I was standing there on the bluff, watching big waves breaking on a glassy gray sea, and beyond that, whales breaching, sky-hopping, tail-slapping, spouting, when it came to me, a line from “Apocalypse Now” that so perfectly sums up the GMO/pesticide fervor: “Oh man, the bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam you needed wings to stay above it.”
The issue was intruding into my thoughts in that spectacuar setting because I'd just gotten off the phone with a friend who felt physically ill — dispirited, I diagnosed — after spending much of the previous day and night in public meetings on the studies into what made kids and teachers sick at Waimea Canyon School.
It wasn't the topic of the meetings, but the tenor, the tone, that got him so down. He's not the first person to confide that he's depressed, dismayed, by the growing polarization, the posturing and grandstanding on all sides, the ideological rigidity, the violent terminology that now frames so much of the rhetoric on this topic.
As another friend, an activist, asked recently, “Who decided that we were 'at war' with the seed companies? Who declared the Westside 'a battleground'?”
Like most wars, this one is being driven by distinctly different ideologies, from those who truly believe these crops will feed the world to those who truly believe these crops will destroy it. We see the same ideological gap in regard to pesticides. Which is perfectly OK. It's alright to have widely disparate views. But unless you're willing to kill everyone who thinks differently, you have to figure out a way to talk, to find some common ground, to work out some solutions.
Because as this legislative session made clear, the state is not going to label GMOs or even launch a study into how to implement a pesticide registry, much less kick out the seed companies.
That is the current political reality in this state, a reality that is no less real just because some folks refuse to accept it. Which is why all that fury and flash at the Lege came to predictable naught, consuming energy that could have been spent on more fruitful actions. Like actually researching how other states manage pesticide registries, so a thoughtful bill could be drafted. The one that was introduced this year was a joke, a piece of crap like the now defeated labeling bill, yet people did the all out for both, much as America battled for Hamburger Hill.
The enthusiasm of the marchers could have been parlayed into voter registration drives, petition drives supporting specific actions that our Council has the authority to implement, measures that could have some immediate positive effect, like ending the use of pesticides on county parks and roadways, or supporting farmers who want to pursue a different type of agriculture. Instead, it's being allowed to dissipate into the inevitable disappointment and frustration that will follow being falsely led to believe they could get that stupid labeling bill passed, and that it would actually mean something if they did.
And the Council, rather than waiting six years for the results of a study that any thinking person knew would never implicate pesticides in the Waimea School sicknesses, could have been moving all this time to adopt some meaningful legislation to better protect keiki, like establishing protective buffers between fields and campuses.
Heck, they could have followed up on the study when they didn't get an initial report within the six months required under the contract, instead of waiting five years to whine, as Councilman Tim Bynum did at Wednesday's meeting, “I'm not trusting anymore. I'm verifying.”
Only now, Tim?
We all need to start questioning, verifying, because truth, as they say, is the first casualty of war, and it's under fire from all sides. On the one hand, we've Syngenta publishing a Civil Beat commentary proclaiming its Atrazine is all good, and Rep.Jimmy Tokioka lying in a failed bid to sideline a committee vote on the labeling bill. On the other, we've got activists making unsubstantiated claims about drinking water contamination and clamoring against poisons while spray painting anti-GMO graffiti around the island.
Yes, public awareness of and interest in this issue is steadily growing, which means folks are receptive to education and information. So let's make it accurate and meaningful. Yes, people are genuinely concerned about pesticides and poisons, which means their fears are easily aroused. So let's address those fears, not prey upon them.
Because most folks, including me, have no stomach for war, especially when it's being waged in their backyard, with the usual unintended fallout and casualties. If it continues, or escalates, as wars tend to do, the die-hards on either side will fortify their positions, and the regular folks will flee, distancing themselves from the conflict. And we'll drift even further from a civil society, the rule of law, community-based solutions.
So can we please take a deep breath, pause for just a moment, and ratchet back the rhetoric a little? It's not helpful to characterize Dept. of Ag personnel as “criminals,” or lecture field workers on how they should “examine their souls” if they've taken a $10/hour job with the seed companies. Nor is it helpful to claim that a pesticide is safe when it's registered for restricted use precisely because it is hazardous, or make like it's all up to the feds, and there's nothing that can be done to regulate seed companies and their associated pesticide use on the local level.
Somehow we need to bridge the gap between a comment made by Councilman Ross Kagawa — “We've gotta have faith these people do care about our lives” — and the sentiment expressed to Jimmy Tokioka by a disgruntled activist, “We have so little faith in you.”
Because we're all on this little island, this little planet, together. And GMOs/pesticides are just one of many critical issues before us.
As Rep. Jessica Wooley, chair of the House agriculture committee noted, “There are differing visions of how we're going to feed the world and how we're going to feed this state. And at the moment we have to learn better how to co-exist with different visions. We don't know where we're going. We're on the precipice of the future and it's up to us to decide. Everybody does have to be at the table.”
So pull up a chair and let's work on this. But please, leave your weapons at the door. To borrow the lyrics of Eddie Grant:
Everybody seem to be inviting me to a war party, me no wanna go. Heard about the last one so thanks but no thanks....Do you wanna go? Say no...."