Farm Aid was on hand last Thursday evening at the statehouse in Montpelier where hundreds of Vermonters from all four corners of the state gathered to rally and publicly testify in support of bill H722, which would require clear labeling of all GMO products sold in the state. So many supporters of the bill packed the statehouse that the hearing before the House Agriculture Committee had to be moved from a smaller room onto the statehouse floor in order to accommodate everyone who wished to testify. In all, 111 citizens (including yours truly) testified before the committee, every single one of them speaking in favor of the proposed bill.
The evening was an object lesson in public organizing and a stirring example for millions of others around the nation who are beginning to stand up to government inaction and corporate bullying on GMO issues. Spurred by collaborative outreach by community-based organizations such as Rural Vermont, NOFA Vermont and VPIRG, Vermont farmers, business people, teachers, parents, students, the elderly and the very young came together to demand their right to know what is in the food they consume.
At the rally on the footsteps of the statehouse prior to the hearing and also during his testimony during the hearing, organic farmer Will Allen of Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center proposed the creation of a state legal defense fund to counter Monsanto’s threat to sue the state if H722 were to pass during this legislative session.
Others testifying echoed Will’s proposal by flashing their checkbooks at Ag Committee members and stating that they were prepared to contribute to help defend the state and its citizens from corporate legal attack. Others testifying brought a wide range of personal and community concerns to the table. Registered nurse Judy Persin testified personally to the ill health effects of unknowingly consuming GMO-laced food products. Former New York City firefighter Rich Conti testified on behalf of other recovering 9-11 first responders, attributing his own recovery partly to his commitment to eating only the highest quality non-GMO foods. Dozens of other Vermonters spoke eloquently and forcefully in defense of citizens’ right to know what is in their food.
Another fascinating aspect of the evening was its “Occupation” inflection. After an initial warning from a statehouse official to remain quiet during hearing testimony, the crowd immediately shifted to use of the “silent cheer” made popular at Occupy general assemblies nationwide, signaling their approval of testimony with arms outstretched and hands and fingers wagging back and forth. Take a close look at this photo showing the “silent cheer” in action.
Farm Aid was on hand at the rally and hearing to help ensure that Vermont legislators understand that the nation is indeed watching, and that we fully expect our elected officials, in Vermont and elsewhere, to follow the will of the people. We will continue to support and participate in grassroots organizing to take back control of our food system. Please let us know what you’re doing in your neck of the woods!