Campus performance to lay law down on Monsanto

U.S. biotech firm Monsanto will be put on trial Saturday in a mock public hearing and performance art piece at the Lesar Law Building.

A People’s Preliminary Hearing on Monsanto organizer Sarah Lewison, an assistant professor in radio-television, said the point of the event is to act out a proceeding that could not happen in real life, and to address real issues.

“There’s a lot of conceptual art that tackles very sensitive problems,” she said.

The event will start at 11 a.m. in the courtroom of the law building and will take the form of a preliminary hearing, with those injured by Monsanto testifying about a number of topics, Lewison said.

The St. Louis-based agricultural corporation is a giant in the seed, herbicide and biotech industries. It has come under fire for its dominance of the seed industry and in 2009, it was investigated by the U.S. Justice Department for antitrust violations, according to a CBS News report. It has also been criticized for the environmental impact of its practices and was one of the subjects of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.”

Most of those presenting have actual experience with the company, including organic farmers and seed cleaners, she said, but the event is open to anyone wanting to represent those not recognized by the law, including undocumented workers and even animals.

While some of the presentations will be based on reality, Lewison said the entire event should be looked at as a performance, as it’s a proceeding that has no real legal basis, but could result in a useful dialogue.

“We’re doing something in the law that can’t be done, but sometimes that can create ideas that can be done,” she said.

One advantage of the mock hearing is that it will allow for many more grievances to be brought forward at once than any real one could, she said.

The group of people involved will also be diverse, she said, and the event is designed to bring people together from various walks of life, from farmers to lawyers, to discuss the issues.

Cade Bursell, associate professor of cinema and photography, will lead the group representing animals harmed by Monsanto. She said their performance will be most like political puppet theater and is meant to remind people of the interconnectedness of different organisms, including humans and animals.

Barb McKasson, chair of the Shawnee Group of the Sierra Club, said she will present on the effects of genetically modified organisms on the ecosystems of the Crab Orchard and Cypress Creek national wildlife refuges.

McKasson said she did considerable research to prepare her presentation, including reading scientific studies, field reports by the Fish and Wildlife Service and having discussions with the managers of the refuges.

She said her findings show Monsanto’s use of genetically modified crops has a detrimental effect on wildlife, whether through toxin-producing corn washing into nearby water sources or Roundup Ready crops allowing for ever-greater amounts of pesticide to be used.

McKasson said she’s long been concerned about the effects of Monsanto’s activities on the environment, but this will be the first artistic protest she’s been part of.

“The art part comes in because people don’t remember the dry facts,” she said. “We need to catch people’s attention.”

McKasson said the extensive research that implicates Monsanto does not come to the forefront of the public discourse, and she said she hopes this event will inspire more interest in the subject.

Participant Paula Bradshaw said the public is not aware of the dangers of Monsanto’s activities.

“Nobody knows what’s going on, or I can only hope so,” she said. “Because if people knew and weren’t doing anything, that would be even worse.”

While there’s a chance that most who attend have already formed their opinion of the corporation, Bradshaw said she doesn’t mind if she’ll be preaching to the choir.

“Well, the choir doesn’t know all of the words to the song,” she said.

She said she has learned a lot she didn’t previously know through her research and discussion with others involved in the project.

Bradshaw said she will present on foreign policy and the effect of agribusiness on the health of people in the United States and around the world, all in the eight minutes.

She said one topic she’ll broach will be that while Monsanto’s genetically modified crops may allow for greater food production, food distribution around the world is as unbalanced as it’s ever been, with more than enough calories being produced for everyone but starvation still rampant in some parts of the globe.

Art is as powerful and appropriate a place to engage these serious political issues as any, she said.

“Sometimes the only place you see social issues being discussed is theatre,” she said.

The Carbondale performance will be the first of three, with two more in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago planned for the spring, Lewison said.

Each performance will involve a completely different cast, she said.

The project received sponsorship from German art group dOCUMENTA (13) as part of its AND AND AND project, she said. The project sought to expand the reach of the group’s art patronage to other parts of the globe, including the American Midwest, she said.

The performances will be filmed as well, and Lewison said she hopes to quickly put together a film over the summer that will spread the message to those unable to attend a performance at one of the three cities.

“It will be seen,” she said.


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