The area of India that I’m from has a train called the cancer train – its the train that takes people to the nearest cancer hospital. In Punjab, farmers’ cancer rates have skyrocketed from the pesticides and herbicides that they’ve been forced to use on their crops. The chemicals are killing us - over the last decade, more than 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, due to debt that they owe chemical companies.
All this because of the so-called Green Revolution, when scientists, 50 years ago, tried to “save" Indians from famine with new hybridized seed technology that required intensive chemical inputs. They started out giving the farmers seed and chemicals free or low-cost; costs rose while yields plateaued and eventually plummeted due to soil erosion. Now those farmers are killing themselves – often with the very chemicals they are indebted for.
The chemicals that are used to boost productivity – and kill plants and insects - are left over, revamped from World War II. The same companies that created and profited from war chemicals, are profiting from the war on farmers, indigenous peoples, eaters, and the planet.
Last night, we met Steve, a southern Illinois seed-saver who risks freedom and financial stability every day to continue doing what he knows is right: helping farmers save their seed, to replant and regenerate next years’ crop. A year ago, agents broke into his truck and stole his client list. He’s received multiple threats, and has seen fellow seed-savers’ bank accounts frozen for the same thing. When Steve drives his seed-saving machine (which he invented) he proudly flies a Jolly Roger flag. We laugh about that, but the irony is that Steve isn’t “pirating” anything – he’s tending a cycle of life. Monsanto, and companies like Monsanto, who are trying to steal our livelihoods, and pillage the earth with their products, are the true pirates.
Monsanto, with its partner the Gates Foundation, is now declaring a new Green Revolution in Africa. They’re suggesting that their biotechnology seeds and chemical advances will help end famine on the continent. Having talked to farmers and villagers in India whose families are still suffering the impacts of the Green Revolution that was supposed to “save” India, I can only imagine the devastating impacts that threaten Africa with this new Green Revolution.
Today, we visited Monsanto’s headquarters right outside of St. Louis, MO. I started to unpack my cloth, seeds, and sage, and within seconds, a security car arrived. Ignoring this, I continued preparations for a sacred seed ceremony. Most of the group attended to security while three of us began to place our saved seeds on the cloth in front of the Monsanto sign. As I prepared to light the sage, four backup cars arrived and we were told that if we didn’t leave the property, we would be arrested. We moved to the highway shoulder; I set up for ceremony between our van and a police car. We encircled the seeds, singing, smudging, speaking.
They who control our seeds control our lives. Until we have seed sovereignty, and food sovereignty, none of us is free.
My prayer was for the people who work for Monsanto – that they might understand the repercussions of their work on the world – people and our planet. My gratitude was for the earth, who continues to sustain us, despite this rape and pillage. My respect to warriors like Steve, who are actively facing threats from Monsanto, but fight every day for what they know is right.
The cops encircled us, filming and trying to distract us from our circle, but the group held strong. We closed with a song from our political ancestors, first sung to us by the Children’s Crusaders at our kickoff in Alabama, and by SNCC member at our first Farm Bill workshop in Mississippi. We brought it to Missouri:
Ain’t gonna let Monsanto
Turn me ‘round, turn me ‘round, turn me ‘round
I’m gonna keep on walking, keep on talking
Marching on to Freedomland
As we sealed our ceremony, and the 13 of us loaded back into the van, one of the cops approached us. Anim rolled down his window and the cop spoke, “I just want you to know that I understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. I can’t always say what I want to say.”
For me, today, that was enough.
Live Real exists to unite people who are on the frontlines of our food system. Today, in so many ways, I’ve been reminded that we are doing just that. Together, we are finding freedom by building power based in love and respect – for ourselves, each other, and for our earth.