Is it possible for the uber-rich, the 1%, to “do good” with their money? Of course. But that's not what happened when they began bankrolling the anti-biotech movement in Hawaii.
They could have used their immense wealth to support any number of positive initiatives — environmental and health studies on the impacts of seed companies, community dialogues on concerns surrounding biotech, organic ag parks, farmer training, small farm start-up loans.
Instead, they chose to wage war, financing groups that furnished a manifesto, targeted an enemy and served up charismatic personalities eager to vilify, dehumanize and promote “group think.”
It started with the January 2013 statewide Hawaii SEED tour, featuring Andrew Kimbrell, Makana, Walter Ritte and Vandana Shiva. She was the one who characterized the seed companies — and by extension, all their employees — as pure evil and issued a decisive call to action: expel them from your Islands.
And it's ending, as expected, in the courtroom, with no actual or concrete gains yet realized, and the very real possibility that none ever will be.
Like all wars, it has produced a battlefield strewn with casualties, survivors suffering from PTSD, a highly polarized population and deep, lingering hatreds and mistrust. Like all wars, it was carried out by commoners, many of them passionate, highly idealistic and young. And like all wars, it was orchestrated by powerful players who use others to implement their political agendas while they remain safe, standing in the shadows.
Throughout the drama driving Kauai's Bill 2491 and Hawaii Island's Bill 113, I kept hearing people say, it didn't have to be like this. We didn't have to launch a war before we gathered any evidence of wrong-doing, sat down to talk with the alleged perpetrators. We didn't have to deeply shame local people who are working in agriculture by accusing them of poisoning the aina, sickening their neighbors. We didn't have to indulge the holier than thou sanctimony that arises when one group is labeled totally wrong, even evil, by another group that presents itself as pure, pono, righteous.
But some folks wanted war, and Councilman Gary Hooser, with his million little fists, his outreach to the Center for Food Safety, was most certainly one of them. And now we're discovering, through the identification of wealthy mainland funders, some of the others.
I'm bringing this up not to bruise or bash, but in hopes it will get people in our community to start thinking, questioning and healing, rather than marching in ideological lockstep, engaging in the “group think” of totalitarianism that promises only more ugliness and pain.
Is it right for offshore money to assume such a compelling role in shaping Island politics, without ever being identified? Is it right for anti-GMO crusaders like Nancy Redfeather, Walter Ritte, Jeri Di Pietro, Nomi Carmona and others to function as lobbyists, without ever registering as such with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, or disclosing their sources of funding?
And lest you question whether they have played that role, just check out this clip of Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety, who congratulates Nancy for being an "incredibly effective lobbyist in the Legislature. She has done amazing, amazing effective things on that.”
Is it proper for groups like Hawaii SEED — and the mainland foundations that support the anti-biotech movement — to engage in overt political activism, while still maintaining the tax protections of a 501-c-3? Should all the political activities of big money be scrutinized equally, or only the right-wing Koch Brothers?
Is it appropriate to demand total transparency from biotech and its well-funded pool of lobbyists, lawyers and PR flacks, when Hawaii SEED hasn't even filed a 990 return since 2011? And that was submitted two years late. Or that unofficial groups like Ohana O Kauai, SHAKA, Babes for Biotech and all the others should be collecting money for political activities without ever disclosing any of their funding sources, revealing how much they brought in, or how it was spent?
In other words, it is OK to operate under double standards that allow the full truth of this situation, any situation, to be obscured?
Is it acceptable to wage war by proxy? Is that what this community really wants?