Dispatches from the March
In the Northeast regions of North America, fall is beginning its yearly cascade of colors. Trees are slowly segueing from verdant opulence to their more bright and bold outfits, their outstretched limbs gaining hues of yellow, orange, ochre, sienna. Towns are beginning harvest time as they watch the days wane and the air turns crisper and chillier. And through it all, a small band of travelers march, resolutely, with banners high and spirits to match.
Zoom in – close up. At the front of the march, two individuals in bright green shirts (with an extra arm and the entirely-too-adorable slogan “GMO SHIRTS ARE EASY TO SPOT. GMO FOODS AREN’T”) hold a banner that introduces the crew: RIGHT2KNOW MARCH. They pass, and along come the rest – a group that waxes and wanes, with people hopping on and off at different point … but never stops.
The group represents a surprising number of countries. There are Americans, of course, but also a handful of Germans, an Italian woman, and a fellow from Palestine. This shows to us – to me, one of the marchers – the global importance of this issue, the entirely pressing problem that we are marching against.
Don’t you know? You know. We are marching, marching, to label GMOs.
GMOs. Genetically modified organisms. Bioengineered creations that, whether we like it or not, are in about 80% of the food on supermarket shelves. That there are few laws regulating. That almost all other industrialized nations have either mandated labeling on or outright banned.
Lens shift; perspective re-adjust. Zoom in again, this time on a young female marcher, with a moose hat on and a microphone in her hand, leading the group in chants. A call-and-response chant is the most utilized, reminiscent (or so she thinks) of team sports played in youth. “WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!” (WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!) “…IF OUR FOOD IS GMO!” (IF OUR FOOD IS GMO!)
And so they march. And so they march. And so. They. March.
I’ll admit that when I first heard of this endeavor, I was a bit confused by it, or perhaps just not entirely clear on its purpose. What would marching do, I wondered, for making a difference in labeling GMOs, in demanding what I consider a right but, apparently, the higher-ups consider inconsequential? Would it really do… anything?
I’ve had a lot of time to think about this while we’ve been marching. I knew that there were marches in Germany and Europe that were effective and led to labeling, but I wasn’t entirely sure where we fit in the equation.
It was somewhere between the giant Buddha statue we happened upon (what a sight when you’re marching!) and the Whole Earth Center co-op that I came to the realization about why we are in this, and why I keep feeling the pull to march, to chant, to push, even though I’m tired, and my feet hurt, and my muscles are tense and sore.
As activists, what do we have? Some have money, but not many; some have political sway, but not enough. Any and all of us, however, have our bodies. We have voices. We have spirit. We have perseverance. Those are the tools we have immediately at our disposal and anyone has at their disposal. Those are the tools we can come together on and collectively utilize to push for and urge towards change.
And sometimes, the most powerful message you can give is through a metaphor. Of course, it’s important to undertake the logistics – to get signatures and educate so that citizens can agree on this issue and pressure congress to make it a priority – but it’s equally as important to showcase your passion. That’s what marches in towns and cities do, and that’s what this march does. It shows that there are those of us so horrified by the state of our food system that we will walk 313 miles, in rain and sun, uphill and down, across hill and vale and whatever else, to make an impact. To press for – no demand – change.
And so we march. And so we march. And so. We. March.
Camera pan; scene change. Return to the marchers, plodding forward, a bit quieter this time – but their balloons are still bobbing, their signs still bouncing along. A car passes by and honks joyously; cheers arise. A breeze brushes through, lifting yellow leaves off the sidewalk and sending them skittering among the crew. And somewhere in the middle of the band, I lift my face to the sky and smile.