BELTON, Texas (Texas Media Collective) - A misty sky didn't dampen spirits at the May 25 March Against Monsanto rally here. Local organizers pronounced themselves pleased with the turnout, which numbered some 60 people.
"This is the Memorial Day weekend, and we didn't have a whole lot of time to put it together," said co-organizer Cole Kelly. "It really says something, to draw this many people with no local media coverage."
Speakers at the rally, which was one of hundreds staged around the world, pulled no punches in attacking corporations that value profit over consumer health.
Said speaker (and co-organizer) Kathe Berg Kitchens, "Why I'm here is because years ago I was poisoned by ag chemicals used by a neighbor. It made me sick. But, I'm not involved just for me. It's the right thing to do. You start by becoming more active."
Local activists have already helped bring organic fertilizer and organic foods to the shelves of "big box" stores. "That's us as consumers saying, 'If you bring it, we'll buy it.' We voted on it with our purchases and with our voices," said Berg.
Kitchens pointed out that a particular problem for consumers is finding out what foods contain GMO (genetically modified organisms), since lax regulations on labels make it hard to find out. "If I choose to buy [GMO], that's one thing, but they're slipping it into foods and feeding animals with it, and not letting us know - that's wrong."
Kitchens' concerns were echoed by another speaker, John Duck, who at times wore an Anonymous mask, evoking memories of the Occupy Wall Street protest. "Monsanto is pushing laws that only benefit it, and not thinking of the health of our children and pregnant women ... The more people that are aware of the issues, the more we can get done."
Speaker Ruth Brown addressed the threat Monsanto poses to traditional farmers.
"Companies like Monsanto are filing patents on their seeds and trying to outlaw farmers saving seeds from year to year. They'll tell us how to raise our food and push their seeds on us. Don't let them dictate what you can do."
Protesters signed several petitions available at the rally that addressed issues of crony capitalism (government agencies run by "ex" corporate executives), banning immunity for biotech companies who violate regulations, maltreatment of stock animals, bee-killing pesticides, and other grassroots issues.
Charlie Weaver, one of those in attendance, said he and his wife heard about the event at the local Natural Grocers store. "We wanted to meet some like-minded people," he said.
Building on the momentum and local interest displayed at the rally, Kelly announced that a rally is planned in October in connection with World Food Day. Those wanting to get involved are invited to visit Kelly's March Against Monsanto-Belton Facebook page, which is the contact spot for now.
Said Kelly about his organizational role, "I saw a need and stepped in. I don't want to be the leader. I want you coming in alongside me, and everybody joining forces, getting organized. Let's try to put companies like Monsanto out of business."
Photo: Monsanto protest rally in Benton, Texas, May 25. (Leslie Robinson)