“Yes, we must absolutely go out into the streets, but our protests need to be more than generalized expressions of collective rage and grief; they must target the very functioning of the system that seeks to destroy us. Crucially, we should also be laying the groundwork for concrete organizing projects designed to move past protest and start building power from the bottom up. Protest alone–even militant, focused, and strategic protest–is a dead end if we don’t build an infrastructure of resistance to sustain our movements and communities in the long term.” – Micah White, Occupy activist, in an interview with National Public Radio
On Saturday, May 20, activists took to the streets, all over the world, for the sixth annual March Against Monsanto protests. News reports like those from Switzerland, Bangladesh, Toronto and, here in the U.S., Denver and Miami painted a picture of solidarity against what’s come to be known as the most evil corporation in the world.
As in years past, the Organic Consumers Association wholeheartedly supported this year’s march. We promoted it through our website, newsletter and social media networks. We mailed out about 400 packets of anti-GMO and anti-pesticide banners, bumperstickers and leaflets, to March Against Monsanto organizers.
We have always actively participated in the global March against Monsanto, and we will continue. But we also recognize that anti-Monsanto protests alone have not forced enough change, fast enough.
As Occupy activist Micah White said in a recent interview with National Public Radio, protest alone does not give us political power. How true—if we learned anything from our years of work trying to pass GMO labeling laws, it was this: As long as corporations own our politicians, no amount of public support, no amount of protesting a corporation, without also addressing our broken political system, will move us in the direction we want to go.
As long as we replace actual scientists with “industry consultants” and put them in charge of regulatory policy, as long as we appoint corporate CEOs, instead of scientists, to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) science arm, we can have no realistic expectation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or USDA will put our concerns ahead of corporate America’s unquenchable thirst for profits.
Corporate influence over our politicians is not unique to the Trump Administration. It has been building up over the past 40 years, according to this article published in 2015 in The Atlantic, which notes that corporations spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). The corporate takeover of our government didn’t happen overnight, the article says, but it happened. And it changed everything:
Things are quite different today. The evolution of business lobbying from a sparse reactive force into a ubiquitous and increasingly proactive one is among the most important transformations in American politics over the last 40 years. Probing the history of this transformation reveals that there is no “normal” level of business lobbying in American democracy. Rather, business lobbying has built itself up over time, and the self-reinforcing quality of corporate lobbying has increasingly come to overwhelm every other potentially countervailing force. It has also fundamentally changed how corporations interact with government—rather than trying to keep government out of its business (as they did for a long time), companies are now increasingly bringing government in as a partner, looking to see what the country can do for them.
Monsanto, poster child for all that’s wrong with our dominantly industrial food and agriculture system, a system that is responsible for nutrient-poor, pesticide-ridden food, polluted waterways, and global warming, is just one of hundreds of corporations that play the lobbying game.
Monsanto’s “partnership” with our federal government has been wildly successful. But corporate corruption of the U.S. political system runs well beyond Washington, D.C. At the state level, we have government’s like Maine’s, trying to strip local communities of their right to ban pesticides. And then there are city governments, like Fremont, Neb., making back-room deals to allow behemoth corporations like Costco build factory farms that will pollute local waterways.
It’s clear, as White said in his interview, that we must “move past protest and start building power from the bottom up.” As he describes it:
I've been an activist since I was 13, so my whole life has been doing this. I think it's very possible for us to build a social movement that would win elections in many, many rural communities very quickly. Much more quickly than anyone's ever seen. I think that it is conceivable that we could wake up and we could have activists controlling literally the local level in a way that we've never seen before. With that power, we'd have the sovereignty to pass legislation that really fundamentally affects people's lives.
We think he’s right. We also think author John Atcheson is right when he says: “If you don’t stand for something you won’t win anything.”
To that end, as we all move on after this year’s March Against Monsanto, Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has launched a #Resist and #Regenerate Movement, aimed at resisting the corporate takeover of our food, farming, and political systems by electing new local, state and federal politicians, and by engaging in consumer campaigns . . . but also advocating for solutions that will regenerate—not only those systems, but our health, our environment and our local economies.
How will we build the movement? By enlisting the help of concerned citizens and conscious consumers in moving beyond online “clictivism” and protests, to on-the-ground political and consumer action. We’ve launched the #Resist and #Regenerate Movement on Meetup.com, to help reach new activists, and to give them the tools—and motivation—to work on local issues and local elections. We hope activists will use the platform to connect the dots between their work, with the work other food, farming, natural health, climate and social justice activists are doing, in their shared communities.
So, if you participated in a March Against Monsanto last weekend (and even if you didn’t), and you’re looking for the next step in the fight against Monsanto (and a host of other bad-actor politicians), start, or join, a #Resist and Regenerate Meetup group.
It’s time to get out, get active, get political and get corporations out of our politics.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.