As illustrated by Frank Norris' 1901 novel, The Octopus was a term once applied to the Southern Pacific Railroad and other monopolies in the American West. A century later, the label might well describe the agribusiness giant Monsanto — except that its tentacles expand worldwide.
How to reel in an octopus is a question that activists across the world will grapple with tomorrow, when people in more than 425 cities will join the "March Against Monsanto," focused on the company's expanding influence in GMO food production and distribution.
"We need to purge our bodies, and our world, of toxic pesticides," Reverend Billy Talen told VICE News. Talen is a street theater performer and, like many other participants in the protests, a staunch proponent of organic farming.
Although Monsanto regularly ranks near the top of lists of the least popular corporations in the United States, many of its critics likely may not realize the full extent of the company's influence both here and abroad.
A former Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, helped draft the agricultural agreements in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement currently being negotiated between the US and 11 Latin American and Asian nations. Jerry Crawford, a key player in Hillary Clinton's campaign, also has close ties to the company. And though it was a leading dispenser of the infamous toxic herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Monsanto is now steering that country toward GMO corn production.
The agriculture giant is currently in merger negotiations with the Swiss company Syngenta, the world's leading pesticide manufacturer. If finalized, the merger would yield a single agribusiness that controls a third of the global seed and pesticide market.
Through a spokesperson, Monsanto told VICE News that it's committed to an "open dialogue" about food and agriculture and committed to helping farmers have a "smaller impact on the environment."
"We know people have different points of view on these topics, and it's important that they're able to express and share them," the company said.
Saturday's protests are intended to spark attention to Monsanto's global influence. Chicago, for example, is a central nexus of GMO corn and soybean distribution and futures trading. The protests there will be led by Reverend Talen and his 30-member Stop Shopping Choir.
Talen vows to fuse "humor, music, and earthy spirituality" in order to inspire consumers to reject Monsanto products. As just one harmful example, Talen cites the company's use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been increasingly identified as a leading cause of colony collapse among honeybees and a contributor to cancer in humans.
Talen also says that he and the choir will head over to Chicago's Memorial Day Parade, which takes place nearby. There they will help remind vets of the consequences of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
New Mexico, meanwhile, has a natural base of support for the protests, given its large network of organic farmers. At Saturday's event in Albuquerque, activist lawyer Jason Flores-Williams will try to build support for a class action lawsuit against Monsanto.
Should Monsanto come to terms with Syngenta, Flores-Williams told VICE News the suit would enjoin the merger on behalf of consumers. Yet, regardless of whether the merger happens, the suit will also accuse Monsanto of false advertising and deceptive practices. The company's claims that its products are sustainable and beneficial to human health open the door to such charges, said Flores-Williams.
"The only way to take on Monsanto's army of lawyers," he says, "is through legal guerrilla warfare."
In Uruguay, activists will take to the streets of Montevideo, fighting against la semilla transgénica — GMO seeds — in the name of Vida y Libertad, Life and Liberty. In Durban, South Africa, the march will take place in Cato Manor, a historic stronghold of small farmers. And in Bangladesh, a "human chain" will form around Dhaka University.
And with Neil Young's soon to be released new album, which he's suggested might be called The Monsanto Years, the movement may soon have a soundtrack.
Follow Theodore Hamm on Twitter: @HammerDaily