my very first protest on Aug. 18, 2000. I might as well have said aliens landed that day, because it had about the same effect on my perception of the world. Farmers and activists gathered that day to protest Monsanto's genetically modified foods, and Missouri Senator Kit Bond's insistence that Missouri become the "Silicon Valley of Biotechnology." Bond wants Missouri to be at the center of this hazardous movement so bad that he has secured millions in corporate welfare for Monsanto to continue pouring out its bizarre genetic combinations. He's their biggest defender, and calls all activists "anti-science."

I arrived at the Gateway Greens center early that morning and watched over a hundred activists fill up the small room, sitting on chairs, floors and any surface they could find. Before we left for Monsanto headquarters, a series of speakers lectured on topics such as Monsanto's past evils and why their defense feeding the world with GMO's is hollow, specifically that there is already enough food to feed the world -- this is a political issue, not a resource issue. The final speaker was Bill Christison, President of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC). Bill is a Missouri soy farmer and an international expert. He was asked to testify in the trial Jose Bove, the Roquefort cheese farmer who used his tractor to plow in a McDonalds in Millau, France. This guy knows his stuff.

We listened intently as Christison told us about his own conventional soybean crops as compared to his neighbor, who uses Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops. Bill's were taller, fuller, produced more beans and took less than one fifth of the chemicals that the genetically modified version did, in spite of Monsanto's claims that their seeds use less chemicals. What's more, he didn't have his neighbor's problem with leaf fungus. And ultimately the conventional beans are worth more when sold.

But wait, there's more. Because of the terminator gene, farmers have to go out and buy new seeds all over again, resulting in an annual cost of $40-50 per acre for genetically modified seed including the mandatory toxic chemicals, versus Christison's average of $11 per acre for conventional seed. Although the conventional seeds cost more at the store, the seeds can be banked for the following year and, again, use fewer of the chemicals most farmers use to control weeds and insects.

Finally I couldn't take anymore -- I had to ask. "It may be a silly question," I said, "but why would anyone even want to use this stuff?" The answer is frighteningly simple: seed stores don't carry conventional seeds. When they ask for them, farmers are told either that they can't get them or that they will have to be special ordered, which could take a couple of months. Farmers have a tiny window for optimal planting, and waiting a couple months for the better seeds means you don't plant on time, which can be disastrous. So they just shut up and buy the seeds because they don't have a choice, and all the slick mailers tell them what a great yield they're going to get because biotechnology is the wave of the future. Bill and the NFFC are suing Monsanto and other agribusiness giants in an antitrust suit. Interesting that it's not getting the near media coverage that Microsoft garnered, isn't it?

I was effectively riled about this information. We are being forced to eat this stuff, without knowing what's good and what's been trifled with because it's not labeled. The FDA, which incidentally is stocked with former Monsanto employees who always seem to end up back at Monsanto after a few years, doesn't seem to think labeling is necessary. And instead of doing their own testing, the FDA is trusting the research from the biotech companies themselves. And we know what a bad idea that is. So basically I can't easily get food that isn't genetically modified because the FDA is littered with corporate liars, and some overpaid seed distributor is being bribed with nice dinners and contracted quotas to sell lots of GM seeds. I was pissed off and ready to protest.

It was a beautiful day to protest. The air was cool and comfortable enough to wear the big street theatre puppets that are becoming so ubiquitous at protests. I am too slight myself to wear one of those, but I looked stunning in a borrowed tomato costume, complete with fish head and tail. One of the coordinators strapped himself into the corporate monster and executed some truly inspired guerilla street theatre. Almost 200 people came out to protest. We got a heartening number of honks from passersby, and the cops were virtually invisible, except for some quiet videotaping of our protest and a few harassing comments. We chanted, we chatted, we ate organic muffins, we sang "Old Monsanto Had A Farm." It was lovely. Who knew protesting could be so much fun?

And then we went to Clayton, St. Louis' wealthy suburb and secondary skyscraper farm, to speak to Senator Bond. Missouri Resistance Against Genetic Engineering (MORAGE) had hand delivered a letter signed by a number of farmers and farming organizations eleven days prior, requesting a meeting to discuss our displeasure about Missouri government being so deeply enmeshed with biotechnology. There were about a dozen of Clayton's finest waiting in front of the office building that houses the Senator's St. Louis office. We were not allowed inside. The organizers read our letter to Bond through a megaphone and we made a lot of noise about being denied access to a public office. Finally, a representative from the Senator's office came out to speak with us. She simply said that they had received no such letter, and Senator Bond was available by appointment only. Let me tell you, I get my hair cut around the corner from that office building, and never EVER have I seen cops, much less a dozen of them, standing outside of it. They weren't expecting us, my ass.

And the chanting of "bullshit" commenced.

Well, we were at an impasse at ol' Biotech Bond's office, but we didn't want to bring all those pretty puppets out for nothing, so we took to the streets. We covered a surprising distance before the countless stream of police cars came screeching in. The protesters were instructed to get off the street, that the next person who stepped off the curb would be arrested.

Word of the first arrest spread through the crowd like wildfire. We went back and implored the nice officers to let him go. They chose to yell at us instead. Two wrongs may not make a right, but we're louder and it got real interesting for the locals when we started shouting, "let him go." But you can guess how useless that was.

The only truly amusing moment came when a businessman with a bagel and a latte started to cross the street and one of the protesters shouted "don't walk on the street, you'll get arrested!" You never saw someone leap back onto the curb so quick.

By the end of it three people had been arrested, one of whom was a 15-year-old boy who was not even a part of our group. He had been separated from his mother and was trying to walk around us when he stepped onto the street, only to be arrested. We heard later that his mother had been standing near the officer who called for reinforcements, saying, "let's get them on whatever we can think of." The Clayton Police Department later denied having made the statement when confronted by the boy's mother. Poor woman, I'm sure this wasn't what quite what she had in mind when they came to visit St. Louis for the day.

But I only heard about that part later. After seeing people actually arrested for simply being on a street, something I do every day when I park my car, I was overwhelmed with fear and the desire to get the hell out before something ugly happened. Looking at such injustice right there in person is so horrifying you can't even swallow it all at once. Sure, I read about that stuff in other cities during larger protests, but that couldn't happen here -- or so I thought. The rest of the protesters marched to the Clayton Police Station to free their friends, but I went home nauseous.

I sat in my car for several minutes, dazed. I felt like a giant chicken for leaving, but the calm voice in me declared that was quite enough for my first protest, that I'd work out my feelings about civil disobedience another day. I drove home feeling the adrenaline drain out of me. Everywhere I looked there were American flags flying, and I began to cry. Why weren't they at half-mast? Didn't they know that justice died for me today? Didn't they know it was dead everywhere? Everything I ever believed in about this country and freedom and safety withered and vanished in less than a day. How could they even fly those things at all? Nothing they were meant to stand for exists anymore; we have been reduced to the land of TV and the home of the slaves. I cried so hard the road blurred, and I wondered if I would make it home safely. Every police car I saw made me afraid.

When I arrived home I hit the shower, hoping to wash my spirit clean, wishing the water could hold me tight and make me feel safe again. Covered in warm water, I thought about how comfortable my life is, about all the luxuries that make me comfortable enough to ignore the infinite onslaught of injustices committed against humankind for profit every single minute. Injustices committed against a world that just wants to feel safe so badly that it has built up an illusion around it the size of an altar that they can possess and pray to each day.


My ecological satori was strongly emphasized by the goddess asteroid Ceres. Ceres is also known in mythology as Demeter, Persephone's mama in the old myth surrounding her marriage to Hades (a.k.a. Pluto). Ceres, when she isn't too depressed to bless the harvest because her daughter is gone, is a grain goddess; she's deeply linked to earth and harvest. This earth mother image connects her to ecology and environmentalism.

On the day of the protest, my natal Ceres was not only being opposed by transiting Ceres, she was conjunct my progressed sun and conjunct the waxing moon. I guess you could say that I finally grew up enough to be properly horrified, but that was also the day that Maya the activist dropped the flower and began to bear fruit. All of my slowly developing thoughts distilled into purpose that day. Coming to understand my place in the food cycle, as well as my place outside the decision making cycle made me very angry and willing to do what I can to make my voice heard. My voice, combined with those of others, might one day be loud enough to get something done.

Way back in December, when I first started writing I said that my generation was continuing some of ideas of our parents, we were willing to dust them off and set them into the mainstream where they couldn't be ignored. It was profound for me to see so many people my age and younger at this protest raise our voices alongside people who were asking for justice in the '60's. It is easier for us to join in on the cry for justice because so many of us have the support of our parents, and in many cases we're protesting alongside them. My own father, who was a conscientious objector in Vietnam, is glowingly proud of me for living my beliefs to the best of my ability.

And that's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to talk with my money, because these days it's what talks the loudest. I've joined a food co-op, I buy organic, I try to know something about who's getting my money and what they would do with it. I just hope it's enough, because if we allow chemical companies to control our food supply, then they have found one more way to profit from our deaths.

But it's so frustrating to see so much resistance. Two days after the protest I went to the local farmers' market and found only one organic stand in the whole place. I bought what I could there and went to another stand. I picked out a few vegetables before I asked the farmer if these were grown from conventional or genetically modified seeds. I was told that it's all modified, even the organic stuff, and I'd best just get over it. I handed him back his produce and told him he didn't know what he was talking about. And this was a farmer, not some corporate PR guy. They've swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker from the industry that would enslave them.

As we stare down the barrel of this ecological crisis I feel cynicism wrap its cold fingers around me. It is hard not to believe that we have already failed -- that it is just too late. This is the greatest test of faith I have ever faced, but I cannot bring myself look away. I will dress like a tomato and shout till I'm hoarse, but I will stand by passively no longer.

There's another protest in St. Louis on October 17, and you can bet you'll see me there.++

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