For five days, radical leftists throughout the country converged on Sacramento, California, to protest the International Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agriculture ministers from over 100 WTO nations gathered to discuss the latest advances in biotechnology and how these techniques can be used to feed the 800 million starving people of the Third World. But now that the war in Iraq is over, the radical Left saw the Conference as an opportunity to get their old comrades together again. These radicals sought to portray themselves to the media as a collection of harmless, homespun, grassroots activists concerned about small farmers and the poor. After spending three days embedded with these people, I found out the reality: they were a motley crew of anarchists, socialists, and well-paid activists.
The Sacramento Ag Expo was held from June 23-25 but the protestors had been trickling in for months. At the end of May, the anti-capitalist Ruckus Society came to Sacramento to provide "lessons" in left-wing activism. The Ruckus Society receives its generous funding from the Ben & Jerry's Foundation and the Turner Foundation. The Society's Founder, John Sellers, believes "Anarchism has gotten a really bad rap, like communism." I presume he also believes eco-terrorism has gotten a bad rap, since the Society has also provided training for the Earth Liberation Front, the number one domestic terrorist group. The protestors' website provides a complete list of their sponsors many of whom set up their own tables at the rally on the Capitol steps. The sponsors included the Communist-dominated Code Pink and Global Exchange, the FMLN apologists of the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador and the SHARE Foundation; Direct Action to Stop the War!, whose website issued a thinly veiled call for sabotage once the war in Iraq began; Revolution Books, the fund raising arm of the Revolutionary Communist Party; and Students for Justice in Palestine. The front page of the Bee the next morning showed representatives of these groups being cuffed by officers.
The group split into four different teams: fire, air, earth, and water -- how environmentally friendly! These groups tried to keep ahead of the police. Black masked anarchists broke off and tagged buildings and streets with graffiti, broke windows, rolled dumpsters down the road, and hurled rotten fruit and light bulbs filled with paint at police officers. Several activists gathered at Mandella Garden, which had been sold to developers last year, and proclaimed their intention to "take it back for the people." They locked themselves together with steel piping, which had to be sawed off by police and firefighters. An anarchist who called himself "Snap Shoe" spoke to the police through his megaphone: "Put down your badges, nightsticks, and guns, and join the revolution."
Monday, June 23, was the day of the formal protest rally on the steps of the Capitol building. I showed up an hour early and saw everyone putting up their tables and kiosks. Two young men dressed all in black arrived from Revolution Books with several boxes worth of communist literature. They also offered the writings of convicted murderers Leonard Peltier and H. Rap Brown, alongside the obligatory "Free Mumia" merchandise. United for Peace and Justice had their own table as well, as did several of the local Green Party chapters. Two elderly looking men sold "Dennis Kucinich for President" signs. And of course, no protest would be complete without costumed pageantry: my friends from Sunday, dressed as tomatoes and corn cobs, put on a song and dance show for the local media with their colleagues, who wore butterfly costumes. The fashion of choice highlighted tie-dyed or Che Guevara-emblazoned t-shirts. One woman I saw wore a red cloak which declared "Seattle: what protests ought to be." I gathered an armful of the free literature which included the latest issue of People's Weekly World, the official news weekly of the Communist Party, USA.
The speakers were mostly incoherent; they rambled endlessly about everything from the presidential election of 2000, to how a free market in food will lead to mass starvation, to "U.S. imperialism" and other generalized anti-capitalist rants. My personal favorite was a young woman who called herself Mother Corn: "My children existed long before you humans discovered us and we have fed you for thousands of years! But now you are polluting our land and splicing our genes!" The young man next to me, in the Frankenstein's monster outfit, roared his approval.
The protestors obtained a permit for up to 8,000 people, but police estimate only 1,500 people showed up. (The protestors naturally claimed twice that number.) Once the scheduled speakers finished, the crowd prepared for their march. I decided to follow the Black Bloc Anarchists. What struck me about this crowd was how very few of them were actually from Sacramento. They were completely unfamiliar with the layout of the city and unaware the authorities were herding them in a big circle around the capitol building. When we got back to where we started from, the Anarchists were furious. They rushed to the nearest police officers and began shouting things like, "F*** you fascist pig! Oink oink! Eat s*** and die pig!"
A group of kids who called themselves "Mud People" caked themselves from head to toe in red clay, stripped off their clothes, and sat in the street, blocking traffic. When the police attempted to arrest them, some took off running and some climbed trees. I think the entire city breathed a sigh of relief when they were finally caught and forced to cover up with blankets. In all, about seventy people were arrested. Although the protestors claimed to believe in non-violence, the anarchists must not have gotten the memo: police confiscated several Molotov cocktails and sharpened wooden sticks, presumably to be used as spears. CHP Chief D.O. "Spike" Helmick was hit on the arm by a light bulb filled with sulfuric acid.
By Tuesday, the protests degenerated into greater farce. These groups were smaller than the groups that had marched on Monday, but they were more passionate. There were several tense moments: protestors locked arms and sat in the street again. When they finally moved, the police rushed in to make some arrests. The protestors quickly surrounded them and pressed in, shouting "Let them go!" The police were forced to use tasers on several of them to move them back. The biggest group or marchers walked to the local jailhouse to express their "solidarity" with their comrades who were then being arraigned. I later heard from a police officer that a lawyer entered the jailhouse and informed them that his clients had a Constitutional right to a vegan meal.
The theme of the Ag Expo was using science and technology to ease world hunger. Thanks to advances in biotechnology, genetically modified seeds often require fewer pesticides and boost crop yields, thus reducing the acreage needed for farming. It allows farming in marginal soil, which would normally be unusable. Agricultural cross-breeding has been the norm for literally thousands of years. Today, 34 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified, as are 78 percent of U.S. soybeans and most of the produce available at your local grocery store. Two decades worth of experience with gene-spliced crops has not shown any injury to any individual, nor any significant damage to eco-systems. The AgBio World Foundation has collected the signatures of 3,200 international scientists for its Declaration of Support of Agricultural Biotechnology, including twenty Nobel Laureates. "Golden Rice," bio-fortified with beta-carotene from daffodils has been given to Third World farmers. Thjs has the power to prevent anemia and the Vitamin A deficiency which blinds hundreds of thousands of Third World children. But the neo-Luddites of the environmentalist movement have made up their minds.
National Review's Deroy Murdock tells the story of Kenyan agronomist Dr. Florence Wambugu. She spent three years working with the Monsanto company developing a virus-resistant sweet potato that she said "holds the promise of feeding some of the 800 million chronically undernourished people in the world." Unimpressed, eco-terrorists with the Earth Liberation Front destroyed her lab and test crops. "If they don't want it, they don't have to have it," Wambugu said. "We're dying, so can we eat first?"
Environmentalists have raised enough doubts about GM foods to cause drought stricken Zambia to reject a shipment of gene-spliced corn from the U.S. last year. Chance Kabaghe, Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Zambia, told the Sacramento Bee his country had little choice, even though many teetered on the verge of starvation. America's corn crop carries implanted genes that produce natural Bacillus thuringiensis pesticide, safe for humans and friendly insects like ladybugs and lacewings, and requires virtually no costly spraying. Splicing corn with a borrowed natural soil bacterium defense has already by one estimate prevented insects from destroying up to 300 million bushels of corn. Similar GM crops could prevent famines in the Third World where insects typically devour a third of crops.
Although the activists openly hoped that the Ag Expo would turn into a repeat of the 1999 riots in Seattle, their protests ended not with a bang but a whimper. The Conference went off without a hitch and the leftists slithered back where they came from. It is estimated that the costs of providing security for the Conference and overtime for police officers will total nearly $2 million, a staggering sum for departments which are already facing layoffs due to California's budget crisis. In the last days of the Roman Empire, the Caesars thought they could distract the masses with bread and circuses. Biotechnology is offering the Third World bread, and the Left is offering only circuses.