Something monumental happened on Molokai last week. The people didn't get played.
Ashley Lukens, director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, brought her anti-GMO/anti-ag/anti-pesticide dog and pony show to Kaunakakai. And frankly, she got her ass whooped, metaphorically speaking.
Facing a crowd that included not her usual true believers, but folks who actually work in the seed fields, Lukens was peppered with questions she wouldn't answer and criticisms she couldn't deflect until she turned tail and ran.
“I'm gonna shut it down here because I don't see it going in a good direction,” she told a crowd that began calling out, “why won't you take all the questions?” and “why didn't you bring someone from the health department?” and “what kind of doctor are you?”
When Ashley replied she had a doctorate in political science, one man replied, “Yeah and you want to spin this politically, for your own agenda.”
Robert Stevenson, president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce, asked Ashley, who was there pimping the biased CFS “Pesticides in Paradise” report, why she was using cherry-picked data “that promotes the entrepreneurial agenda of the conflict industry.”
Visibly shaken in the face of pushback far more polite than what her own movement regularly dishes out, Ashley folded and beat a quick retreat.
But from the safety of her Honolulu office, Ashley employed a twist-and-shout tactic favored by the anti-GMO movement. In a blog post and mass email, she turned it all around and upside down, portraying herself as the victim of corporate bullying, staring “Goliath in the face, in all his shifting forms.”
Uh, no, Ashley. Them's just regular folk. Locals. Many of them kanaka. And they were calling you on your shibai.
Like why you claimed that pesticide data was only available for Kauai, when Monsanto has been disclosing its pesticide use in Maui County since 2012. Like why you said that school kids were getting sick from agricultural pesticides, when the Department of Agriculture published a report showing not one school evacuation was caused by seed company pesticide exposure. And why you failed to include that report in the Molokai presentation when people had already called you on it on Kauai.
As I read her blog post, I was reminded of the mindset that gave birth to manifest destiny and the white man's burden. It's still alive and well, resurrected in Hawaii by Ashley Lukens and the Center for Food Safety. Because when she writes stuff like:
Although seemingly there to intimidate me and oppose our message, these 100+ people are the most at risk from the growing GE Seed industry in our state. Communicating the very real risks posed by this industry to the workers and their families, implicating their employers in these dangerous practices, is difficult... but necessary.
What she's really saying is:
They're too stupid to understand this for themselves. We know better than they how these crops are grown, what kind of exposure occurs, what dangers they face. They should listen to us, even if they don't want to. Because we know best.
Ashley then got into how 20 or so workers “leaned in, eyes wide, chin on hand” supposedly “absorbing” her message.
Uh, did you ever think they were incredulous that you, a city girl with zero background in ag, had the nerve to come to their island and lecture them about their livelihood?
She goes on to say:
Many were elders who have seen what large agricultural companies can do to communities.
Oh, yeah, they know what ag can do to a community – and what happens to a community when it folds up and disappears. Mass unemployment. Welfare. Hungry kids. Looking for work on Maui. Depression.
Ashley continued, cluelessly:
I wondered, as I saw the executives shift uncomfortably in their seats, if they regretted inviting their workers. Did they realize that seeds were planted? That we will continue to water these seeds and that this is how transformation grows?
No, Ashley, you plant propaganda. They're the ones who plant seeds, and believe me, they know the difference.
Ironically, Ashley ended her blog post by saying:
But standing up and speaking out is important.
This is rich, coming from the leader of a movement that has worked relentlessly to shut people down, using ridicule, cyber bullying, personal harassment and other ugly tactics to silence those who have opposing views. And it's doubly rich considering that Ashley refused to take any questions at all when she later spoke on Maui.
As I watched the video of the Molokai meeting, I thought back to January 2013, when Walter Ritte appeared on stage alongside Vandana Shiva. They were exhorting Kauai folks to give the seed companies the boot. "Why don't they start on Molokai, Walter's own island?" I wondered at the time.
Now I know. Folks there aren't so easily played.