Is the Monsanto protest the next Salt March?

By Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook

monsantoWhen a people is faced with a destructive system that has been insidiously putting its tendrils down in many sectors of society, steadily taking over its institutions, it can seem all but impossible to dislodge that evil; but it always seems that a system like that will have some vulnerability, some leverage point that an aroused people can ferret out and be rid of the evil.

The question is, has the Monsanto Corporation become that leverage point by attacking which we could be on our way to the crumbling of the entire system of militarism, racism, greed, and violence that we loathe. Could 2 million person worldwide, May 25th’s march against Monsanto be our Salt March? And our answer is, yes; if we choose to use it as such.

We are aiming high here. Monsanto is a giant corporation; it has a firm grip on many elements of our government. It has created an internal system, including the personnel it attracts and holds, of an insensitivity to life and nature that is unparalleled even in our insensitive age. That is their strength. It is also their vulnerability.

imageGandhi, with his insight and his passion, saw that with the simple mechanism of the salt tax the British Raj had a chokehold on the life of India, particularly its impoverished millions. Vandana Shiva has rightly named her movement in India against the corporate giant a “seed Satyagraha” to emphasize the parallel with Gandhi’s pivotal campaign. (“Let the seed be exhaustless, let it never get exhausted, let it bring forth seed next year” are the words of a Indian peasant prayer). In the case of Monsanto, of course, we have a subtler situation than that tackled by the Salt Satyagraha; Monsanto’s employees do not come from another country and wear a different-colored skin. Still, it is as dangerous and as offensive as the British attempt to commoditize salt to the extent that Indians were not allowed to harvest it from their own seashores.

We would like to offer some suggestions for seizing the opportunity presented by the widespread revulsion against this one corporation’s practices to not only humanize some of those practices but turn the tide of corporatization and de-democratization of which they have become an emblem.

petaluma-seed-bankHowever the present march turns out, we should consider it a step on a long journey – and plan that journey. A great deal of what Gandhi would have called “Constructive Programme” – education, community building, long-term efforts like organic and community-based farming to replace the old system (the center of our town, Petaluma, has a GMO-free seed bank that used to be an old-paradigm money bank) – and the beginnings of a robust, diverse, and smart resistance movement represented by, among other things, the present march. We need to plan how to continue the steady pulse of constructive alternatives while escalating, as needed, the resistance.

Interestingly enough, the Salt Satyagraha did not actually “succeed” in changing the salt laws, but that was all right because it was only a step in a long strategic journey. If Gandhi did not have a strategy India might still be a colony even if the Satyagraha was a success! We who are being colonized internally by Monsanto (and other corporations) need to build on the present momentum, deliberately. We’re not marching against Monsanto, really; we’re marching for the protection of life against literally poisonous commercialization. That will take time, and we need to think through that time beforehand; how will we, for example, choose whether to emphasize construction or resistance?

The destructive, cruel Monsanto practices did not put down roots overnight, and they did not spring up without steady watering. This toxicity of Roundup flourished in a toxic culture that separated us from one another and the rest of life and we must nourish a culture of deep, inclusive respect for all of us so such cruelty cannot creep through the cracks again. Strategically speaking, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Study the victories – and failures – of movements that have taken place around the world; there are groups committed to nonviolence (like Occupy DC, among many others) who are already on the move against one or another aspect of this problem with whom we can strategize and otherwise join our creative energies.

Learning from this past, and in some cases recent experiences, we should not let our events devolve into a struggle with the police and state security apparatus: they are not the enemy, and in any case we cannot overcome them on their terms. Invite a local peace team when you’re planning a public event.

Let’s not think this is going to be easy even with all of this planning; but it is going to be possible. Monsanto et al have gone too far, entrapped as they are by their own corporate logic: patenting seeds?! This is offensive at such a deep level that with some respectful, reasoned arguments and effective imagery backed by creative passion and relentless dedication that insanity can be exposed for what it is – even to many who are now drawing a salary from Monsanto.

deer!!!People will undoubtedly ask us, why are you doing this? That’s the opportunity we are waiting for. Explain that we believe life – all life – is worth more than profits; we are doing this because modern conditions have robbed us of the awareness that we are all in this together, as ML King said, in “a single garment of destiny” –we and the planet that nourished us as it can go on nourishing if not treated with such callous disregard. We will be planting seeds in the minds of such questioners far more potent than the engineered monstrosities of Monsanto.

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    By: Stephanie Van Hook

    Before joining the Metta Center Team as Executive Director, Stephanie received an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Portland State University; was trained and certified in mediation in the state of Oregon; worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa, where she created a program for girls’ empowerment and education; has taught French and English for the Alliance Francaise; and was trained in Montessori Early Childhood Education with seven years of classroom experience with 3-6 year olds. 

    She is the author of Gandhi Searches for Truth: A Practical Biography for Children (Person Power Press, 2016) and Nonviolence Daily: 365 Days of Wisdom from Gandhi (Person Power Press, 2019, co-authored with Michael Nagler).  Her articles have been published at Transformation at Open Democracy, Yes! Magazine, Common Dreams, and Waging Nonviolence. Additionally, she’s host of Nonviolence Radio, an FM and Pacifica syndicated radio program out of Point Reyes Station, California, (KWMR). She’s currently developing our board game, Cosmic Peaceforce: Mission Harmony Three.

    She lives in an ashram (meditation community) in Northern California, (but if she didn’t, she’d be keen on joining the Nonviolent Peaceforce as an unarmed peacekeeper).

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