Friday, June 22, 2012

International BIO Convention; A Week in Review

One week later: Personal Reflection on the International BIO Convention protests. 


Ellen, Joan, Eden and Joe pose infront of Roundup Dewey Sq. Boston
Another World is Popsicle

Seven days after receiving the flyer for the NOFA BIO convention protest; I'm sunburned, tired and little sad, but hopeful. 


Free School University put me on the International BIO Convention tip after working with them on the rundown on the arrest of State Rep. Liz Malia and several protesters. The arrests occurred at the City Live/ Vida Urbana Eviction Blockade last week. I had no reservations about hitting up the Common last Saturday to discuss last minute media campaign strategy with Ellen Fine of the LEAH Collective, Eden Gardner of Free School University/ Occupy Boston, a Selectman, and a smattering of folks that weren't at the March Against Austerity.

For the photo blog check Occupy Monsanto, special thanks to Andrea Runkel for coming all the way from New Hampshire to take photos!

The International BIO Convention was slated to bring a cool 26.8 million dollars into the local economy, and the possibility of future lucrative deals for the state. Now more than ever with extensive budget cuts, and a failing municipal economy, state and local leaders are looking for additional revenue streams.  This was admittedly a networking event for state leaders and the heads of nearly 1,000 bio-tech, law, and real-estate firms worldwide.  While networking occurred inside the convention and the possibility of money making deals in the air.  A goal of this past week of actions and teach-ins was to raise a question regarding those deals "at what cost to the global community?"

By the time Saturday rolled around, myself and FSU had already been coordinating over the last 24 hours to get the word out about Monday's action. Which had been announced by NOFA but hadn't come across either of our radars until a day or two before. Dead on my feet from a week of internship work, job hunting, and research; my hope was that there would be a passel of folks ready to roll on one of the key issues for the 99%, food.  Having completely forgotten about the Austerity March scheduled for the same day, and that the Occupy Boston General Assembly was scheduled for that evening my hopeful passel was winnowed down to a handful.

Even with such a small group, the dedication of those participating in the conversation was fierce. Pleasantly surprised and taken aback by the dynamic personality of LEAH Advocacy founder Ellen Fine; as she described her vision for Monday's action and her motivation for becoming an activist some thirty years prior.  Her passion for the subject energized me along with the massive espresso laden coffee I'd been pulling on.  The two hour meeting flew by, plans were made then remade, commitments made thought about and rehashed.

I can't speak for everyone, but I got the vibe that all of us knew that we'd gotten into this last minute. And that universally we'd cautioned ourselves and each other about expectation management.  Myself and Eden of FSU agreed to spearhead the majority of press and promotional coordination for the now week of events. Our modest goal of a protest on Monday with Occupy Monsanto and NOFA among others, had grown almost exponentially with at least one event each day, and several public events and crash opportunities. Few of which were taken advantage of or well attended by the younger set of the activist community.

I'd never made the connection between promoting a local show and assisting in media for an activist coalition, and to borrow the phrase from a previous post "it's largely apples to apples of a different flavor."  What I was about to learn over the next seven days, will I'm sure become a mantra for future actions. "Be tolerant, manage expectations, set boundaries, manage time, maintain boundaries, eat, reassert boundaries, be tolerant, manage expectations, set boundaries,..."

Photo from 6/19/2012 statehouse protest
Photo from 6/19/2012 statehouse protest
Somehow by a miracle of staffing on the part of the Universe we'd managed to land two folks on the inside, which gave us a peek at the catering schedule, AND a look at what would be going on behind closed doors.  Finding out that Hank Paulson would be giving the Keynote Address at Tuesday's luncheon with Mike Reuben called "Conversations with a Former Secretary of the Treasury".  One has to wonder just how much skrilla the 700 million dollar man pulled down from that deal. Or how much was made from the private reception at the statehouse brought to you by the likes of; Abbot, Alkermes, Baxter, and Vertex.  An even better question being, where does that money go and to whom?

Sunday dawned at the crack of noon after 11.5 or so winks of sleep. The early part of my waking hours spent optimizing the press release post for Monday's action in coordination with Occupy Monsanto, NOFA Mass, Occupy Boston, Occupy New Hampshire, and The LEAH Collective at the BCEC.  Making my way to Copley to attend a lecture by Giorgio Tsoukalos, I stopped by the Occupy Boston SAA to talk shop with organizers and get a feel for where we stood on our timeline for "gettin' shit done".  The folks from Occupy Boston that had committed their time to making the large canvas signs seen throughout the week attracted onlookers and even a few helpful children, who wanted to get in on the fun of coloring in a gigantic ear of genetically modified corn, and an idyllic scene of mother earth and her bounty.  With Monday coming up fast and a sold out Ancient Aliens event, I wound up back in front of Trinity Church talking with occupiers and nailing down details for the next day's action.

A frantic printing session, a trip to Staples and more paper-cuts than I'd care to discuss saw me groggily greeting the morning sun on Monday. 36 hours of wakefulness as a "functioning" insomniac left me hoping I'd hit a "manic" wave before arriving at the BCEC. As any experience pamphlet pusher knows, angry eyebrows do not start friendly conversations. Needless to say, my angry eyebrows won me a spot at the back of the class taking pictures and printing and folding even more brochures when the first pile ran out.

Organic farmers, beekeepers and members of NOFA/ NOFA Mass gathered at the BCEC to protest pesticides and unlabeled GMOs. 

John the Beekeeper and seasoned NOFA folks taunt the big wigs on their way into the convention.

Police presence went from two to thirteen when Occupy Monsanto showed up.
Plenty of opportunity to share ideas and learn from seasoned vets!

We wrapped the action at the BCEC with a picnic lunch under the watchful eye of the Boston Police Department and private security from the BIO event.  Members of the coalition decided that we'd make a stab at passing out pamphlets at Hynes Convention Center, where a Job Fair was being held as a part of the Convention. 

Since I was dressed in the unofficial "uniform" of the rarely seen AV technician, I thought I might have a shot at getting in and scoping out the job fair. Much to my chagrin, while I got into Hynes from the Prudential entrance just fine, I picked up a tail of two monitors within a minute or two.  And by the time I'd diverted to the facilities and gotten to the second floor, I was getting the hairy eyeball from security and event monitor alike.  Upon reaching the mezzanine while still unchallenged, I'd picked up a MCCA security tail and they were herding me back to the rear entrance.

I took the hint and beat feet back to the Huntington Ave. entrance of the prudential mall to lick my wounds and regroup with the couple of volunteers that came down to pass out info.  Truth be told if it the opportunity comes up again, I'd rather try to explain expired stolen goods to MAMLEO than try to break security at another MCCA event. I found out later that one of the activists that had joined us Monday morning at the BCEC had also attempted to get past security at the Hynes, failing that she managed to sneak in front of a Fox 25 news crew just as they went live on scene  Monday night.  We wound up touching base upon my most untriumphant return.  Discussing alternate prospects, settling on splitting up and re-grouping the next day at the Statehouse "Welcoming Party".

Private dinner brought to you by Baxter US, Vertex, Abbot, and Alkermes
Photo shamelessly stolen from @fara1's twitter feed
Tuesday flew by, the Welcoming Party turned into more of a meet and greet for protesters unrelated to Occupy Boston and Occupiers alike.  One notable got a last minute notice and reshuffled her schedule to come down and hold a sign for an hour, talking shop for a bit and sharing ideas about future actions.

protesting closed door deals with corporations MA Statehouse
Foreground: Ellen Fine LEAH Collective
I got a chance to have some face time with a diverse cross section of Boston's Occupy movement.  Folks from the Financial Accountability Working Group, Strategic Action Assembly, Free School University, Veterans For Peace to name a few.  All made their way to the Massachusetts Statehouse in during rush our to greet the two busloads of 11 people (total) that came over from the BCEC for the private dinner.

The ubiquitous presence of the Boston Police went from unobtrusive to downright annoying when one of the bicycle officers began circling our belongings and telling us that everything needed to be picked up. "You can't leave any of this on the ground, this can't be here..." One of the protesters asked if belongings could be at our feet rather than on our backs, his response was "That's fine, it just can't be here..."  At previous actions the jurisdictional nightmare that is the Statehouse / Common border has caused confusion.  It would appear to be a good-natured effort of inter-office coordination on the part of BPD, Parks and Recreation, Massachusetts State Police, and what is rumored to be the Department of Homeland Security.  Other departments had no problem backing off to watch what would happen to a group of happy go lucky protesters when hassled by an authority figure without the might of Occupy Boston or a strong Union presence to back them.

Former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson plotting your demise
"Release the hounds..."
That is, I suppose the risk that one takes, considering that SEIU was protesting Bio-Tech in Kendall at roughly the same time.  While the Bio-Tech cause is both immediate and worthy, it seemed appropriate to remind folks why Occupy Wall Street started in the first place.  If you're new, it's because ex-Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson engineered a deal to transfer 700 billion dollars in debt from private banking institutions onto tax-payers nation wide.

I was more surprised than disappointed with the lack of an Occupy presence, considering the nature of the protest. With internal debates raging on a number of subjects, I can see how the message got lost in the shuffle. That being said, a few regulars showed up, I'm thankful for every one that came down.  It was great to see some old faces, and to meet new folks passionate about educating the ignorant among us.  Discussing not only the banking collapse, but continuing themes of capitalism running roughshod.

Wednesday was punctuated with intervals of work and power naps to stave off insanity. Playing catch up on neglected internship work, fielding phone calls about that evenings event at Spontaneous [Celebrations] hosted Cyclovida (lifecycle).  I made my way through three miles of city streets walking from Downtown Crossing to the leading edge of the South West Corridor on the Tremont St. side of the tracks in JP.  Only to find myself foundering under the dual pressures of 97 degree heat and 35lbs of crap on my back.  I swore to myself in a silent ode to Scarlet O'Hara that "I [would] never be this hot again".

Ciclovida volunteers hold up their banner made for Thursday's March to the BCEC

Eden, and Taylor from Ciclovida wound up being in the area, they were on their way to pick Roxbury Safety Net founder and ACE - Environmental Justice community organizer Klare Allen.  After coming to my rescue, and a brief banjo interlude brought to us by Food Not Bombs volunteer Patrick, the meeting got underway. Ciclovida took the reigns, kicking off with brief introductions and a presentation from Klare on the BU-Bio Lab and her history of activism in communities of color, including the ten year Roxbury Bio Lab debate.  Klare told those of us gathered, that certain city officials would take every opportunity they had to discredit activists. Citing 30 years of experience meeting with law-makers and partisan press. As well as her observations during the first of the BU Bio lab hearings where herself and fellow Safety Net organizers were largely ignored by officials when asking questions or requesting meetings regarding the issue.

She reminded us that you can only ask so much of a community of concerned citizens, and that you have to be tolerant of each others differences, keeping in mind the big picture for long haul campaigns.  Reiterating several times over the course of her brief presentation the importance of expectation management from both volunteers and law-makers. She pointed out the importance of brain storming new ideas, and attacking situations on multiple fronts, "you can't just talk to the law-maker, or your neighbor, or activists, you have to talk to all of them. Use all of your resources."

These points were hammered home by her larger than life attitude, demanding presence and no-nonsense appeal. Believe you me when I say, I'll be looking to work with RSN, and ACE-EJ in the future, with folks like Klare kicking around I have hope that it's only a matter of time before they kick the shit out of this BIO lab proposal. The Ciclovida hosted event was educational in more ways than one, after Klare's introduction and presentation we got a chance to talk for a bit and see if I could help out at all.  She let me know about the BNN, and I expressed my excitement at the opportunity to get in touch with other organizers in the Roxbury Safety Net. 

"Agrofuels" was the name of the game shortly thereafter. We watched a short movie on the dangers of "green deserts" and the use of oil rich biological matter to manufacture these plant based fuels.  We spent the remainder of the evening discussing the message of the next day's action, as well as nailing down logistics and finalizing roles for each person that planned to show up at Dewey.

Owly Images
Photo shamelessly stolen from @fara1's twitter feed w/o permission or warning.
Speaking of Dewey, Thursday morning was a laugh a minute starting at 10:45AM when I arrived at the Square.  The first thing I saw was a bevy of bike cops surrounding a light pole, I scanned the park to see the equal or greater number of protesters. Only to rest my eyes on one, Free School University volunteer. I laughed out loud at the juxtaposition of an albeit fiery if physically diminutive woman, sitting not twenty feet from six burly bicycle officers, a uniformed police sergeant, and a couple of Boston's friendly neighborhood "federal agents".

As more protesters gathered, one of the bike cops took it upon himself to request that a homeless man remove his possessions from a bench a few feet from where he was sitting with a friend.  The Rose Kennedy Greenway, Dewey Square in particular is a 24 hour "free speech zone".  Which (in theory) makes it legal for folks to be there for pretty much any purpose as long as that purpose isn't counter to existing municipal or state laws. That being said, the federal, city, and state officers that were gathered at Dewey to witness our little event didn't say a word about the mini-eviction.

At least six and up to nine police officers gathered for the event at Dewey Square Thursday
Let's play "Spot the cop!" Look closely, there's at least four in this picture.

At least six and up to nine police officers gathered for the event at Dewey Square Thursday
aaaaand two more
One can only hope that the disproportionate and ridiculous response to our presence in the square will be a wake-up call for BPD and tax-payers alike.  Not that any tax-payer is likely to see the itemized bill listing the cost of (at final count) six bike cops, one sergeant, two motor cycle cops and two rumored federal agents to baby sit a final total of 18 protesters with a few flats of seedlings and a couple banners.  The same officer that had evicted the homeless gentleman, got pink in the face harassing folks unloading supplies for the event.  The shiny new "no stopping any time" signs that line the square promise a photo of your license plate and a ticket to anyone that pulls up for even a few seconds, much less the minutes long operation of placing buckets and pumpkin seedlings on the curb.

The next hour or so was spent laying out information from all of the coalition organizations and chatting with gathering protesters.  One very enthusiastic Occupy Boston volunteer led the crew in a resounding chant of "Hey hey ho ho GMO's have got to go!" Requesting a "name circle" and a reason or two for putting boots on the ground that day.  Following the usual painfully awkward icebreakers we unfurled banners and folks lined up on the street while myself and FSU posted up under a damp cotton scarf, and passed out information to curious onlookers.

Ciclovida volunteers hold up banner
Once the group reached critical mass, the folks from Ciclovida, a couple cats from Food Not Bombs, and lifelong food activists Caroline and Jen made their way down to the BCEC.  Papering the crowd heading out of the convention with info on GMO's and organic seed-share opportunities. Myself, Ellen and Eden still toasted from the previous three days of planning and activities stuck around Dewey handing out info to Farmer's Market customers, and networking with organic growers about future events.

Looking back on the past week I can't attach any specific emotion to my activities.  The week was punctuated by deep breaths and a muttered repeat of my new mantra "Be tolerant, manage expectations, set boundaries, manage time, maintain boundaries, eat, reassert boundaries, be tolerant, manage expectations, set boundaries,..." I can only hope that future actions will be as educational and fulfilling.

Updated: after coffee and cannabis.  The past week has been a whirlwind of reminders, reality checks and knee jerk reactions on my part and the part of fellows in the field.  If there's one thing I can take away from this bru ha ha it'd be the appreciation from and for folks that have been fighting these battles for decades. Thank you Ellen, Eden, Joan, Ciclovida, NOFA, Occupy Monsanto, Millions Against Monsanto, the bee keepers, organic farmers, Occupiers, and strangers on the street who were willing to share their experiences.  I am humbled by this experience, and I hope that I can keep this feeling with me, into future actions.

The Boston Metro asks "Where have all the protesters gone?" To which I respond, "I wouldn't blame them if they're waiting for you to stop spinning front page stories to the highest bidder and start reporting non-partisan news." But hey, I've never claimed to be a "protester".

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