On Saturday, the hacker collective Anonymous is planning a world-wide Occupy Monsanto protest aimed at taking action against the corporate giant and highlighting its corrupt business practices and supposed influence in spreading harmful GMO products. With protests in dozens of American cities as well as cities in Canada, Japan, Australia, South America and Europe and growing public awareness of Monsanto's influence, these marches could have a serious impact and provide a PR problem for the company.
But can they actually bring down a food giant?
While Monsanto is unlikely to go bankrupt over the weekend, these protests will be highly successful thanks to a proper understanding of how and why Monsanto has such power as well as practical solutions to help chip away at the power.
Rather than blame capitalism or corporations per se, Anonymous's general opposition to Monsanto comes from the state-granted privileges that the company receives and enabling government agencies in the U.S. and around the world.
For example, for years Monsanto has been the recipient of large corporate welfare subsidies that help cartelizes its economies of scale further than the market dictates, crowding out smaller and organic farmers that lack access to these political favors.
Federal legislation also unfairly helps Monsanto while punishing its competitors. Without even mentioning the general litany of regulations that prevent or hinder smaller businesses from growing in competing, a few months ago President Obama signed into law an Agriculture Appropriations Bill which contains a provision protecting genetically modified seeds — a Monsanto staple — from litigation in the face of health risks. No person, company or entity should be exempt from paying the costs of actions that are found to have harmed others. But thanks to their lobbying power and political connections, Monsanto is immune from this basic principle of property rights in a free society: initiating aggression is always wrong.
State-backed "intellectual property" law is yet another example of how coercive government legislation benefits corporate interests. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court sided withMonsanto against a small farmer, ruling "unanimously that an Indiana farmer violated Monsanto's patent on genetically modified soybeans when he culled some from a grain elevator and used them to replant his own crop in future years." Justice Clarence Thomas, a former Monsanto lawyer, apparently saw no conflict of interest as well. This decision will likely result in higher prices for consumers and a further cornering of the market for Monsanto and the very few other corporate giants that hold patent monopolies on seeds.
The Occupy Monsanto protest group does a great job of highlighting and understanding this state-corporate collusion, and its prescriptions are also consistent with the recognition of the dangers of corporate and state power. Rather than naively suggest that Congress "pass a law" or "do something," they urge individual empowerment, education, and perhaps most importantly, the repeal of the bad laws that encourage Monsanto's (and others) corporatist behaviors.
They advocate voting with your dollar by buying organic and local foods while boycotting Monsanto products, repealing the "Monsanto Protection Act" and ending their welfare subsidies, holding executives and enabling politicians accountable through social media and grassroots activism, and continuing to inform the public. That is activism at its finest; the combination of withdrawing consent while publicly making your voice heard.
It's easy to see why the higher-ups at Monsanto are worried, calling this global social media movement and increased public awareness, of all things, "elitist." They know how powerful the Internet and social media are; just a decade ago, they saw it as one of the weapons they could use to force genetically modified products into unreluctant markets.
It is unrealistic to assume that all of Anonymous's demands will be met and that next week Congress will cut Monsanto off of the government dole, but what is most important about the march this weekend are the strategies and tactics. Forget begging our crooked rulers in DC to pass a law; decentralize, repeal, and empower the individual against this most visible monster of the agriculture-industrial-complex. As this message grows, the others "complexes" that do so much harm to society — military, prison, medical, etc — will undoubtedly start to panic as well.