Last fall when our friends at Global Justice Ecology Project informed us that Asheville, NC had been chosen as the site of the international Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference we felt a little fire spark in our bellies. Was this group of scientists and industry hacks really arrogant enough to come to our home in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to threaten our native forests with monocrop plantations of genetically engineered trees? Did they really think they could come here without us spoiling the party? We took it as a challenge, and after an inspiring week of protests at the end of May, we are pretty sure these mad scientists won’t be meeting in Asheville again.
Our first victory came a month before the conference even started. Apparently fearing that protestors would follow them wherever they went, the conference organizers cancelled a group trip to a test plot of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees. While the counties in which these test plots are planted are publicly known, the exact location of these mutant trees is a closely guarded secret. It seems they didn’t want a mob of Earth First!ers to find out where they are!
Fast forward a month to May 27, the opening day of the conference. The notorious tree engineer Wout Boerjan was scheduled for a keynote speech titled “Engineering Trees for the Biorefinery.” Wout didn’t even get a chance to start speaking before two protesters, who managed to infiltrate the conference, started chanting anti GE tree slogans and making heart-felt speeches. The conference organizers were forced to clear the entire conference room of the 200+ participants as security chased the protestors around the ballroom. Wout’s talk was disrupted for at least 30 minutes, and the conference was forced to significantly increase security for the rest of the week. Not bad for a two person protest! Both protestors were arrested and charged with trespassing(please donate to their legal fund!).
Hours after the disruption we began our Teach-In on GE Trees and Extreme Energy where a large crowd got educated on the ecology of southern forests, the dangers of GE trees and biomass incinerators. The evening ended with an excellent panel discussion that tied the fight against GE trees to struggles against nuclear energy, fracking, mountaintop removal mining, and tar sands oil.
On May 28, the second day of the tree biotech conference, nearly 200 people, took to the streets of Asheville to protest GE trees chanting “ GE tree, tear them up, Arborgen, shut them down!” and “Hands off our forests.” After a brief rally, the loud and spirited crowd, in costume and with colorful puppets, marched to the Renaissance Hotel where the conference was taking place. For over 3 hours the crowd chanted, sang, and directly confronted conference attendees. According to our mole inside the conference, the protests could be heard inside the conference hall and the focus of the evening presentation spontaneously became how to deal with the public’s “negative perceptions” of GE trees! We apparently made an impact.
Two days later a rowdy crowd of demonstrators once again confronted the conference attendees as they were leaving for an exclusive dinner at the Biltmore Estate. Dressed as zombie trees, and raising an awful racket with pots and pans, this group had a much more confrontational tone than the previous protest. A banner reading “You spoil our forests, we’ll spoil your dinner” greeted the conference goers as they walked from the hotel to their charter buses. While the crowd yelled “Go home,” three protestors were arrested for attempting to block the buses from exiting from the hotel (did we mention, you should really donate to the legal fund!)
Altogether our week of resistance to genetically engineered trees was a huge success. While public opposition to GMO foods is on the rise, the GE tree industry has been largely flying under the radar, with next to no public protest. The week of resistance was a turning point in the fight against GE trees; from now on, wherever these mad scientists go, they will meet resistance.
We mobilized hundreds of people, representing an array of movements, from across the east coast in the largest protest yet against GE trees. We succeeded in disrupting conference events twice, getting them to cancel one of their own events, and making our presence known throughout the entire week. In addition we dominated the discourse on GE trees in the media. The GE tree industry was clearly caught off guard and failed miserably in defending themselves. The week of resistance was highly successful in raising awareness around the dangers of GE trees amongst the general public.
This is a crucial time to ramp up resistance to GE trees. There are currently no commercial plantings of GE trees in the US. While the USDA is considering approval of Arborgen’s GE eucalyptus trees, there is still time to scare off investors and put pressure on government agencies and corporate interests, and ultimately derail the GE tree industries plans to convert our native forests into mocultured Franketree plantations.
For the Earth, Katuah Earth First!
Donate!: 5 people were arrested for disrupting the Tree Biotech Conference and we need to raise money quick for their legal expenses! Please donate to the legal fund at:https://www.wepay.com/donations/tree-biotech-bail-fund