Biotech Protests Begin with a Bang

by Casey Mills on June 7, 2004

Umbrella organization Reclaim the Commons kicked off four days of protest yesterday with a march through downtown San Francisco that culminated in a goods and services giveaway held in Union Square. The march, held to protest the practices of the biotechnology companies whose representatives are gathered here this week for a conference, began as a sprawling affair. Approximately 80 protesters started at SBC Park and quickly spread across Third St., stopping three lanes of traffic. Within a few blocks, however, approximately 20 policemen on motorcycles arrived. Along with more policemen on foot who joined them soon after, they slowly siphoned protesters off the street, and by Market St. had contained the entire march to the sidewalk. ##M;[more]##

Protesters, many dressed in costumes ranging from butterflies to tomatoes, chanted and handed out flyers to passer-bys detailing the dangers of genetically engineered foods. Some carried Palestinian flags in solidarity with a simultaneous pro-Palestine rally being held at SBC Park. The rally, organized by International ANSWER, was held to protest the Giants’ promotional day “Israel in the Ballpark.”

Reclaim the Commons volunteer Carlotta Exotica said the march’s main purpose was to draw attention to the dangers of using new technology not properly researched and understood.
“This is not anti-technology, this is not Luddite,” she said. “When new technology is not properly vetted, it can be incredibly dangerous. Look at nuclear waste, for example.” The march provoked mixed reactions among those observing it, ranging from confusion to support. “It’s kind of weird,” said Albert Rodriguez. “I came here from Sacramento to go shopping, and I don’t understand what this is all about.”

San Francisco resident Gil Silberman, despite also being unsure of the march’s purpose, said, “This is why I like living in San Francisco. I admire their spirit for getting out and doing something they believe in.” Marchers crossed paths with several biotech businessmen when they passed by the Marriott hotel on Mission St., where many of the conference attendees are staying.
“It’s normal, it’s democratic,” said Didier Legros, a biotech businessman from Brussels, of the protests. However, “they are managed by people who don’t know anything about biotechnology,” he said, citing what he considers the complete safety of most recent biotechnological innovations.
Upon arriving at Union Square, protesters were greeted by live music and a slew of free items spread out across the square. The event, called a “Really, Really Free Market” by organizers, offered up everything from math textbooks to massages, and from clothing to produce, all free for the taking.

“I think this is awesome,” said Reclaim the Commons volunteer Jessica Kellett. “A lot of tourists and shoppers are seeing a clear alternative to consumerism and the capitalist system.”
Kellett views many biotechnology corporations as attempting to “patent indigenous knowledge, life, and people’s own resources.” To Kellett, the event represented an attempt to encourage the possibility of creating local exchange systems that would free many from dependence on the capitalist system that she claims biotechnology companies like Monsanto are trying to foster.

While attendees not involved with Reclaim the Commons may or may not have left the event with new ideas about alternative economic systems, many did seem to enjoy it.

“It’s wonderful,” said San Francisco resident Laleh Behbehanian. “Nothing is free in this world, but here people are giving away plants – and to have this free market in a place like the middle of Union’s beautiful.”

Reclaim the Commons will continue their scheduled protests today with a rally at the Federal Building to protest brutality in U.S. prisons, both in California and Iraq. Their main protest will be held Tuesday, when they plan on attempting to shut down the biotechnology conference being held at Moscone Center.

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