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How Dr. Bronner's Soap Turned Activism into Good Clean Fun

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page, All About Organics page and our Fair Trade and Social Justice page.

It's 6 a.m. and my head is splitting from the roar of David Bronner's Vitamix blender pulverizing frozen berries and hemp milk. The 40-year-old CEO of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps-who looks like a raver version of Captain Jack Sparrow-kept me up past midnight drinking beers, smoking spliffs, and listening to Deltron 3030 and Gorillaz as he regaled me with stories about LSD trips in Burning Man's Sanctuary tent and his early days as a squatter and club kid in Amsterdam. Shivering out from under the Mexican blanket in his guest bedroom, I dimly recall the two of us dancing in his backyard and expounding upon the hugeness of the universe. "You've got to come to our board meeting tomorrow morning," Bronner told me at some point between the vegan tapas and my fifth Amstel Light.

But the Advil still hasn't kicked in as we load his extra longboard ("the Shredder") into his pickup and roll down the hill to Carlsbad's Terramar Beach, where we meet a crew of Bronner employees and Bronner brahs-including Mike Hynson, the son of the pro surfer featured in the 1966 cult classic The Endless Summer. Out past the breakers, Bronner starts egging me on as a huge wave approaches: "Go Josh! Go!" I flail desperately, wheezing my way into position atop a glassy wall cresting with foam.   

It's been just 21 hours since I showed up at the hive of cheap warehouses that serves as Dr. Bronner's global HQ and found the CEO at his flimsy Ikea-style desk, ignoring business calls. An amulet dangled on a hemp necklace over his tie-dyed shirt as he leaned in toward his computer screen, staring at what really mattered to him: the latest internal poll for Washington Initiative 522, a ballot measure to require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms that was coming up for a vote the following month. The initiative, which voters ultimately rejected, was among the costliest in state history: Its backers raised $8 million while its foes in biotech and Big Food poured nearly three times as much into its defeat. Dr. Bronner's alone donated $2.2 million to the Yes on 522 campaign-after sinking $620,000 into a similar California ballot measure in 2012. "If we don't win the right to label and enable people to choose non-GMO," Bronner told me, "then everything is going to be GMO."      


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