The company must be feeling international heat if it has half a dozen local cops chase a rat across the front lawn of Monsanto World Headquarters (MWH). It was January 28, 2014, the day of the stockholders meeting at MWH. Inside, Dave Murphy held Adam Eidinger’s proxy vote so that he could introduce a resolution requiring the company to endorse the labeling of food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Outside, several dozen protestors shivered in 10 degree [F] temperature as they held signs protesting Monsanto’s involvement in producing Agent Orange (of Vietnam War fame), creating GMO seeds, and grabbing control of food. Most flamboyant was Occupy Monsanto’s “fishy fleet” of five cars, each of which has a sculpture on its hood representing a plant (such as tomato, apple or corn) which has been modified with a fish gene.
Fishy creation puts food mogul on tiptoes
Quite spectacular as it drives across the country, the “fishy fleet” is a creation of Argentine-born artist Cesar Maxit. Cesar sees them as a colorful and fun way to draw people into discussions of what’s fishy about our food. He talks of the ongoing upheavals in Argentina caused by Monsanto’s desire to control seeds and the monocultures is it creating. Cesar also believes that “There needs to be a non-violent escalation to tell Monsanto to stop spending millions to defeat the labeling of food.”
Though known as a St. Louis-based company, Monsanto’s headquarters are in the suburb of Creve Coeur. Monsanto has a reputation for working closely with local cops as well as secret police forces around the world. Cops always seems to know about plans for protests. Yet, they are often unaware of critical details, which can make events interesting.
As protests have mushroomed around the world, Monsanto is increasingly on edge. Also on edge during the stockholders meeting, local police were triggered to overreact. During the last big protest in October 2013 hundreds of people stood on both sides (and the median) of Olive Street, which runs by the entrance to MWH. So it was hardly out of the ordinary for an area anti-TPP (Transpacific Partnership) activist to hold a sign on the median as Green Party organizer Barbara Chicherio watched.
When told to leave, he asked, “Is it illegal for me to be here?”
A cop snapped the self-contradictory claim: “It’s private property. It belongs to the Missouri Department of Transportation” and added that if he did not leave, he would be arrested.
He asked again, “But is it illegal for me to be here?”
The cop replied that being there was dangerous because “It distracts cars,” though he failed to explain why that sign was any more distracting than hundred of other signs that people have carried at MWH over the years.
The sign-holder asked “Can I stand without a sign? Are you saying that I don’t have the right to free speech?
Apparently ticked off at the free speech comment, the cop turned to another officer saying, “Go ahead and arrest him.”
The sign-hold jumped in, “I never said I wouldn’t move. I’ll move.”
At that, cops handcuffed him and took him off to a squad car.
A woman who is a local organic farmer was driving back and forth down Olive, honking her horn in agreement with the protestors. That also was not an unusual activity, since it routinely happens both during protests and sporting events. One cop quipped “She is breaking the law. Let’s arrest her.” When she stopped at a light, they pulled her out of her car and handcuffed her. Having received no warning to stop honking, she was visibly upset.
Into the belly
The fabulous fishy fleet had also been driving on Olive. Suddenly, the five fishy cars turned into the Olive Street access to the Monsanto campus. It took all five to completely block the entrances and exits. Most of the eight activists stayed inside the cars. But Adam Eilinger and Ben Harper jumped out and locked themselves to their cars with steel pipes which had interior hooks and pink fuzzy things to keep their hands warm.
Another protestor ran over to lock his ankle together with Ben. Though the cops had been taken off guard by the swiftly-executed blockade they watched with eagle eyes and were able to prevent the lockdown from spreading via leg irons. Musician Rafi Loiderman, one of those inside of a fishy fleet car, scheduled an album to be released on the day he would go to jail for protesting Monsanto.
Outside of his car, Adam argued with cops as Paige McCormick peacefully read a book on the inside of the same car. They were trying to figure out how to get Adam loose. He pointed out that it would be very long and difficult to cut through steel tubing, that the only loosening bolts were on the inside of the tube, but that he would unlock himself so they could arrest him as soon as the stockholders meeting was over.
The cops backed off. Adam felt worried that people inside the cars could be in more danger if cops tried to smash windows to drag them out. In a choice between locking down outside of a car and staying inside of it, he thinks that locking down may be the safer option.
Ben noted that the real problem for those outside the car was the harsh cold. They had prepared for the cold by bringing sub-zero sleeping bags. When several children were heard complaining to their parents about the cold, they let them crawl inside the sleeping bags to play. They had a great time.
As Ben was on the ground braving the cold, friends gathered to repeat the rhyme he composed:
“All we want is a little label,
for the food that’s on our table.”
Though labeling was the chant-of-the-day, for many, the problem goes beyond the right to know how food is being contaminated. It includes Monsanto’s pushing of food that causes tumors in lab animals, reduces biodiversity, and undermines ecosystems.
The big issue is corporate domination of food. As lands are cleared throughout the world and family farms are leveled to make way for gargantuan factory-type monocultures, indigenous cultures are destroyed and self-sustaining communities are transformed into fiefdoms of foreign capital. Protestors see GMOs as both evil in and of themselves and as a weapon for subjugating the globe’s poorest people. Meanwhile, Monsanto’s clones peddle the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and twin trade deals that could destroy requirements to label GMOs and prohibit laws that uphold the rights of countries to consider human rights infringement during the manufacture of products or the growing of food.
Obsessed with controlling the situation, police called for a big tow truck to haul the fishy fleet away. Traffic on Olive Street had already been slowed by motorists wanting to see what all the commotion was about. When police reinforcements and the tow truck made their way down Olive and turned into the MWH entrance, traffic came to a near stop, guaranteeing that drivers could completely absorb themselves in a protest that they might otherwise have only glanced at.
What does it mean?
As Adam was being taken to jail he contemplated the action. Three months before, Monsanto’s sustainability officer and number two lawyer had flown to Washington DC to meet with Adam and Nikolas Schiller, both of Occupy Monsanto (OM). The topic was the resolution being written for the shareholders meeting. The Monsanto people stonewalled support for any such resolution.
They argued that Monsanto was not a food company but a commodities company. They told Adam and Nikolas to contact food companies and grocery stores if they wanted labeling. What made Monsanto’s logic particularly disingenuous was that out of one side of it mouth it claimed it had no interest in the labeling issue while the other side of its corporate mouth pledged over $8 million to defeat a food labeling ballot initiative in California.
OM folks increased their resolve to publicize three issues at the shareholders meeting:
1. the company’s history of chemically poisoning agricultural workers and others with its products;
2. the need for transparency by labeling GM food; and,
3. holding the company accountable for destroying the livelihood of farmers throughout the world.
“Three years ago Monsanto acted like we did not exist. Now…” Adam said, “they are attempting to portray themselves as transparent by letting journalists from around the world listen to them. It was a huge success to go to a mundane closed meeting, force it open for the public to see, and turn it into a news event the same day that Obama gave his State of the Union speech.”
Since stockholders can submit the same resolution up to three times, Adam plans to bring it up again in 2015 and 2016. He hopes that thousands of people will come to St. Louis if the company does nothing to mend its ways.
Who doesn’t give a rat’s tail?
As artistically brilliant as the fishy fleet is, it was the rat that stole the show. While police prepared to impound the fishy fleet and arrest those linked to it, an enormous rat began running around Monsanto’s lawn, frequently stopping to roll on the ground. In a flash, it took a leaping jump and was atop the main MWH sign near the entrance.
Perhaps police were worried that uncontrolled rats could invade the stockholders meeting. Or, perhaps they were scared that, if left unchecked, rats could buy up shares and hold a controlling interest at the next meeting. Whatever the reason, Creve Coeur cops became determined that that rat, on that day, was not going to be free to boogie-woogie on top of the MWH sign and that it must be thrown in the slammer.
An entire squad dashed to the sign. The rat leapt down, hi-tailing it with 6 to 8 cops in hot pursuit. The rat zig-zagged and seemed to be getting away as snarled traffic on Olive was treated to a Charlie Chaplin-type scene. It seemed like a football game as one cop tackled him, and others jumped on him, tore off his tail, handcuffed him and took him to a squad car.
After the rat got out of jail, I had the opportunity to conduct what I thought would be the first human-to-rat interview. Maybe we could communicate with gestures. But soon I became convinced that it was not a rat at all; but, rather, a man in a rat suit.
It wasn’t just that the rat was over six feet tall. The give-away was that the rat could carry out a conversation; and, I am certain that rats cannot speak English, not even genetically engineered ones. It tipped me off when he said, “I represent millions of rats who would like to see fewer GMOs.”
When I realized that he wasn’t a rat and he realized that I realized, he explained his costume. It had four simple parts: (1) a rat mask, (2) a lycra body suit, (3) pillows for tumors and (4) a tail. The rat imposter claimed that almost anyone should be able to put together a full rat costume (with tumors).
The Creve Coeur police doubly contributed to the success of the event. After making sure that traffic was slowed as much as possible, they created the spectacle of a rat eluding Keystone Cops on Monsanto’s front lawn.
The rat had stayed in character throughout the ordeal of cops chasing, encircling and finally handcuffing him. Just like the real critter, he humped his back over and made little hops and twitches all the way to the police car.
The snail-paced traffic included at least three school buses filled with children pressing their noses against frozen windows, pointing and screaming. Some could be seen jumping from their seats, clapping and cheering the rat on. In just a few minutes, these kids might have been taught more about the need to question Monsanto than would happen in 12 full years of education in St. Louis schools.
Real rat or rat costume, Monsanto has not yet altered its policy on sowing contaminated seeds or manipulating world agriculture. But who knows? Maybe future generations of genetically mutilated creatures running across Monsanto’s lawn will prove to be one of the best forms of active childhood education in Creve Couer, Missouri.
Don Fitz is a representative of the Green Party of St. Louis and on the National Committee of the Greens/Green Party USA.