My Dear Friends:
Some really good news is that over the past four months many more people are opening our newsletters and messages to read the full text, which is very heartening.
You will of course have noticed over that same period we’ve stepped up our direct appeal for your donations. More about that at the end of this message.
I want to write today about Saturday’s Marches Against Monsanto, which took place in more than 400 cities around the world. I took the walk in San Francisco, and was fortunate to be a featured speaker.
I was asked to speak about race, power and privilege, and corporate power in the food system.
Eric Holt-Giménez and Gloria Estera led off the rally, Eric (from Food First) speaking about the world-wide phenomena; up to a million people marching to protest GMOs and Monsanto’s business and legal efforts to spread GMO seeds in food production. He also spoke of the growing number of countries that have banned Monsanto’s products.
Gloria’s Spanish language recital of the impacts of Monsanto’s aggressive tactics in Latin American communities rallied the crowd’s passions.
For my part, the march through the streets of San Francisco and rally in United Nations Plaza capped a week where I focused on the efforts of corporations to dictate not only our food intake, but also—in the case of residents of Detroit—access to potable water, retirement benefits, and basic self-determination.
Returning to participate in the SF march and rally from Detroit and a Kellogg Foundation food conference, I was grateful for the opportunity to speak on topics I’d been mentally processing, while I witnessed the corporate takeover in Detroit city streets for a week.
Back home on Saturday, and around the world, Monsanto has become a convenient target for anti GMO activists, and rightly so.
But Monsanto, along with Syngenta, Dow, Pioneer, Bayer and other agrochemical companies are part of a network of corporations that blur the lines between philanthropy, business and government. Together with financial institutions deemed “too big to fail,” and petrochemical and big pharma interests, they represent a world that is eerily reminiscent of the European empires we studied in eighth grade history class.
It has been a while since mainstream celebrated our middle class and shared the values of our working class. The common theme now is about the accumulation of wealth, and a mythology that it is within reach of the common man and woman.
Remember when we learned how the German Habsburgs were related to the English Tudor Stuart Hanover House, and the Russian House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov Czars were close cousins to both? Today, after the upheavals of two world wars, those “houses” continue, but add Bush, Clinton, Roosevelt, and select others.
For hundreds of years, well into the 20th century, the political and economic shenanigans of a ruling class have wrecked havoc in communities around the world.
Of course, we all recognize how well that system worked for us regular “folks.”
This Memorial Day, when we commemorate our fallen and those who gave service throughout the history of the republic, I also think about 1776, when the upstart colonists in what was to become the United States rebelled against the reign of King George III. I remember we were also rebelling against the corporations and their politics and policies at the time: most notably, the Hudson Bay Company and East India Company.
It was the boycott of British products and trade restrictions that led directly to what is now known as The Boston Tea Party. Our fore bearers chaffed under the yoke of corporate tyranny, so we are in good company in the 21st century, as we struggle to hold Monsanto and modern corporations accountable.
My point is that the 1% popularized by the Occupy Movement, and throughout history more generally the wealthy few, have been with us for a long time—most definitely impacted by the aberration of the birth of our middle class in the U.S. after World War II. And when the kings and queens, moneylenders, business interests and corporations forget that making a profit does not absolve one of a duty to humankind, then it is regular human beings—we the people—who must take action.
If we continue to bear witness to the demise of our middle class, we should be ashamed.
But I don’t believe we have to accept the status quo.
In my remarks to the rally on Saturday I suggested that every day upon awakening, each of us can rededicate our individual efforts to hold corporations accountable. Beginning with Monsanto, and GMO products.
Immediately, here in California each of us can make a call to support SB 1381, a bill that begins the process of labeling GMO products.
Beyond SB 1381, for the bigger picture, we can question the authorities. Find out in which corporations and companies your retirement funds are invested.
And always, talk with your co-workers, your friends and family. Start the conversation about accountability. Whenever possible, hold your conversations over food. There is something about breaking bread together that gives any discussion a measure of gravity, at an almost primal level.
Chances are you will have to be patient, and steel yourself to listen. Our culture is rife with misinformation, a constant barrage from radios, television, and anywhere corporate America can deliver their message. It should not be surprising what many in this country take as truth–what can best be described as propaganda.
Be patient. But be firm.
I think we begin to turn the tide when we engage in civil discourse about our values. If we can find some measure of common ground—and that is where the listening comes in—then we can begin to find those shared values that resonate within each of us.
Values such as feeding our children; or caring for the members of our community; or the right to water, and access to healthy food; or the right to earn a decent living; etc. You will come up with your own list, and, learn from what others say, and what resonates with them.
We are no doubt in for a long, hot summer of civil actions and activities; around GMO production, climate change, immigration, food justice, and other measures which are the defining issues of our times. But this is how we begin to raise awareness. This is how we begin to rebuild the foundation for a middle class—a middle class that also demands we care for those least fortunate in our communities.
At the top of this letter I mentioned our fundraising efforts.
The truth is CFJC is in between grant funding, experiencing the squeeze like so many nonprofit organizations. For CFJC this means that some of us are going on contract; others have reduced paid hours because we just don’t have the resources to pay full-time staff.
But if I hadn’t mentioned it, you certainly wouldn’t know about staff reductions.
Because we remain committed to providing the services that you and our partners and members across the country require—leadership and capacity building services; technical assistance; support for local activities and climate change and food justice efforts; and perhaps most important, we hold that safe space where community members, activists, policy activists and policy makers alike can find common ground.
In a very real sense all of our work at CFJC helps connect the dots, between what an individual or family needs, and all the steps up to and including national policy.
And if you are not able to do anything else, we would greatly appreciate it if you would send this message to your friends, family and networks. Every little bit helps—every action is another brick in the foundation of a new movement we are building together.
As always, all the best.
Y. Armando Nieto
CFJC Executive Director