The Pitchfork Rebellion founder involved in a 2008 police conflict puts Monsanto “on trial”
BY KAREN MCCOWAN
Appeared in print: Sunday, Aug 30, 2009
News Updates: Story
The Pitchfork Rebellion, organized to restrict or halt aerial herbicide spraying on Oregon’s forests, went to the local doorstep of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Saturday to lampoon what they said were the agency’s ties to pesticide manufacturer Monsanto.
Triangle Lake area resident Day Owen, a co-founder of the activist group, donned a jester’s hat to preside over mock trials of Monsanto and the state Department of Forestry before a crowd of more than 100 people.
Owen’s wife, his daughter and neighbor Maya Gee also said they were personally affected after helicopters sprayed the Monsanto product Round-Up on forests near their farms in 2007. The women said they were sickened by their exposure to drifted spray, immediately suffering breathing problems and muscle weakness, followed by diarrhea, early and painful menstrual cycles, and muscle and joint pain lasting for months.
Owen accused the St. Louis-based multinational company of covering up evidence that the herbicide poses human health risks. According to Monsanto’s Web site, increased sales of Round-Up helped the corporation post record net sales of $11.4 billion in 2008.
Monsanto’s Web site also states that regulatory agencies around the world, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, have concluded that glyphosate herbicides such as Round-Up “pose no unreasonable risks to human health and the environment when used according to label directions.”
Rally organizers set a nonviolent tone early in Saturday’s event, with Owen inviting attendees to walk in a circle around the building’s plaza to the song “We Are All in This Together.” Before beginning the music, he addressed several law enforcement officers monitoring the rally from inside the building, saying the song’s “we” included Eugene police and Homeland Security officers.
The last public encounter between Owen and those agencies did not end peacefully.
Owen was among several people arrested at a downtown Eugene anti-pesticide rally in May 2008, when a Eugene police officer used a Taser to apprehend a University of Oregon student later convicted of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Owen said he was slammed to the grand and knocked unconscious after he questioned a different Eugene officer about use of the Taser when the student, Ian Van Ornum, was already face down on the ground.
Owen, who was never charged with a crime, said he was also kicked in the knee by a Homeland Security officer assisting in his arrest. Owen has filed an excessive use of force complaint with Eugene’s police auditor.
Eugene police testified at Van Ornum’s trial that they had been summoned to the downtown protest by a Department of Homeland Security agent monitoring the May 2008 demonstration. The agent, Tom Keedy, testified that he was there because Owen, a featured speaker, had urged people attending a March 2008 rally at the federal courthouse to “commit acts of civil disobedience … in a peaceful, nonviolent revolution.”
Owen on Saturday disputed that reason, charging that the federal agency was monitoring him because of the title of his talk at the May 2008 rally: “The Need to Reform Homeland Security.” He also said top officials at Homeland Security don’t want him to publicize what he alleges are ties between Homeland Security and Monsanto, including what he says is the agency’s financing of the development of genetically engineered food by Monsanto.
He called Monsanto and clear-cutting timber companies “the real bioterrorists.”
Rally participants were invited to launch a boycott of all crops treated with Round-Up and to sign a petition calling for aerial spraying buffer zones around homes and schools.