Bullshit! is about Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva. It takes its title from the “Bullshit Award” she received from a pro-Monsanto lobby group in 2004. Despite the intended insult (they sent the cow dung through the mail), Vendana was thrilled. Cow dung is revered in rural India, where it’s used as fuel and mixed with mud to construct water tight walls and flooring.
The film traces how Vendana abandoned nuclear physics in 1985 to start the Novdanya Institute, dedicated to reclaiming native plants and seeds as a commons for people to enjoy collectively – instead of a private commodity to increase the profits of multinational seed companies like Monsanto.
Novdanya runs a seed bank called The School of Nine Seeds. Its primary purpose is to preserve rare and heritage seeds that have been large replaced by a handful of hybrid monoculture crops. With growing water scarcity, Novdanya places special emphasis on drought resistant millets with a high protein content.
Another high priority for Vendana is her battle against Monsanto’s campaign to flood India, an early target starting in the late nineties, with GMO crops. Many Indian farmers have bankrupted themselves purchasing GMO seeds, particularly Roundup-ready varieties. When the high yields they were promised failed to eventuate, thousands committed suicide.*
Bullshit! also profiles Vendana’s role in the antiglobalization movement, particularly the anti-WTO protest in Cancun Mexico in September 2003. The public suicide of Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae was instrumental in galvanizing opposition from third world farmers against WTO provisions enabling the US to destroy local markets by dumping cheap agricultural products in third world countries.
In 2000 Vendana collaborated with Greenpeace to force the EU to revoke a patent they had granted Monsanto on the neem tree and an ancient variety of Indian wheat.
The film ends by highlighting Shiva’s involvement, along with other high profile antiglobalization activists (including Canadian water activist Maude Barlow and French farmer Jose Bove) in a 640-day sit down strike to shut down a Coca Cola bottling plant that was illegal depleting a fresh water aquifer.
*According to New Dehli TV, close to 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995.
** The final breakdown of the so-called “Doha Round” of WTO negotiations in 2008 would eventually lead the US to promote the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and Transatlantic Trade and Partnership Initiative (TTPI) in its place.
2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, the week of protests in November-December 1999 that shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) Third Ministerial Round. Also known as the Doha Round, the intention of these negotiations was to significantly expand the power of multinational corporations to challenge democratically enacted labor, environmental and health and safety laws.
Opening ceremonies had to be canceled on November 30, when seventy to one hundred thousand global protestors stormed downtown Seattle and hundreds of activists chained themselves to cement pipes to block delegates’ access to the Paramount Theater. The police riot which ensued was our first encounter with the police militarization that would characterize the new millennium. Rather than simply arresting them, Seattle police beat, tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, journalists and passersby alike.*
Organizing Began in January 1999
I still lived in Seattle in 1999 and participated in the local organizing. We began in January 1999 when Mike Dolan, Public Citizen’s national field organizer, called the first planning meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple. Dolan continued to visit Seattle for monthly meetings, as well as coordinating organizing efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and other major US cities.
The biggest challenge in organizing the anti-WTO protest was that hardly any Americans had heard of the WTO in 1999, much less recognized the immense power Clinton was handing to private corporations with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the treaty that created the WTO in 1994.
With 100,000 activists descending on Seattle, it became necessary to set up a home stay network to provide them with accommodation. I hosted seven activists in my home, two each from Los Angeles and Alaska, and three from the Mendocino County Rainforest Action Network.
The IFG Teach-In
The week started Friday night November 26, when 3,000+ of us packed into Seattle’s Symphony Hall for a two day teach-in organized by the International Forum on Globalization. World famous anti-globalization activists (including Indian anti-GMO activist Vendana Shiva, Malaysian economist and journalist Martin Khor, Canadian water activist Maude Barlow, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, French farmer activist Jose Bove, Ghanaian farmer activist Tete Hormeku, anti-sweatshop organizer Kevin Danaher and Owens Wiwa, brother of executed Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa) each gave twenty minute presentations, followed by questions and small group discussion at the Seattle Art Museum across the street.
Maria Galaradin recorded all the presentations and has many of them archived at TUC Radio
On November 27-29, there were a series of small non-confrontational protest actions organized by specific interest groups. On November 28, I participated in a protest march to the Cargill grain elevator at the port to protest the corporate takeover of global food production by large companies such as Cargill and Monsanto. It was led by representatives of the Zapatistas, Via Campesino and the US National Family Farm Coalition.
Protest organizers had scheduled the main protest, involving fifty thousands global trade unionists and tens of thousands of farm and environmental activists for November 30, the day WTO negotiations were meant to start. We had planned three days of workshops and small localized protests for December 1-3.
Mayor Paul Schell Declares Martial Law
All this changed when Mayor Paul Schell declared martial law and made it illegal to carry anti-WTO signs, wear anti-WTO buttons, chant anti-WTO slogans or carry anti-WTO leaflets into downtown Seattle. Angered by the unprovoked police violence and suspension of our first amendment rights, organizers cancelled all previously scheduled events. Instead we held daily spontaneously organized marches into downtown Seattle – in direct defiance of Schell’s suspension of the Constitution.
Both of the videos below were produced in 2000. The first, Trade Off, by documentary filmmaker Shaya Mercer, focuses mainly on Dolan, his organizing strategy and the wide range of international organizers and groups who helped make the protest possible.
The second video This is What Democracy Looks like was produced by Seattle Independent Media Center, which would spawn the birth of the global IndyMedia network. This film focuses more on the militarized police violence against peaceful protestors and the role of the week long protests in convincing third world WTO delegates to reject the draconian demands of the US and its first world allies.
Obama Resorts to Secret Treaties
Despite numerous attempts by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Doha Round of negotiations was never revived – thanks to the staunch stance of third world delegates.
Obama’s solution has been to try to introduce the same draconian corporate protections through two secret treaties, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations for both treaties are being held in total secret. Although 600 corporations have been allowed to see (and write) the both of them, members of Congress and national parliaments are forbidden to see either treaty until they’re signed. Several sections of the TPPA draft have been leaked by Wikileaks. See New Zealand Kicks Off Global Protest Against TPPA
Obama is lobbying for fast track authority on TPPA. Under fast track, the Senate would be forced to vote the treaty up or down without debating its provisions. Congressional Democrats defeated Obama’s efforts to win fast track on TPPA earlier this year. Recently, however, the President expressed confidence a new pro-business Republican Congress will grant him this authority in 2015.
*Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper resigned one week after the WTO protests. He subsequently apologized, in 2009, for excessive and inappropriate use of force by Seattle police. In 2007, a federal jury ruled the city of Seattle was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their constitutional rights. As a result the city awarded a $1 million settlement to the 600+ activists arrested during the 1999 protests.
**The Zapatistas are a Mexican international liberation army founded in 1994 in reaction to the North American Free Trade Act (1994). They control several autonomous areas in rural Chiapas.
***Via Campesina is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities.
Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water
by Maude Barlow
The New Press (2007)
Although it receives less public attention, fresh water scarcity is far more urgent and deadly than climate change. With no choice but to drink contaminated water, millions of children under five are dying from infectious diarrhea. Growing water scarcity is also the major driver of illegal immigration. In Mexico alone, nearly 600 farmers a day abandon their land when their wells dry up.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of global sickness and disease is caused by contaminated water. In the global south, where only the rich can afford clean water, the poor die of hepatitis, cholera, polio, botulism, salmonella, e coli, campylobacter, viral gastroenteritis and other infectious illnesses transmitted by human feces. In the global north we die at unprecedented rates of cancer and autoimmune disease from drinking water contaminated with endocrine disrupting herbicides and pesticides, industrial toxins, heavy metals, drugs and nanoparticles.
The Cause of Freshwater Scarcity
Barlow identifies seven major factors contributing to the rapid depletion of clean drinking water:
1. Total failure to regulate the massive increase in toxic runoff (animal waste, herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics) from factory farms and industrial sites.
2. Unregulated corporate mining of fossil water from aquifers that are too deep to be replenished by rainwater. Corporations siphon off millions of gallons a day at zero or minimal charge to mass irrigate deserts, manufacture cars and computers, mass produce bottled water* and extract oil from tar sands and oil and gas from shale (aka fracking).
3. Reduced rainfall due to destruction of water retaining landscapes from rapid and haphazard urbanization. Rain that falls on pavement runs off (and ends up in the sea), rather than being absorbed and evaporated.
4. Rapid glacial melting (due to climate change) of glaciers in the Himalayas, Alps and Andes. The Himalayan glaciers are the primary source of water for nearly half of humanity (India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh and Cambodia).
5. Loss of water from the “virtual water” trade, thanks to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank policies that force poor countries to sacrifice their scarce freshwater by growing and exporting water intensive crops (eg avocados, citrus, wheat, coffee, cut flowers and biofuel).
6. Ill-conceived technological fixes, such as mega-dams, water diversion and desalinization that reduce, rather than increase, access to clean water. Desalinization is the most destructive, owing to the massive of toxic waste (from chemicals used to clean reverse osmosis filters) discharged to the ocean.
7. Water privatization by powerful multinational corporations. Most of the world’s freshwater is controlled by the French Companies Suez and Veola and the British/German company RWE/Thames.
The Global Water Cartel
During the late 19th and early 20th century, Europe (with the exception of France, where municipal water service has been privately run since the late 1800s), North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan adopted universal public water and sanitation services in all major metropolitan areas. This never happened in the global south, where cities only provided water service to the wealthy elite. This made it easy for neoliberal institutions like the IMF to force water privatization schemes on countries in the global south with debt problems.
Barlow slams the IMF and World Banking for forcing water privatization schmes on South America, Africa and Asia as a condition of development loans. She’s especially critical of former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan for supporting these policies, in return for major donations Suez and Veola made to UNESCO.
Over the last few decades, Suez, Veola, RWE/Thames and a few smaller corporate players have been targeting cash-strapped US cities with their water privatization schemes. Bankrupt cities like Detroit are being forced to sell their public water systems as a source of revenue.
Barlow devotes the last third of her book to the “water warriors” around the world who are fighting for clean drinking water to be recognized as a basic human right. Among other reforms, there must be pressure on government to end the virtual water trade by promoting local sustainable farming, to ban private water companies from developing countries, to strictly enforce laws against surface and ground water contamination, to charge corporations full value for the water they take for bottling plants, fracking, manufacturing and flood irrigation and to promote urban planning that accommodates the need for rainwater to be captured and returned to the earth.
* The big three global bottling companies are Nestle, Pepsico and Coca Cola, though Starbucks’s water bottling company Ethos Water is sneaking up on them with their phony campaign to “help children get clean water.”