As far as epiphanies go, this isn’t up there with discovering you’re really a man trapped in a woman’s body or anything. It is about growing a pair, though. Either way, cahones are involved. Let me explain.
In the summer of 2011, a small group of people were sitting at a Santa Monica coffee house having a let’s-trash-Monsanto-over-a-macchiato meetup. The goal was to plan an anti-GMO rally in L.A. that would get some media coverage. From what I could gather, no one had activist chops savvy enough to plan a real rally—never mind changing the world’s food supply. Someone sort of knew how to get access to the Federal Building grounds in Westwood. Someone else knew a Brazilian band that might play for free. Another guy knew a raw food vendor who could set up a booth. I thought, if only I knew someone with a Port-O-Potty, I’d be useful right now.
Talk about from the ground up. Sheesh. How was this grassroots group gonna tell the world about Monsanto and its nefarious scheme for global seed domination? If the world is our target market, don’t we at least need a strategy brief from Ogilvy & Mather? And shouldn't a P.R. agency be on board? Sure, I’d been writing in the advertising trenches since the caveman invented the first wheel slogan, but did I actually know how to plan and deploy a world-changing campaign from down there? I may have been feeling all hopey and changey, but I was no community organizer or president of the Harvard Law Review. I was no behind-the-scenes Karl Rove mastermind or touchey-feeley Bill Clinton charmer. Maybe I could get a few people to bite with my mastery of words, but global deployment strategies were always left to the bigger fish full of mercury. After all my years in shark-infested waters, where was Jaws when I needed him? As I sat fixating on a guy eating a pecan square, wondering if he knew whether it had GMO corn syrup in it or not, I was feeling dubious about this motley crew’s activist potential—especially my own.
Yet somehow over the next several months, the Rally for the Right to Know got planned and our day had come. Several hundred people showed up with signs. We proudly held them high as we yelled at cars that drove by. Indian dancers performed traditional corn dances. Speakers from the world of health and politics enlightened and motivated us. While we never got that Port-O-Potty, we were pissed off together, comrades in arms with bladders on the brink. I left feeling like I was part of a secret society that knew something that the rest of the world hadn't been privy to yet. Or maybe people just didn’t want to know. Either way, we were determined to tell them.
In 2012, I manned a booth at my local farmers’ market on Sundays to collect signatures for a GMO labeling initiative that we were trying to get on the California ballot in November. But unlike Field of Dreams, I built a booth, and not that many came. So for my dream of GMO-free fields, I had to go to them. Yep, I had to be one of those people you want to swat like flies when they walk up to you with their clipboards and get all up in your face. At times I would have rather been in the dentist's chair, but like braces, I figured it would pay off one day with a shiny new food supply.
Even when I asserted myself, I stood there feeling mousy, envying the more effective evangelists who seemed to be endowed with thicker skin. I remembered a part-time telemarketing job I had in college when some guy I called reduced me to tears by yelling at me for interrupting his dinner. And another time in high school when I worked behind the movie theater concession counter, some jerk threw a hissy fit when I took too long getting his butter-flavored popcorn. It seemed that whenever someone yelled at me for doing a sales job I not only hated, but was lousy at, like Time Warner cable, my tears were On Demand. But with me, no subscription was necessary.
One Sunday at the farmers' market, I went up to my city councilman, who didn't know me from Adam.
"Bill," I said. "Will you sign this initiative to get GMO labeling on the November ballot?"
"I don’t know," he said. “That's a complicated issue."
"It's just a label," I said. "We're not banning anything. We have a right to know what’s in our food. California has a chance to lead the whole country. You’re a progressive. Don't you want to lead the fight for food justice?”
He stood there quietly for a few seconds.
"Oh all right," he said." You talked me into it."
It was a small victory, but by influencing my councilman, somehow I felt I had graduated to the next level. I was feeling more testicularly up to the task. So I took my newfound balls and spoke at a few sustainable living classes about GMOs and the ballot initiative as I tried to collect signatures and recruit volunteers. When I was asked to speak at a synagogue, I figured if Mitt Romney could turn the French into Mormons, the least I could do was get some members of my own tribe on board. It wasn’t like I was asking anyone to become a Christian or marry a goy. Would a little volunteering to help save the world's food supply kill them?