Food Bills of Rights and Monsanto-Speech
by: Paul Cienfuegos Posted on: June 08, 2013
Editor’s Note: Paul Cienfuegos articulates the connection between the Community Rights Movement and the growing resistance to genetically modified foods. Cienfuegos gave this speech at the March Against Monsanto rally on Saturday, May 25th in Portland, Oregon, to a crowd of about 6000 people (police estimate). This is the text of the speech. To watch the speech, go to http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/33313097, and start at 25:30 on the video.
By Paul Cienfuegos
Raise your hand high if you believe that we live in a democratic society.
I didn’t see too many hands!
James Madison, one of our so-called “Founding Fathers”, was the guy who drafted the US Constitution. Here’s something he said about the purpose of government:
“The primary purpose of government is to protect the opulent minority from the majority.”
I’ll read that James Madison quote again.
“The primary purpose of government is to protect the opulent minority from the majority.”
Madison and his buddies worked very hard to ensure that this country’s government would serve a small elite. Their plan for the rest of us was to keep us far away from being allowed to exercise any kind of meaningful decision-making authority over our own lives.
We The People was a phrase that sounded really good. The only problem was, it didn’t include very many people. It didn’t include women. It didn’t include African people brought over as slaves. It didn’t include Native people already living here. It didn’t include men without sufficient property. In other words, it didn’t include about 95% of the human beings who were here.
We talk today about the 99% vs the 1%. But most people don’t realize that this is how the system was DESIGNED to function. It’s not something that happened recently.
The elite didn’t have to work very hard to get what they wanted out of government – because they RAN the government. The elite didn’t have to plead with business leaders to get big business to listen to their needs because they WERE the business leaders.
Activists today talk a lot about how large corporations have CAPTURED the regulatory agencies, have CAPTURED government. The only problem with this analysis is – it’s wrong! The people who run large corporations like Monsanto and Exxon and Halliburton and Burlington Northern – these folks RUN the regulatory agencies, and they always have. Corporate leaders were there at the table from the very beginning.
So if you’re an anti-GMO activist, or an anti-RBGH activist or an anti-factory farms activist, or a pro-raw-milk activist, I’m here to tell you – the regulatory agencies that make decisions day in and day out about what kinds of agriculture we’re going to have in this country – regulatory agencies like the US Department of Agriculture – the USDA – or the Food and Drug Administration – the FDA…corporate leaders didn’t have to CAPTURE these agencies to make them into servants of those corporations. They didn’t have to capture them, because these regulatory agencies were DESIGNED TO SERVE the agriculture and food processing industries, they were DESIGNED by the very corporate leaders who they now supposedly regulate. The food regulations themselves were written by these same corporate leaders.
What I’m telling you SHOULD be obvious to every food activist in the country, but it’s not. And I’ll tell you how I know this to be true – and this brings me back to whether the United States of America was DESIGNED as a truly democratic republic or not.
Let me ask you a question. If you had grown up in a country run by a totalitarian government – a government that everybody KNEW was NOT interested in responding to the needs of its people – would you plead with government leaders? Would you lobby your elected officials? Of course not! Why not? Because the people of that country would know that it was a waste of their time to do so. The government of that totalitarian state didn’t care what the people wanted. They had their own agenda. They served a very small sector of the population and they didn’t give a damn what the majority wanted.
Okay, so then how WOULD the people challenge their totalitarian government? They would try to build PEOPLE POWER at a scale that would be difficult for the government to take on. And by PEOPLE POWER, I do NOT mean tactics like merely protesting and rallying and pleading with and negotiating with and demanding and picketing of our so-called leaders. I DO mean the kind of people power that attempts to SEIZE back our authority as We The People – our authority to govern ourselves. I’m talking about the power that historic citizens movements used to DRIVE new rights into law – like the Abolitionists and the Suffragists.
Let’s take a look at our current situation today in this country. Very few hands went up when I asked you if you believed you lived in a democratic society. And yet, look at the kinds of activism that most of us are doing in the anti-GMO’s movement. We’re PLEADING with our elected officials to stop the tremendous damage being done to our environment and to people’s health by these out of control agriculture and food processing corporations. We’re attending USDA and FDA regulatory hearings. We’re writing letters to these agencies, begging them to NOT allow the latest GMO outrage. We’re signing petition after petition.
In other words, we are playing a game that was CREATED by agriculture corporations – the regulatory game. THEY designed the playing field. THEY decided where to put the goal posts. THEY decided all of the rules of the game. And then they INVITED us to play on their field.
And we keep playing THEIR GAME, on THEIR FIELD, year in and year out, hoping that somehow we might win, even though the odds are stacked against us so heavily that winning is virtually impossible.
Why do we do this? Because we still somehow assume that we live in a democratic society, where the institutions of government are there to serve us, so we just need to work a little harder to get their attention. I’m here to tell you that these institutions of government are NOT here to serve us, and they never were.
Regulatory agencies were created way back in the 1880’s. They were created specifically to funnel citizen participation into a narrower and narrower space where We The People ended up with NO REAL VOICE. The first regulatory agency – the Interstate Commerce Commission or ICC – was created to serve the railroad industry.
President Cleveland’s Attorney General explained to railroad company executives that the ICC was to be “a sort of barrier between the railroad corporations and the people.”
Charles Adams, President of Union Pacific Railroad Company, wrote at the time, “What is desired is something having a good sound, but quite harmless, which will impress the popular mind with the idea that a great deal is being done, when, in reality, very little is intended to be done.”
Does that sound like the USDA to you?!
Regulation worked so well to shield railroad corporations from public outrage that over the following decades, many other industries requested similar protections, such as insurance, meatpacking, banking, food, telephone and telegraph.
That is our history. WE NEED TO LEARN OUR HISTORY!
As my colleague Jane Anne Morris says, “The primary purpose of environmental regulations is to regulate environmentalists.”
The system IS working folks! It’s not broken at all. It’s working just as it was designed!
The USDA and the FDA are working as they were DESIGNED – day in and day out shielding agriculture and food processing corporations from our rage.
The sooner we realize that this ENTIRE STRUCTURE OF LAW – REGULATORY LAW – was put there to tie We The People in knots, to make our voices irrelevant, the sooner we will shift gears, and then start doing a very different kind of activism – a kind of activism where We The People seize back OUR AUTHORITY TO GOVERN OURSELVES!
So far I’ve been sharing a pretty darn depressing history with you. But believe it or not, the MAIN reason I am here today is to share with you the GOOD news.
The GOOD news is that for the past thirteen years, communities across this country have been rising up and starting to challenge the actual structures of law that make real democracy not just difficult but literally IMPOSSIBLE…ILLEGAL.
These structures of law include corporations having won a whole variety of constitutional so-called “rights”, such as free speech rights, property rights, privacy rights, protection against search and seizure rights, and many others. All of these so-called corporate “rights” came directly out of the Supreme Court. Talk about an activist court! It’s an OUTRAGE!
But there’s more. State governments use laws called State Pre-emption and Dillon’s Rule to ban local governments from protecting their human and non-human residents from corporate harms.
What are we doing to challenge this? In 150 communities in eight states, we have passed laws that are THEMSELVES acts of civil disobedience against these unjust structures of law. We have passed laws that ban corporate factory farms, corporate fracking, corporate water withdrawal for bottling, corporate sewage sludge dumping on farmland. These laws also strip corporations of all of their so-called constitutional “rights”. These laws directly challenge the authority of state governments to tell us what we can and cannot pass local laws about. We call ourselves the COMMUNITY RIGHTS movement, and there are folks walking through the crowd right now with flyers about our work.
I’m here to tell you that two counties in the Willamette Valley of Oregon are about to make history. Benton and Lane Counties are just weeks from filing Community Rights ordinances that will prohibit corporations from engaging in unsustainable agricultural practices. If these ordinances are approved by the voters next May, the planting of genetically modified seeds will be BANNED in Benton and Lane counties.
Those who are already growing genetically modified crops in those counties will be held personally and financially liable if their pollen drifts into neighboring farms and contaminates other crops. GMO farmers will have six months to remove all GMO crops after passage of this ordinance, or will be held personally and financially liable.
These ordinances are referred to as a Food Bill of Rights. They enshrine into local law….
A RIGHT to sustainable food systems
A RIGHT to seed heritage
A RIGHT of natural communities to exist, persist, and evolve – that’s rights for nature!
A RIGHT to self-government
They are legally binding and locally enforceable.
We citizens are not merely consumers who vote with our dollars. We are not merely single-issue activists who battle against one corporate atrocity at a time. WE ARE WE THE PEOPLE. That is where our primary power resides. And we need to remember that truth!
I am thrilled to be able to announce to you that over the past few months, the national staff of the Organic Consumers Association has been meeting with myself and my colleagues in the Community Rights movement, and they are VERY VERY excited about what we are doing in Benton and Lane counties. They are VERY VERY excited about a rights-based strategy that strips agricultural corporations of their so-called “rights”. They agree with us that the Food Bill of Rights is a powerful new tool in ending the dominance of Monsanto and other agricultural corporations. If you’re a member of the Organic Consumers Association, please thank them for their support of the Community Rights movement.
I want to close by reading you the first paragraph of our own state constitution here in Oregon.
“Article 1 – Bill of Rights
Section 1 – Natural rights inherent in people.”
(This is the highest law of the land in this state.)
“We declare that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.”
I’m here to tell you that the Community Rights movement has arrived in Oregon.
We are not going to stop until we have passed a Food Bill of Rights in every county of the Willamette Valley and beyond. We are not going to stop until we have stripped Monsanto Corporation of ALL of its so-called constitutional “rights”. We are not going to stop until we have ended the genetic modification of plants and animals.
Some of us are tired of waging long hard battles simply for the right to KNOW whether there are GMO ingredients in our food. Knowing is critical. But what we REALLY need is the RIGHT to BAN GMO’s from our food supply.
The Community Rights movement is working hard to pass county-based laws that exercise that RIGHT to govern ourselves, to define the future we want for our children and grandchildren. I URGE you to get involved in the Community Rights movement where you live.
Thank you so much!
For more info about Paul’s work, or to sign up for his Community Rights Update e-newsletter, go to PaulCienfuegos.com.
To learn more about the wide variety of local laws that have already passed in 150 communities in eight states, visit the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF.org.)
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