November 24, 2013

GMO Labeling and Movement Strategy 5 of 6: Actions


Parts one, two, three.
In part four I wrote about the kind of grassroots organizations we need to build and what the actions of those organizations will be. Here I’ll describe the array of possible anti-GMO actions we can undertake right now.
GMO labeling campaigns are currently the best publicized form of activism, but they’re just one part of the range of options for action. One of the reasons we need to build permanent abolitionist organizations is to place labeling in the right systemic context. Labeling campaigns should be taken primarily as occasions for education and organization, and the campaign should be placed alongside a range of other actions, and publicized as just a step toward abolition rather than being any kind of sufficient goal, let alone a panacea. Otherwise these campaigns and the measures they seek, even if successful in themselves, will remain within the realm of consumerism and “co-existence”, which is an impossible position, politically and physically.
At the moment there’s no clear road to ultimate victory. One thing that is clear is that we need to jettison all prejudices about how to attain the necessary goal, and cultivate the mindset of organizational, strategic, and tactical flexibility, adaptability, always surveying the landscape for every opportunity.
(I suggest this as a good general principle, for anyone who seeks any clear goal. As I mentioned before, I think we need to replace vague aspirations with clear operational goals.)
This includes launching the anti-GMO counteroffensive on every front: public health, scientific, environmental, economic, political, philosophical, spiritual, religious.
1. To start by reprising my prior post, the organizations we need will serve as pressure groups to ensure that labeling measures which are enacted are then actually enforced. These organizations will report to their constituency on this and on all other aspects of GMOs, always interrelating this issue to other economic and political sectors. This will be part of the analysis we’ll perform. We’ll do all we can to systematically, relentlessly publicize all the information and analysis we compile.
There’s a great need for reportage from an abolitionist perspective, and for analysis in an abolitionist context, toward fighting for the abolitionist goal. It seems to me there’s very little of this work being done as of yet, which is part of the reason I’m calling for this type of organization to be formed.
2. Besides the online publicity work (and in whatever other media we can use), these groups can help individuals: Learn about GMOs and how to purge them from their diets (there’s already plenty of good information and guides out there); encourage them to become personal ambassadors of abolitionism who talk to others in individual and group conversations and in community public speaking, always propagating the facts about GMOs, the abolition idea, and giving practical advice on how to change people’s individual diets. The organization can provide a community and practical advice to these field ambassadors. Even if one never actively participates in any kind of campaign, this kind of personal exemplification and publicity work is important. I find it fulfilling and fruitful in my own life.
3. What about within-the-system things like petitions, lawsuits, etc.? As a rule these are bound to be ineffective in themselves, but just like with labeling campaigns they can be good occasions for participation, education, and publicizing abolitionism and its organizations. I recommend this template:
*We can support anything in principle as long as it doesn’t involve preemption of any lower government level or of the grassroots.
*Use it as an educational opportunity and organizing vehicle.
*Use the forum to argue the impossibility of co-existence, the fact that at best government and most NGOs will only ever want to enshrine co-existence (the federal government certainly supports Monsanto’s totalitarian goal), and that abolition is the necessary goal.
This is not to say that it’s impossible abolitionism will ever reach any part of its goal through governments. It’s possible that as the movement grows, the combination of exemplary rejection, consumer and movement pressure on retailers, manufacturers, etc., movement pressure on government, combined with outside-the-system actions, could reach such a critical mass that government support wavers, that bureaucracies take fear, that corporate welfare for the GMO cartel dries up, that institutional aggression on behalf of GMOs abates.
But although we should craft our strategy so that these kinds of effects can be brought about and aggravated, we should never expect this outcome or enshrine it as a main goal.
For example, anti-GMO people who have regarded labeling as insufficient have tended to call for legal bans. It’s possible that the general movement’s effect will be to make bans possible at some government levels, and wherever this is possible we should campaign for such bans.
But the main goal is always abolition, not a “ban”. The abolitionist mindset focuses on a physical end goal, that GMOs cease to exist, and regards any tactic or measure in terms of being a mere step toward that physical goal. The mindset of seeking a ban, on the other hand, in addition to implicitly accepting the fictional bounds of legalism and system politics, is likely to focus on the legal artifice itself, the “ban”, as the outcome, rather than in what way this artifice contributes to an actual physical change.
Legalism must not be a principle, and it’s certainly not a legitimate goal. It’s nothing but a tactic among others. I’ve written before about the history of those who tend to focus on system “process” and the fraudulent mirage of change as nothing but going through the system’s process motions, while they don’t care at all about real world outcomes. Labeling campaigns are vulnerable to this pathology, as is even the more assertive campaign for a legal ban. But the abolition imperative, where consistently and firmly held, is proof against it.
4. I’ve written previously about the how retailers are a weak link in the GMO propagation system. They have to face the public directly, and they’re under increasing economic pressure. Therefore targeting them directly with picketing and boycott calls would have a better chance of achieving real results than trying to get better government policy. Plus, as exercises in participatory democracy, they would help build a real grassroots movement. There are already many examples of successful campaigns to pressure supermarkets and restaurant chains into shunning various GM products or requiring labels for them.
Supermarkets are the closest point of contact between the system and consumers. It’s here where consumer pressure can be potent: Everything from individuals talking to store managers and writing letters to headquarters, to consumers and citizens forming groups to undertake such pressure work, everything from making requests to making demands to declaring personal boycotts of a particular chain to organizing boycotts of that chain. I think that pressure here, from petitions to picketing, is likely to be far more effective than petitioning the government, calling congressmen, etc. (Although those can help as well, especially where it comes to averting bad government policy. Not so much where it comes to getting good policy, which is likely impossible by now.)
The same can be true of pressure on manufacturers. The Organic Consumers Association-led boycott of organic brands owned by conglomerates who help fund anti-labeling propaganda seems to have gotten some results. Unilever, which owns Ben and Jerry’s, and who helped fund Monsanto’s counterattack in California, has since stayed out, while B&J has been among the organizational leaders of labeling campaign efforts in Connecticut, Washington, and elsewhere.
This kind of consumer pressure may be especially potent and assertive where it comes to Frankenfoods, GMOs which are meant to be directly sold and eaten, like GMO salmon, sweet corn, “non-browning” apples, and others. (Almost all GMOs so far are field crops like corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, which are used as animal feed or processed before becoming food for people. These are still dangerous to our health, as some of the GM material survives processing. But still, processing is one step between engineering and ingestion which does not exist in the case of Frankenfoods.)
Consumer rejection, where it’s organized and channeled, can be one of the most effective ways to fight GMOs and drive them out of our food. This in turn makes them less economically viable, and therefore softens them up for the full abolition blow. We must look for every opportunity to focus consumer negativity this way. In fact, I think that where it comes to reformism, this kind of campaign has been more effective than labeling campaigns, and should become the main form of reform action.
But labeling campaigns, and the monied corporate attacks which they generate, will help build the consumer outrage which can only manifest as an increasing backlash against retailers and manufacturers, who are the most vulnerable to this outrage. They want to carry Monsanto’s water, let them suffer the full consequences.
So whether our strategy designates campaigns for government-level labeling policy as the main form of reform action, or whether first place goes to pressure on retailers and manufacturers, either way these complement one another.
But perhaps not to the same extent. I spoke of how labeling campaigns complement retailer pressure by demonstrating how action through normal politics is walled off from us by corporate money. Since it’s proven that we can’t get justice through governments, we’ll have to directly get it with retailers and manufacturers. Plus, this either disarms many of the opponents of labeling who claim that the people should act “through the marketplace”, or else reveals them to be rank hypocrites, if they also oppose the marketplace action. In the case of Whole Foods’s announced labeling policy, the GMA has declared its opposition even to voluntary marketplace labeling. This proves the totalitarian intention and goal of the GMA and its members.
Labeling campaigns are also important because, more than marketplace campaigns, they can serve as an educational forum. Canvassers going door to door or manning booths will be able to do more teaching, and learn more themselves, than people involved in pressuring supermarkets. The exception to this may be picketing.
On the other hand, retailer campaigns may not do much to enhance labeling campaigns, and to the extent that they’re offering a more direct route through the marketplace, may even undercut them. (That is, if we’re getting the results we need through consumer pressure, why do we need government policy?) Indeed, if retailers and manufacturers fear direct pressure and boycotts more than they do a neutered, preemptive federal labeling policy, then retailer campaigns may increase the lobbying for this. We come back to the dynamic where, once any sort of government labeling policy has been enacted, there will be pressure on the people to stand down, go home, go back to sleep. People may say, “why pressure this supermarket chain if the government is already requiring labeling?”
Those are just some speculations, and I’m not trying to depict this as an either/or between labeling campaigns and retailer/manufacturer pressure campaigns. I’d like it to continue to grow as a both/and. 
But the two campaigns should be strategically coordinated and should guard against undercutting one another. As always, everyone must always reject and oppose all central government preemption. We must also make sure that any victory is not taken as an excuse to relax and relent. Rather, we must take every victory as a spur to escalate our efforts, and to point out all the other efforts which haven’t yet succeeded and still need fighting support.
But if, on account of limited resources, it does come down to an either/or, then as a general rule (subject to the specific conditions of a situation) we should focus on the retailer campaigns, since those have a better record of success and are more direct in trying to deny the ground to GMOs.
5. Since the beginning of the GMO assault, the people have fought back with direct action against field trials and commercial plantings. While I think the main effort should be to organize political and economic opposition to the GMO cartel, I also support direct actionists anywhere they choose to act.
Increasingly, the people find themselves forced into direct action, because governments do nothing but lie and continue the assault, as in the case of Philippine “golden rice”, and “the law” does nothing even where a GMO assault is illegal, as in the case of the Wetteren potato trial. We’re increasingly in the position where no legal route, no within-the-system route, is available.
(On that note, today in America the cartel is organizing a push to get the federal government to not just preempt state-level GMO labeling with a sham FDA policy, but to simply ban the states from doing this altogether. How’s that for the system in action, and for what options we the people have available? This kind of top-down assault on democracy is only going to get worse as we the people continue to build movements for community food and against agricultural poisoning offensives.
That’s part of why I call for the building of permanent grassroots organizations completely outside the system, dedicated to the goal of total abolition of GMOs, and conscious of the potential need to do this completely in defiance of the corporate system.)
We the people will do what we have to do, all over the world, for the sake of our survival and future happiness and prosperity. If we have no legal recourse, no way to find justice within existing systems, we’re given no choice but extralegal and illegal courses.
In general, if it’s impossible to gain effective results working within the system, we’re forced to work outside the system. So even if many of us work in such ways that we don’t undertake direct action against field trials and commercial plantings ourselves, we must always celebrate and justify such actions on the grounds of freedom and necessity.
6. Monsanto’s goal is to wipe out all seed freedom. The destruction of agricultural biodiversity, through economic coercion and physical contamination, is one of the worst effects of the GMO onslaught, and one of the core reasons it’s impossible for humanity to co-exist with GMOs and necessary to abolish them.
Monsanto’s goal is to impose proprietary, industrial monoculture-oriented varieties as the monopoly standard wherever possible, causing adaptive and democratic heirloom varieties to become unavailable. This goal has already been achieved for many commodity crops, in the US, India, and elsewhere. 
Conversely, one of the main tasks of the community food movement, as an economic sector and as a political movement, is to defend our seed heritage. We must save, breed, plant, and exchange as many locally/regionally adapted seed varieties as possible.
We still have the gardener and organic seed trade, and grassroots seed saving. Continued buyouts, the contamination onslaught, and other forms of strong-arming are intended to wipe out as many of the small businesses as possible.
What to do where it comes to our seeds? Part of supporting local food, local farmers, is to support small, independent, locally/regionally oriented seed sellers. We must also build a Freedom Seed network of decentralized seed banks, seed libraries, and exchange among them. The toughest part of this will be building the infrastructure (the number of plants required, and the responsibility to grow them) and precision skill set to reliably save seeds from cross-pollinators like brassicas, and to continue to breed these varieties.
So there’s another dimension of the necessary work, and one of the many confluences of the GMO abolition movement and the community food movement.
Always, abolition is the necessary goal. There must be no strategic or tactical prejudices where it comes to this goal. Debate should focus only on what can work, what’s a good expenditure of energy.
We must undertake all the necessary tasks, from interpersonal education and advocacy to participation in labeling and supermarket campaigns to any other context, with the abolitionist consciousness and always seeking to spread this consciousness to others.
GMO abolitionism in turn is part of one war, corporatism’s aggression against humanity. No matter what’s one’s specific fight, every fight must be seen in this all-encompassing aspect.
The banks who keep pushing austerity are the same who want all agricultural practice and food production and distribution reconfigured along corporate-enclosed GMO lines. Debt slavery and corporate domination of our food are two core manifestations of the same totalitarian strategy. The rest of the struggles ramify out from there.


1 Comment

  1. […] one, two, three, four, five.   What can we learn from the campaigns and votes in Washington and California? The course of […]

    Pingback by GMO Labeling and Movement Strategy 6 of 6: Labelphobia | Volatility — December 1, 2013 @ 2:12 am

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