Militants Splice Animal Geneticists in Twin Cities
In North America's first demonstration against the animal biotechnology industry, the International Society for Animal Genetics (ISAG) received a warm greeting at its annual conference in Minneapolis on July 24 and 25. The gathering of "mad scientists"—genetic engineers exchanging cutting edge research techniques in "livestock improvement" and "pharming," was accompanied by hundreds of passionate, sometimes militant marchers, as well as the predictable armed occupation of downtown by multi-agency law enforcement, including the FBI. As we saw in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, this police mobilization is only intensifying as the State senses its vulnerability to a new wave of militancy. In Minneapolis, the police were faced with a new style of protest that doesn't seek to cooperate with orderly, civil arrests and escorted marches.
The police followed the marches on foot, in a dozen commandeered city buses and on horseback. Special units of 60 riot-geared officers moved in phalanxes to steer us away from the Hyatt, and into designated protest areas. Police helicopters hovered over downtown throughout the day, tracking the march which had no pre-planned destination, but rather flowed organically based on the movement of the cops. Spontaneity and adaptation were our most useful tools, making it impossible for the cops to control our movements—even we didn't know what would come next!
The action began Sunday night with a several hour-long teach-in and speak-out in Loring Park, then a somewhat spontaneous march around the Hyatt Hotel. We chanted "I-S-A-G Fuck your biotechnology" while taking the entire street, with no annoying internal marshals or peacekeepers. We tried many times to occupy the street but were pushed back by horse-mounted police (two of whom later ended up falling from their thrones), and just barely made it back to the park without arrests. On Monday morning, a group of about 200 left a downtown park intending to march but was stopped on all sides from marching, even on the sidewalks. Eventually we detected a weak police line and marched right through it, using tough plastic banners on the frontline, and chanting "Reclaim the streets! Reclaim the genes!" Within a few blocks we were forcefully directed into the Loring Park neighborhood, where a stand-off occurred. When the march began to be surrounded, we pushed through the police line and into the park, amidst swinging batons and pepper spray. After catching our breath we continued marching back into downtown, where the entire march was eventually stopped and a mass arrest was made.
The downtown marches weren't the only actions in the Twin Cities that weekend. Over in St. Paul on Sunday night Aventis Bio-Medical Services, the largest biotechnology corporation in the world, had radical slogans spray-painted on its building in solidarity with the ISAG protests. "While hundreds marched in downtown Minneapolis and engaged with the cops, we chose to strike where they least expected. We urge others to take action against this company and industry" (from the communiqué). Another solidarity message came from the underground on July 31, when the Dusty Desperados trashed five acres of GE canola in Eastern Washington state. In their communiqué, they sent "solidarity to our fellow bandits who recently had their houses raided and bodies beaten during protests against the International Society of Animal Geneticists (ISAG) in Minneapolis, MN."
Local corporate media coverage of the protests was predictably focused on the threat of "violence" by the "protesters," who they often characterized as "animal rights activists." In reality, most participants publicly spoke on this brave new world of biotechnology from a multi-issue perspective, and there was no pre-ISAG suggestion of rioting on our part. The corporate media aided the local cops and FBI in propagandizing about a supposed "chemical weapons" scare on Monday afternoon, which turned out to be stink bombs. Before this important revelation was announced, the MPD was able to convince much of the public that hydrogen cyanide had been dropped at a McDonald's restaurant, which it used as an excuse to arrest one person randomly walking by the McDonald's, holding him for two days on "terroristic threats," only to release him with no charges.
One of the most unique aspects of the anti-ISAG mobilization was the way we interacted with the corporate media. The ISAG Welcoming Committee, an ad-hoc group of local opponents from a variety of groups, avoided the media until several days before the demonstrations, letting dozens of phone and e-mail inquiries from reporters pile up. Local alternative media was prioritized with community radio and the local weeklies. This left the police with very little to go on for their planning, other than some radical rhetoric on our web site that apparently drove them to spend almost a million dollars on security for the ISAG conference. In the week before the protests, the big local story was about what we were going to do, and this led to several articles on why we don't trust the media, what exactly it was that we oppose, and why we had no interest in controlling peoples' tactics or choreographing the marches. In a July 21 St. Paul Pioneer Press article, members of the Welcoming Committee said, "decentralized actions allow protesters to be more creative... We value people's autonomy, and we are not intending to dictate the way people protest." Later in the same article, key reasons for our opposition were summarized: "They say such engineering could damage ecologies, endanger wildlife and create a nightmarish society in which corporations and the government design and create human beings... Protesters are addressing basic problems with modern society such as capitalism, industrialization and the commercialization of life... A lot of us favor much more conservation-oriented solutions that have no profit motives, as opposed to quick-fix, high-tech band-aid solutions that don't really address the root causes of disease, starvation and loss of biodiversity."
What was partly a matter of principle, and partly one of safety and security, proved to generate an intense amount of coverage overall of not only the ecological and ethical issues around genetic engineering, but also the connection between opposition to capitalist exploitation, and the militarization of the city.
From the ISAG Welcoming Committee press statement on July 24: "Just as the genetic scientists at the ISAG conference dedicate their lives to exerting greater and deeper control over organisms, for the profit of agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies, the police have shown their dedication to exerting control over our demonstrations, to ensure that business as usual passes undisrupted. The roles of law enforcement on the streets and corporate science in the lab are the same: eradicate individuality and enforce the rules of capitalism that pass as common law. To ensure profits for a few, these agents of the brave new world must replace biodiversity and cultural survival with uniform production-oriented order."
A lesson learned at ISAG: It's okay to be selective about which media to cooperate with and which to completely ignore. And it is possible to make them come to us!
Although upwards of 80 people were arrested over the two day protest period, the bottom line is that over 200 marched against animal genetics, defied the police state and its inherent brutality (and at times, pushed it back) and showed incredible militancy despite being outnumbered almost 4-1. In a matter of a few weeks, animal genetics and the "life sciences industry" itself became a major issue of contention in Minneapolis, evoking countless letters to local papers, commentaries on radio programs and casual conversation at local eateries.
Any time a government or corporation is "mapping the genome" of a species, it means they are doing so to eventually manipulate the genetic make-up of that species. Such manipulation is often justified as only one step beyond "conventional breeding," yet the intention is the same, especially with animals, who have no worth to scientists, corporations or universities, beyond their economic use. Genetic engineering is only one step beyond conventional breeding, and we contend that even most "conventional breeding" is driven by both profit, and an extreme disregard for the role of non-human animals in the interdependent web of life. After conquering almost every mountain, forest, river and distinctive human community on earth, business elites are seeking new colonies to control and exploit. Factory and fur farming have already created waste and enslavement of wildlife. Now the mad scientists are eager to offer GE animals to the market.
The runaway science of GE and the deeply imbedded societal disconnection from nature can no longer be ignored as long as we continue to confront the mad scientists and their government and industry profiteers.
For more information, contact the Bioengineering Action Network, POB 11331, Eugene, OR 97440; 541-302-5020; firstname.lastname@example.org;
© Earth First! Journal, September-October 2000