This morning, a few dozen white people gathered in the occupied territories of the Coast Salish peoples (without Coast Salish peoples present, of course), to peacefully protest a problem they don’t even understand. Something inside me was pushing me to be there. This blog post is about why I think that was, compared to the reality, which left me (and my flatmate) feeling immediately politically alienated (and in my case, a feeling I can only describe as spiritually contaminated).
The bottom line for me, on the issue of Monsanto, and currently all corporate-owned GMOs, is that North American corporations have greater food security than the vast majority of individual human beings on the continent. I believe with all my heart that this is fundamentally backwards and utterly absurd. I believe that what we all need is to work together to establish food sovereignty — that is, the ability to independently grow our own food supply (as a community, not merely as individuals), to teach children these skills, and to circumvent the cycle of economic dependence upon corporations for our most basic needs as human beings. Until we can learn and teach other to break this cycle, our money is continually being used by these very same corporations to literally purchase laws from governments and manufacture evidence in their favour through deliberately biased “science”. These are problems which have been so enormously exacerbated by systemic racism throughout the past several decades that to have said it this way is to have already fallen significantly short of making an adequate gesture of the problem. Corporation-favouring legislature and the pseudo-scientific “evidence” are used, in turn, to further reinforce corporate strangleholds over the global food supply and to metabolize the general public into systemic violence (e.g., “green-washing”).
I felt the need to be present at the march today, which was going to take place in 250 countries worldwide, not only to represent myself but people who are known to me and couldn’t be there themselves as well. My primary motivation was to take a stand and demand from other people that they begin to organize and take action towards establishing and teaching the importance of food sovereignty. This issue is especially critical for many indigenous communities on remote reserves which are struggling to re-establish and maintain food sovereignty. I genuinely held hope that despite the mixed messages on the flyer I received a couple of weeks ago about this event, that it still held the potential to represent the first step towards radicalizing hundreds of people on the matter of food sovereignty. I began thinking quite deeply about Canada’s lengthy history of environmental racism, repetitive forced displacement of indigenous peoples through racially selective legislation, economic racism, and environmental exploitation for profit. I thought about how the Chinese were subject to a head tax in order to dissuade or prevent them from coming to Canada when their disposable railway slave labour was no longer desired. I thought about how the Asiatic Exclusion League successfully institutionalized economic racism during the early 20th century, in order to prevent Asian migrant citizens from establishing or maintaining gainful employment in the fisheries industry and even agriculture in many cases, for fear that they would “take over” the Canadian economy—which had itself been established in the wake of the systematic, deliberate, wholesale destruction of indigenous peoples’ economies; repetitive forced displacement from their homelands and reserves; and elimination of various means of their food security. I thought about Japanese internment and the slave labour that took place in the Okanagan Valley during World War II. I thought about the boil water advisory that has persisted on many reserves across Canada for the past ten years.
I thought about how almost all of this history is rooted in this very province, and in this very city. I thought about how important it is to acknowledge that neighbourhoods like Marpole, Kerrisdale, and Kitsilano, which are all upper- and middle-class white-dominated, urban settler communities, were established in part through smallpox blankets and in part through maliciously strategic amendments to The Indian Act — which, at the time, forced surviving indigenous populations out of all of these areas, which had been reserves until amendments required that reserves be purged of their indigenous inhabitants if neighbouring urban centres were suddenly becoming too densely populated, allowed for the sale of reserve lands, and demanded that reserves be utilized for agricultural purposes or they will be taken over by the Crown (all of this at almost the exact same time as the formation of the Asiatic Exclusion League in Vancouver). I thought about how tragically ironic and unilaterally violent it is that reserve lands of lush rainforest were emptied out if they weren’t being clear-cut, slashed, and burned to make room for vast fields of monoculture; and rather than at least farming the land, it’s been paved over in concrete, asphalt, and several repetitions of history-erasing gentrification by self-entitled, profit-centred Western capitalist interests, spreading itself like a highly contagious virus of urban sprawl.
I thought about how few people even realize that reserves were a promise by the Crown, of untouched land where indigenous peoples would indefinitely maintain the right to self-governance, as part of the negotiations for the rights of settler populations to stay on this continent and coexist with indigenous peoples. I thought about how few people even comprehend what the words “unceded Coast Salish territory” mean as they are saying them, as an often empty gesture at inclusion.
I wondered how many more non-indigenous people think about all this history in relation to the food they buy at the grocery store, either when they are checking their iPhone app for which brands to avoid so that they aren’t buying Monsanto or other corporate-owned GMOs, or when they are gathering at the art gallery with the intent of engaging in a peaceful protest against those very corporations. I wondered how many of them have ever gone hungry or worried where their next meals were coming from for the following week. I wondered how many people realize what it’s cost to give them the ability to even make a choice when they are at that grocery store.
As I approached the art gallery, I immediately observed two people wearing white hazmat suits with the word “Monsanto” painted on the back of them, and I did not have a good feeling. This immediately indicated to me that though my purpose in being there is to demand the right to food sovereignty and to wake people up to start taking action towards it, for those two people, it’s a demonstration to attempt to persuade people that Monsanto is knowingly and deliberately poisoning people. In other words, it’s already turned into a conspiracy theory gathering, and I’m not even on the same side of the street yet. When I finally did make it over there, I was literally shocked to not be able to recognize a single person’s face from other rallies and demonstrations I have been attending, which are explicitly confronting related issues such as the threat salmon farming imposes upon wild salmon, and by extension, the communities who depend upon that food source for their very right to life (which is disproportionately indigenous peoples). I walked through the crowd hoping to recognize just one face from a protest, and I suddenly realized that not only was this a futile hope, but that on top of that, every single face but one or two was that of a white person. I took a look at the signs, and every single one of them was focused on Monsanto’s relationship to food within their anti-GMO conspiracy theory. Every single sign was declaring that food that has been available on our shelves for decades is killing people, poisoning people, giving people cancer, and exposing people to biohazardous threats on their very life. Not even one sign about food sovereignty. Not even one sign about the relationship between the increasing demands of corporate personhood and systemic racism. Not one sign calling for people to teach their children how to garden. Not one person who even comprehends the problem.
Somehow I continued to hold out the hope that perhaps I could find a sign that was vague enough that I wouldn’t feel morally bankrupt for holding it, and that I could at least stand to stick around for long enough to hear with my own ears whether or not anybody gets what the problem actually is. I asked about some signs that were stapled to wooden posts, and a man became immediately territorial over them, referring me back to the conspiracy theory signs that were face-up on the pavement. I suddenly felt like I just can’t do this. I couldn’t be there. I looked around at people looking back at me from a distance, and I looked at them a little more closely. I observed how clean and radiant their pale skin is. How white their teeth are. How well-tailored their clothing is and what good condition it’s in, even in the case of people wearing tie-dye headbands. How full their bellies looked under their perfectly fitting brand name clothing. How they wear their wealth like a badge of honour, and hold up their conspiracy theory signs like they are about to rescue the world from The Big Bad without even making a solitary fundamental change to their lives outside this protest. I suddenly felt like I was back inside a church somehow, closed in with dozens of middle-class white people who think that handing enough people a glorified fiction novel is going to bring about world peace. But I was outside. I was standing on concrete as a light rain began to fall, holding on to the memory of the history of this place and my relationship to it. I couldn’t even bear the thought of staying around long enough to hear the first person speak.
I just couldn’t do it, so I left after being there for just a few minutes. It still feels like the smug somehow adhered directly to me, latching on to my jacket and permeating into my skin through several layers of clothing.
How in the world can people believe that An Evil Corporation® is secretly poisoning as many people as possible, but that a peaceful protest is the magical solution to end the problem?
If a corporation is literally perpetrating genocide, do you really think asking nicely for them to stop is going to accomplish anything at all? Do you think no one else has tried that before?
Do you even understand what the violence you are protesting is if you are doing so under a banner of “peace”?
If Monsanto is killing people, then how do you describe what the US military is doing overseas, or what the Canadian government has continuously been doing to indigenous peoples for the past 140 years? And if you can answer that question sincerely, why is it that I don’t recognize your face from pow wows, West Coast Family Night, and indigenous nationhood movement protests, because you haven’t been there?
What do you honestly think you are doing? From the flyers I received (rather tragically, at a pow wow), I can’t decipher. You’re demanding an end to GMOs, but you want them labelled too. I thought you wanted them gone. You’re at this protest, claiming GMOs are killing people and poisoning people, but you’re trying to spread this message peacefully? Where is the peace in this message of how horribly people are suffering and dying unnecessarily through several successive acts of direct violence against the earth and the people who live on it? And you think I’m magically going to fix this problem by refusing to buy certain brands of eggs and flour when I’m making cupcakes in my urban apartment built on stolen land? Really?