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A Peoples' Tribunal

The Earth vs. Monsanto

by PETER LINEBAUGH

Here are a few brief notes about A People’s Hearing, held on 10 May 2014, in Greene County, Ohio, The Indivisible Living Entity of the Planet Earth v. Monsanto Corporation, Defendant. 

The hearing was the fourth in a series that began two and half years ago in Carbondale, Illinois, followed by a second (Iowa City, Iowa), and a third in St. Louis (Missouri).  They were organized by the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor, renamed the Compass Collective.  This 4th hearing was held in conjunction with the Herndon Gallery of Antioch College which provided food, rooms, and welcome hospitality.  The Compass collective invites those interested in future hearings to contact them at: monsanto.hearings@gmail.com

The hearing took place in the Clifton Reserve, a few miles from Yellow Springs, Ohio, (the site of Antioch College), and a few feet from the banks of the Little Miami River, one of three rivers (Scioto and Muskingum being the others) draining to the Ohio River which itself flows into the Mississippi River.  It was up these rivers that the Adena people of central America brought the first corn seeds a thousand years ago.

After the U.S.A. was constituted in 1787 this region was the site of aggressive wars of territorial acquisition and genocidal attack on the indigenous people.  The indigenous peoples led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket at first and for several years meted out continuous defeats upon the U.S.A. Furthermore the Ohio rivers provided the route of escape for people fleeing the racist enclosures of the plantation system to the south of the Ohio river.

Those testifying at the hearing became cognizant of some victories against imperialism, enclosure, and war in an astonishing conclusion to the hearing.

Sarah Lewison, styled the People’s Advocate, opened the hearing, in front of cameras and video equipment, witnesses, consumers, farmers, artists, and students.  She reminded us that this was not yet a trial, but an open meeting to gather testimony.  She likened it to a form of “play.”  Indeed, a visiting artist from Chicago, an Aztec, acted as bailiff swearing people to tell the truth.  Four judges were empanelled, a writer and theorist from the Compass Collective, an Afghan artist from Oakland, California, the director of the Urban Food Freedom Project in Dayton, Ohio, and finally, a professor from the University of Dayton.  Throughout the day the judges role was to listen (“gigantic ears”) and occasionally to ask questions.

In her opening the People’s Advocate reminded all present that Monsanto has more than $17 billion in assets and an annual revenue exceeding $10 billion.  The money buys public relations and government officials.  “We do not appeal to the existing statutory or common law currently organized in favor of large corporations.  We invoke the form of a hearing to produce a comprehensive public understanding of harms and to determine responsibility for those harms.”

An environmental lawyer from nearby Dayton described the pollution of the Miami valley aquifer and the nullity of efforts to use the law as a remedy.  From his practice he reached the conclusion that environmental laws are only as good as the “politics” of those regulating and enforcing them.  He explained “regulatory capture.”

A “people’s remembrancer” spoke next and charged the Monsanto corporation only with theft.  Since questions of law had been introduced he explained that in addition to “higher law,” “natural law,” and “universal law,” that we needed to bring up to date some ancient law and custom because these were the basis of the practice of commoning that preceded the privatization or enclosure of land and the historic antecedents to Monsanto’s enclosure of the stopthiefcommon germplasm.

A mom and “risk manager” from north western Ohio, spoke of rights- based organizing, and using municipal ordinances and notions of local sovereignty to protect the earth and human communities from being drilled, fracked, and mined.

Another witness provided an anthropological perspective demonstrating that genetically modified organisms are a colonial project.  She showed that the concepts of “poverty” and “development” originated in the Truman administration.  She recommended that we consider Arundhati Roy’s book, The Ghost of Capitalism.

An organic farmer, advocate against GMOs provided 1) a detailed chronology beginning in 1987 of world-wide direct action by the Raging Diggers and diggers of other kinds against GMO plants, corn and soy particularly, 2) a denunciation of the “revolving door” between the agencies of government and the agents of profiteering, and 3) an argument of identification between the genetic code and the legal code.   The parallel between Monsanto and the U.S.A. with I.G. Farben and the German Third Reich was introduced into the discussion.

A witness from Ohio State University, a horticulturalist and crop scientist, spoke of transgenetic escape from sunflowers.  He spoke of GMO crops creating superweeds.  He demonstrated the utter unsustainability of industrial agriculture.  He advocated poly-agriculture that maximizes options of genetic diversity.  He reminded us that humans cannot manufacture topsoil.  It takes 500 years to create 1 inch of it.

A seed cleaner from Indiana spoke of his suit against Monsanto, of Monsanto’s surreptitious surveillance of farmers, he reminded us that the corn germplasm is a public good – “it belongs to us” – and cited Abraham Lincoln’s the Morrill Act of 1862.  “The light of the sun shines everywhere,” he argued for the labeling of GMO foods.  Breast milk can become poisoned.  He concluded by shouting “stop, thief!”

Another witness urged us to consider God as the creator of life and recited a bunch of different religions saying so.  Life is the first cause.  Even bio-scientists, she said, considered recombinant DNA to be a chimera, or monster.

The owner of a local health food store provided distressing testimony that corporate food giants such as Whole Foods or Krogers make investments in apparently “organic” food companies as a way of capturing the market in healthy foods.  Her research consists of personal visits to corporate retailers with onsite inspection and time-consuming work on the internet and the telephone.  Universities and government were no longer a trustworthy source of knowledge independent of the influence of profiteers.

A physician with years and years of experience treating allergies gave utterly convincing evidence that the GMO foods promoted by Monsanto were actually pathogens responsible for the rise in the number of people afflicted by allergies.  He studied the allergic histories of scores of patients contrasting those who drank milk made by GMO soy and those who drank milk from soy without GMO and found a statistically conclusive difference.

The hearing lasted the better part of the day.  It concluded by the presentation of visual evidence by Geoffrey Sea from Piketon, Ohio, reminding us that Monsanto made the triggers of the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  They were made from the radioactive substance polonium.  The Monsanto laboratory manufacturing this weapon of mass destruction was in Dayton, Ohio, and called the Mound, because it was built in the shadow the largest sacred Indian mound.  He provided visual evidence that the plants making nuclear bombs or their components, including Monsanto’s headquarters on the Mississippi, were deliberately sited adjacent to sacred native sites.  The regime of privatization, profiteering, and war thus consciously displayed its triumph over forms of human community based on mutuality.  Monsanto bragged in an early advertisement, “From the Stone Age to the Atomic Age.”

Many of us left the hearing with dark thoughts concerning the profound depth of these crimes against life.  Does it avail us anything to recall that pride goeth before the fall?  Are we destined to remain slaves to a system that has taken and privatized the means of life?  Are we to be willing recipients of the thoughtlessness that is inculcated by society?

Yet, the hearing itself seemed akin to the assemblies of people in the Zapatista communities of Chiapas to this day. They have recuperated stolen land and restored communities, or ejidos, of just conditions.  Perhaps we can develop further hearings, perhaps even widespread and numerous tribunals, which can both gather evidence and indict the system of enclosure and privatization of which Monsanto is a single part.

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@yahoo.com