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BioDevastation 2000

By Naveen Sunkavally


About 3,000 activists packed Copley Square on Sunday afternoon and marched to the Hynes Convention Center to protest a prominent, week-long biotechnology conference being held there.

The protest, the culmination of a weekend counter-conference called Biodevastation 2000, sought to raise awareness of the dangers of genetic engineering, corporate control, and the lack of government regulation and oversight.

Anton F. Van Der Ven, an MIT graduate student in Material Sciences and Engineering who was at the protest, echoed the sentiments of many of the protesters at the rally. “The biotech and agrochemical industries are trying to control the food supply and patent seeds that can withstand herbicide,” he said. “The control is central to corporations, and there is no public debate, and there are no regulatory agencies. It’s totally irreversible.”

Police at the scene were generally pleased with the outcome of the protest. “Nothing’s jumping. The big one is the IMF protest on April 16,” said Officer James Cowart of the Boston Police Department, referring to the conference of the International Monetary Fund in Washington.

Speakers and sideshows

Protesters began to assemble at Copley Square around 12:00 p.m. Activists spoke from then until 3:30 p.m., focusing on such topics as stricter regulation, an end to the commercialization of genetically engineered products, and the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle.

“The [Food and Drug Administration] is in the backpocket of corporations,” said Jonathan from Maine, who did wish to be identified by his last name. “There’s no testing. Corporations are tampering with the food supply.” He became involved in the protest through his participation in the Green Party.

“Our ecosystem is fragile,” said David Whitesell, a lifelong activist, who carried a sign reading “No Patents on Life.” He fears that evolution now is happening over the course of decades.

Speakers would pause every fifteen minutes to allow the presentation of sideshows caricaturing corporate control of genetically modified food. A popular target of the sideshows was Monsanto Company, which produces bioengineered foods and is notorious among the activist community for its practices.

In one sideshow, for instance, contestants play in the “Splice is Right.” The host, meant to personify the FDA, and a contestant, “Joe Monsanto,” collaborate to rig the show and emerge victorious over an Indian organic farmer named Rajiva and Bessie the cow.

In another sideshow, Terminator Tech and Biodiversity U face off in a basketball tournament. Terminator Tech scores all the points at first because of the obvious advantage that their stilts give them, but the power of the people eventually prevails and Biodiversity U wins the game.

In addition to the sideshows and speakers, another attraction at the rally was an African-style dance in which protesters danced to the sounds of various drums and improvised percussion instruments.

The march to Hynes

At around 3:30 p.m., protesters made their move to the Hynes Convention Center. A bus and a man playing Uncle Sam on very tall stilts led the procession. Popular rally cries included: “What do we want? Safe Food. When do we want it? Now” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, biotech has got to fall.”

Once at the convention center, protesters began to yell at participants in the biotechnology conference, who were looking down through windows above. On one occasion, the crowd rallied around “Shame on you,” led by a protester who was standing on top of the bus with a microphone.

Over time, however, the rally began to lose its focus as some activists started rallying for the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal Around 5 p.m., the protesters began to disperse quietly.