Maui residents joined with protesters around the world on Saturday, May 25, in a "March Against Monsanto." The event, which drew crowds in every corner of the planet, had a strong local turnout estimated at 1,000. Marchers assembled at War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku and proceeded along the sidewalk down Ka'ahumanu Avenue to the canoe hale beach.
This was the second anti-Monsanto mass demonstration on Maui this year, following on the heels of an equally well-attended event in March 2013. Organizers said the May event was put together on short notice by a core group of six volunteers to show their support for the labeling of genetically modified organism (GMO) foods and their opposition to Monsanto's GMO products and its extensive seed corn operations here.
It is estimated that Monsanto farms about 900 acres in four locations on Maui, and has additional holdings on Molokai and in other parts of Hawai'i. It also leases agricultural lands from Kamehameha Schools on O'ahu. Its presence in the state has become increasingly controversial.
A small group of six volunteers were responsible for organizing the Maui March Against Monsanto on May 25--(left to right) Cody Darcy, Ann Evans, Courtney Bruch, and Mary Traynor. Among the organizers, but not shown in the photo, are Keoki Medeiros and Faith Ewbank.
Organizing the Maui's March Against Monsanto were Courtney Bruch, Cody Darcy, Ann Evans, Faith Ewbank, Keoki Medeiros and Mary Traynor.
The mood of the day seemed to be Occupy Wall Street meets the Maui Mom's Hui. The messages ranged from "No-GMO" to "Save the Bees."
The line was orderly and festive.
The sunny, mid-day stroll down Central Maui's main drag concluded with an organic potluck, music and speakers. Despite difficulties with the permit, relations with the Maui Police Department were cordial on both sides.
At the end of the day, the organizers stressed the positive aspects of participation, speaking out and networking among friends to make the larger community aware of their concerns. The group was not entirely specific about its future plans; but there did seem to be some common goals.
Themes that were often repeated included the safety of the food supply, a warning about unforeseen side effects biotech, a red flag on pesticides, thumbs down to corporate control of the food chain and an insistence on the right to know what's in the food we eat.
It seemed pretty straightforward.
Though the May 25 event was the most recent incarnation of opposition to the agribusiness giant, its themes have been playing out in various heated installments at the state legislature and all over Hawai'i during 2013.
The earlier marches took place on Maui and other islands around the state as the push for GMO food labeling reached its peak at the state legislature. The topic was one of the most hotly debated issues at the recently concluded session.
Though the measure did not pass this year, supporters promise the subject will return next year and are also openly discussing candidates to oppose sitting legislators, especially in the Senate, who they believe blocked the GMO legislation from getting a fair hearing.
Heading the list is state Sen. Roz Baker (D, chair of the Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee), who attempted to keep the measure bottled up in committee.
Other powerful players on the Senate side drawing the ire of the labeling advocates include Hawai'i Island's Malama Solomon (chairing Water & Land), O'ahu's Donovan Dela Cruz (chairing Economic Development) and Clarence Nishihara (heading Agriculture).
If there's a political action hit list, those are the likely targets.
The size of the crowds seem designed to remind those who are able to count that there is strength in numbers, even if it has yet to be demonstrated that marchers are voters. On Saturday, for so large a group, politicians were conspicuous only by their absence.
Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing, who philosophically sees GMO labeling as "inevitable," wasn't there. Only County Councilmember Elle Cochran (West Maui) was on hand to address the group.
Former candidate Summer Starr also spoke briefly at the start of the day and Netra Halperin, another former candidate, acted as a voter registrar in the afternoon.
As for what come next, Ewbank, one of the organizers of the event, said, "The MOM Hui Maui is looking at potential candidates for the next upcoming election to support and endorse."
"The Senate seat Roz Baker presently holds (is) most important," Ewbank continued. "Her legislative decisions that resulted in the killing of two GMO bills have prompted a renewed involvement in politics."
"People are paying attention," Ewbank wrote in a follow-up email. "When you see such blatant disregard from present day elected politicians as the labeling of GMOs issue did this last legislative session, it really impacts those who did get involved, those who signed a petition, wrote a letter and showed up to testify.
"You can bet this next election will have record voter turnout," concluded Ewbank. "The MOM Hui Maui remains optimistic that all important details will be on the table."