A March Becomes A Movement

MAMyths MovementI last wrote a rallying cry on how the anti-GMO issue wasn’t just a mere matter of being right. It’s also a social justice issue that deserves a counter-protest. I wanted to instill a sense of urgency and moral outrage in activists but with the principles of satyagraha1 and agape.2 These two combined are a powerful force for change. Countering the myths, and supporting the people those myths victimize undermines the injustice. Our MAMyths chapters seemed to naturally exemplify this approach. We saw its effects even before the day of the march came upon us.

Founder of March Against Monsanto spitefully squashes event in Nanaimo, Canada
In Nanaimo, Canada, the MAMyths organizer was invited by the March Against Monsanto (MAM) organizer to share their platform for a brief address! Now this is the action of an individual with integrity. An individual who is anti-GMO but truly believes in it and is willing to reach out to opponents in the name of truth. But the lack of integrity in their cause made it’s ugliness known. Tami Canal, the founder of March Against Monsanto herself, stepped in. She chastised the Nanaimo MAM organizer eventually driving them away.

A new MAM organizer stepped up and withdrew the invitation, but their event was in disarray. Throughout this ordeal, the MAMyths organizer maintained composure. An open channel of communication was always available with politeness and respect. So all we had to do is simply exist in opposition and accordance to our principles to disrupt the opposition. This gave me great confidence that we were indeed on the right path.

A simple compassionate exchange on Facebook
Another inspiring example was simply that of a person on Facebook who had the MAMyth event on her timeline. I was so touched by this story that I included it in my address at the event in Chicago.

But even with those initial stories I somehow didn’t understand the groundswell for which we were standing upon. As we walked into the bar after our event to celebrate, my phone started blowing up with notifications coming in from Facebook and Twitter. The battery died before I could get home. That night I spent 6 hours corralling the amazing glut of messages of support and media streaming in3. We struck pay dirt.

The bravery and passion of these people who, for many, never did a protest before was inspirational. Here are some of their stories:

MAMyths in Action

Tom, Amsterdam
Tom was one of the first chapter organizers to hop on board. Overcoming obstacles of geography and language he had to localize and craft his own materials. With few supporters expected he still took a brave stand amongst the masses and held his signs proudly high in a sea of detractors.

Tom of MAMyths Amsterdam

Tom of MAMyths Amsterdam

Jake, Nanaimo
The Nanaimo MAMyths event wasn’t only notable for the run-in with Tami Canal but ten-year-old Jake was rocking the march. Not only does he want to be a scientist when he grows up but it looks like he’s already on the track to be an advocate as well 4!

Jake of MAMyths, Nanaimo

Jake of MAMyths, Nanaimo

Chauncey, New York City
New York City didn’t really gather enough momentum for a full march but it didn’t stop Chauncey. He bravely marched right in the middle of March Against Monsanto holding his makeshift “Ask me why I love GMO” signs. He even bumped into Bill Nye the Science Guy and was interviewed on video.

Chauncy of MAMyths, New York City

Chauncy of MAMyths, New York City

Katherine, Washington DC
I wept when I first read Katherine’s account. She was so compelled to take “a stand for science and my Autistic neurotribe” that she threw her body into the mire “like a sacrificial lamb to slaughter.” Her bravery and selflessness is a true inspiration. Read more of her experience on her blog: Into the Depths of Anti-Science Hell | My Life as a Feral Autistic

Katherine of MAMyths, Washington DC

Katherine of MAMyths, Washington DC

Rhonda, Washington DC
Rhonda found herself in DC while on vacation and gave up a whole day to stand by fellow activists against anti-GMO bullies. She maintained calm composure even in the face of a masked protestor hurling vulgarities in the presence of her own children. No regrets for her (or her children) because “I’d much rather be on the side with 10 people of integrity than feel the safety of numbers with 200 individuals yelling obscenities.”

Rhonda of MAMyths, Washington DC

Rhonda of MAMyths, Washington DC

Max, Olympia
Max may not have had a dozen activists by his side but he did cobble together a fun self-deprecating prop. He hung out smack dab in the middle of the MAM crowd in Olympia. So many of us on both sides share the same values and this was a creative way to illuminate that.

Max of MAMyths, Olympia

Max of MAMyths, Olympia

Julie, Seattle
Julie was #veganSpotted by Reddit/Imgur. She was one of a handful but let everybody know that even vegans are pro-GMO!

Julie of MAMyths, Seattle

Julie of MAMyths, Seattle

Stephan, Washington DC
Ok can I stop talking about DC already?! Stephan was a lead on the DC action and worked closely with all chapter leaders injecting much energy and enthusiasm. He does run the We Love GMOs And Vaccines website so that’s a part of it. For his particular event he cleverly chose to stand right out from on one of the March Against Monsanto’s waypoints. The result was some amusing incredulity on the MAM protestors part which probably was why that particular event became aggressive. Still a goal was to disrupt and disrupt they unwaveringly did!

Stephan of MAMyths, Washington DC

Stephan of MAMyths, Washington DC

Everybody in Portland
Portland probably had the biggest turnout and many were personal friends of mine. They went in and mixed it up one on one doing personal outreach and just having conversations without judgment. Sara at It’s MomSense summed it up: “But in the end, there was nothing scary at all.” Read more about their experience here: Outside looking in: March Against Monsanto

MAMyths, Portland

MAMyths, Portland

And so many more.
I know I left out many others, particularly my excellent Chicago crew, sorry! It’s just that I still underestimated the amount of outside support and number of people who so enthusiastically joined us. Leading up, some thought we were just trolling. Some thought it would be an ineffective waste of time. Some thought it would legitimatize this fringe group. And those thoughts haunted me from time to time. What happened though, was a perfectly honest example of people doing the right thing, even if it might not have been the most comfortable thing. That is activism.

I’m incredibly proud and honored to take up the tiny role that presented itself to me. None of this would have happened without those who came before us. We MAMyths activists are standing on the shoulders of giants. What really made this possible were the scientists, farmers, advocates, and educators. The people who have been pounding away every second of the day stemming the tide of pseudoscience mythology. We simply struck some flint and ignited the passions of people who were already primed. People empowered by the undergrowth of support that took years and years to create. Those thankless tasks taken up for the love of truth and science. They’ve had our backs for years, now it’s time to give them a front and march forward against myths.

I was still on Chicago streets with my bullhorn when the message came in: “How do I sign up for next year?” Now, with all that momentum behind us people are clamoring to join up and do more. We’re completely overwhelmed with this growing movement, and that’s a good problem to have. So, we march! And you can too.

  1. Satyagraha

    Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha)engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. – Mahatma Gandhi

    Mahatma Gandhi developed this concept of an insistence of truth. That untruth doesn’t exist but in the mind and unabashedly holding fast to truth will naturally overcome as it, by definition, truly exists.

  2. Agape

    Agape means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate. It means understanding, creative, redeeming goodwll for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is the love of God operating in the human heart. When we rise to love on the agape level, we love men not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but we love them because God loves them. Here we rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. – Martin Luther King jr.

    Martin Luther King jr. appealed for tactics with an underlying principle of love not hate. This helped to constructively move foreword in a positive direction rather than poisoning a movement in the negative.

  3. For an updated list of media from the event please watch our News page on the MAMyths site.
  4. The anti-Rachel Parent: 10-year-old future scientist counters sea of GMO misinformation | Genetic Literacy Project

Anti-GMO Injustice

Me, Kavin & KarlHaving been a vegan food activist in the past has given me insight from countering perspectives. I feel a sense of urgency and injustice with the GMO issue, obviously. I’m not the only one who feels this, by far. Early in 2015 I teamed up with my buddies Karl Haro von Mogel and Kavin Senapathy. We hatched a plan to counter this year’s anti-GMO march in Chicago. It was dubbed, the “March Against Myths (About Modification)“, #MAMyths for short. Anti-GMO aren’t bad people, they’re just victims of pervasive myths spun by a few crafty manipulators.

Taking to the street, especially to counter a protest isn’t the (albeit valuable) armchair activism most of us tend to do. But the tide is turning on junk science with more and more people finally pushing back. Enough is enough! The response and support we’ve received in kicking off this effort certainly surprised me. Science defenders in cities across the world rose up to start their own chapters. We found ourselves inundated with a movement I didn’t expect to spark. Sometimes though the chapter is just one lonely person. But they’re willing to get out there for a just cause and that bravery is so very inspiring!

For me, countering anti-GMO goes beyond just being correct, but being right. The narrative guise of Evil BigCorp to demonize GMO isn’t cute anymore, it’s deadly. The precautionary approach to new technology is most championed by those who need it least. I think it’s a moral imperative to judiciously implement beneficial new technology as a soon as possible. It’s immoral to stifle such efforts otherwise. With recombinant DNA technology, there is no question as to it’s safety. All efforts to obfuscate the issue (tobacco science anyone?) with fear, uncertainly and doubt should be called out for what they are.

But what’s in a march? Why take the streets? Getting out, being disruptive is part of the toolbox as an activist. Nonviolent direct action is a way for the disenfranchised to collectively rise up. Together they get their voices heard against injustice and oppression. It’s often a loud noisy affair that often annoys and disrupts but makes a point with a show of solidarity. I think it often gets characterized as something a certain type of personality does or a worthless ploy of emotion. That’s a hasty, unfair judgement as there’s precedent in gains for social justice movements.
MAMyth Leaflet
Is the GMO issue worthy of such a tactic? For the anti-GMO protestors, they think it is. They have a dystopian view projected through a distorted lens. Big corporations of suits are driving society into the ground for greed and unleashing a gene-y (see what I did thar?!) that will end up destroying all life as we know it. Scary stuff, I would march too if I thought that! So are they at fault? Are they to blame or worthy of ridicule? I think not, in fact I congratulate them for rising up!

What about pro-GMO? How can we be so presumptuous to appropriate a tool of social justice. Clearly the dry issue of science and technology hardly warrants any cries of protest. What do we have to be provoked about except somebody is wrong on the internet? As I alluded earlier, there are parts to the story few are keeping tabs on. Even fewer unlikely to trumpet them as loud and long as anti-GMO tends to persists in their myths. And it’s these things that are unjust, it’s these things that are worthy of indignation and action:

Monsanto Collaborators•Targeting scientists, journalists and advocates as “Monsanto Collaborators” with veiled death threats.
•Targeting science advocates with FOIA requests to create a chilling effect.
•Hindering solutions for micronutrient malnutrition or global food security putting millions of lives at risk.
Ableist fear mongering.
Torturing animals, parading those images of their victimized broken bodies and insisting on more testing.
•Terrorizing labs with acts of vandalism when scientists do research even when they desperately plead activists not to.1
•Stifling progress in:
GMO 2.0 crops 2
-Solutions for disease-carrying Mosquitos.
-Animal product alternatives 3
-Novel factories and delivery methods for medicines4

And I can go on all day but gosh ya know, I don’t have time. I have protest signs to paint and a bullhorn to charge up.

See you in the streets.

My citation list may be light but will come back to fill out later.

  1. GM wheat trial at Rothamsted vandalised
  2. Maize that resists drought, Bt Brinjal, virus resistant black beans, non-browning apples and potatoes, purple anthocyanin tomato, Lower Glycemic wheat, Late-Bright resistant potatoes, Edible cottonseed, Fertilizer efficient crops, Bananas that resist bacterial wilt, citrus greening resistance, disease resistant strawberries, high-linoleic canola oil, restoring the American chestnut, tearless onions, eliminating allergens, plant-based medicines (vaccines), biofortified foods.
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids from plants, vegan cheese from yeast
  4. tobacco plants and vaccines

Long Live Veganism

vegan_joker_cardI don’t mean to belabor this tiresome semantical tirade on veganism but hopefully this wraps it up. It ended up more personal than I meant but I’m posting it anyways. I have hundreds of drafts in the queue and hope to get back to more interesting things.

In my last post I reposted an interview done at the height of my vegan apostasy. Frustrated by the identity politics of veganism and finding no answers I shut it all down. I changed the name of my “Vegan Represent” vegan message board and called it “Plant-Based People” thereby pretty much killing it. I mean, I was never vegan because I wanted to be a vegan. I was vegan because I thought it was unfair the way we were treating animals. It was with gusto I jumped right into this vegan thing, I found my people!

But at the start of my journey I looked to the mentors in this movement and was lead astray by charlatans. They had me eating a raw food diet and flushing my colon with chlorophyll laced concoctions (seriously :|), my low point. Thinking, “I was wrong about eating animals I must also be wrong about a whole lotta other stuff!” left me wide open to be exploited particularly for a non-critical thinker such I was. Opportunistic snake oil slingers picked my pocket to the tune of thousands of dollars. But even with all that, I was lucky. I got away with my physical health intact.

Then I accidentally discovered skepticism. I had to understand that science was a way to learn about reality. It wasn’t a set of dogmatic facts conjured up by maniacal puppy punching mad scientists hell-bent on greed and world domination. I realized how wrong I actually was and I felt betrayed, duped, victimized and ashamed. So I lashed out, burning down most of the work I’ve done in my vegan activist days save for one and before shuttering that I was a bit more astute in my reasoning and less reactive. I read and read and still read and read. I learned that the history of veganism had the spirit (more or less) of what I was after. But really who cares what a white English dude of the 40’s said? I make fun of homeopathy and other silly bunkum for how they started but is that not true for everything? Reading books like The Better Angels of Our Nature I learned that things are shit but get less so. Medicine get better, science, technology, justice. What somebody invented, said, discovered, 50 years ago (much less thousands) should never be relied upon as doctrine. Heck, all my own beliefs were created by a dumber person than who I am today so the heuristics I rely upon should always be suspect.

Long story longer, veganism sucks, I still believe that. It still makes exaggerated claims. It’s a clownish cartoon caricature of a movement. It has a toxic pathological culture of pseudoscience. It almost always misses the point and often cynically exploits its adherents. But what ideology doesn’t eventually find the messy condition of fancy monkeys mucking things up?  A new word, label, stance, sect, movement or ideology will ultimately find itself in a similar broken position. So let vegans eat their identity politics and let’s move onwards. Knowing it as well as I do too, I can point out the flaws and try to refine it, as I do here on this blog. In the very least it serves as a great foil to help illuminate. Wielding it this way has recently served me well enough I think and I’d like to continue. Otherwise if there’s any other purpose I can serve it’s the lessons of my bumbling self stumbling around trying to do the best that I can. Witness the folly of my naiveté and chuckle at my awkwardness. If it’s helpful somehow to some other kindred spirit out there, I’m glad for it.

So a shout-out to my friends, family, loved ones and acquaintances old and new who’ve patiently been by my side tolerating my manic elations and brooding crankiness. I would like to express my most sincerest appreciation and love. Expect more of the same to come but together we will make things better, yes? I’m gonna try to take to heart the inspiring words of hero Dr. Norman Borlaug:

“If I have anything to contribute to this world… I’m going to play that card and play it hard.”