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Tuesday, 17 January 2017 08:41

Why Monsanto Couldn't Jail Us: Reflections on a Trial by a Professional Protester

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2017.17.1 BF Talen(Photo: OccupyReno MediaCommittee)REVEREND BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

On Jan. 11th, in Des Moines, Iowa -- Reverend Billy Talen and his co-defendant Father Frank Cordaro were found innocent of the charge of Trespass, with possible $500 fine and 30 days in prison. In her decision, Judge Carol Coppola refused to accept the prosecution's motion to stop Talen and Cordaro from invoking the 1st Amendment in their defense. This is a reflection on the brief trial by Reverend Billy.                                   

"Your honor -- he's a professional protester!" the assistant District Attorney called out in horror. Wylie Stecklow my long-suffering pro bono lawyer standing next to me cast a wry side-long glance.

Why the demonization of protest?

Protesters supported by volunteer donations are not a new idea. We create national holidays for some of the prominent ones. Sometimes you just have to go out and ask for help! In the Church of Stop Shopping we have 200 people who give $2 each month. We call these friends "Holy Rollers."

The District Attorney's motion (in the link above) was filed for the Iowa judge to consider before our trial. It proposed that my co-defendant and I not be allowed to defend our actions by invoking the 1st Amendment, free speech or the Bill of Rights - on the grounds that we have protested many times in our past and are therefore free speech abusers. Professional protesters!

Norman Siegel, for many years the head of the New York ACLU, told us that in his experience this motion is without precedent. Retire a portion of the Constitution for a trial? Retro-actively suspend a defendant's 1st Amendment rights?

This inventive nonsense in our Iowa courtroom betrays the presence of Monsanto behind the scenes. Just a few weeks before our singing activists at the Church of Stop Shopping embarrassed Monsanto officials who were attending an EPA hearing. The regulators and their scientists were considering the carcinogenicity of Glyphosates. We rose from the gallery and belted out our hit single "Monsanto is the Devil."

Our guess is that Monsanto talked to the DA's office and suggested this customized constitutional amendment. I wonder if it mattered to them that the Monsanto/government argument blew up at the trial. The judge was not about to banish the Constitution from her court. She dismissed the charges in about two hours, which is very quick in court time. We didn't even select a jury.

Iowa state troopers arrested us at the site of a large party called The World Food Prize. -- local wags call it "Monsanto's Oscars" - which features big cash awards to advocates of genetically modified (GMO) farming. The events sponsors include not just Monsanto but also Syngenta, Bayer, Dupont, Cargill… This is a summit of industrial agriculture's 1%. And the party takes place in the Iowa State Capitol Building. The rent the entire gold-domed seat of civic power. Can we say corruption?

The state troopers that stood between our group, "Occupy the World Food Prize," and the object of our protest, were acting like bouncers at a nightclub in New York, checking ID's and listening to speeches by party-goers like: "But officer! My friend has my ticket and she's inside!" They didn't ask us for our tickets. They arrested us on sight, on a public sidewalk.

Our new national official emotion is fear, and so protesters are Evil. The Church of Stop Shopping sings and preaches, makes rituals and media. We are always peaceful. But recently we have been accused of "Obstruction", "Trespassing", and even "Riot." We symbolize the part of life that makes change. We are devotees of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock.

In the evolution of life, adaptation is made possible by the intrusion of a new element, a free radical coming in on the wind and the waves -- into the host organism. Such a thing freaks Monsanto, which is a group of people who dislike nature. They call evolutionarily successful plants that are not their cash crop "Super Weeds." I guess they were trying to spray us in the court room.

We had measured the distance to the front door of the capitol from the point of arrest: 350 feet. With no disrespect intended, we would urge the Iowa police to look again at those 5 freedoms: Worship, Speech, Press, Peaceable Assembly and Redress of Grievances. The 1st Amendment, born in 1791, is a very useful safety manual for Trump World.

We left the courtroom knowing that there is much to be done.   We are given the responsibility for this double teaching. Free speech and organic farming have common ground. They are both nature. They are wild and alive. The words and the seeds give so much, if we let them grow freely.