The little blue flyer inviting people to a discussion on the upcoming Let Me Decide initiative showed up at our favorite coffee house one day and I recognized that a piece missing from my graduate school work was the political nature of food. I decided to attend the meeting and see how I could become involved. The meeting was dynamic, fun and definitely aligned with my goal of obtaining more exposure to food politics.
The initiative was referred to as I-522, Let Me Decide, and was created with the goal of requiring all genetically engineered (GE) food to be labeled. It was a first tier labeling initiative and would only require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, or those which had been genetically modified, to be labeled. The people leading the charge months before the campaign group ever arrived on the scene was Food & Water Watch and numerous grassroots volunteers, coordinators and other advocacy groups.
"Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping the global commons — our shared resources — under public control. We envision a world where all people have access to enough affordable, healthy, and wholesome food and clean water to meet their basic needs — a world in which governments are accountable to their citizens and manage essential resources sustainably" (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/about/).
I decided I wanted to sign on as an intern with Food and Water Watch and be a part of the campaign in some capacity. I had never been actively involved in any type of politics or grassroots movement so every step was new for me. We met every week at SoulFood Books with high energy and a fairly large group of people; we petitioned on weekends in rain and freezing temperatures; we photo petitioned at PCC markets; we phonebanked to individuals and businesses; we signed on coalition partners; we petitioned at farmer's markets; we visited farms; we slapped bumper stickers and signs on our cars, in our front yards, on street corners and highway ramps; we held summits; we visited college campuses for Earth Day; we spoke at harvest fairs; we canvassed door-to-door; we marched; we rallied.
During this time Katie, the intern from Food & Water Watch, who had come to help kick start things in the Seattle area returned to the East Coast and I, along with two amazing activists, became local coordinators for the Eastside region of Seattle. At the same time Katie was leaving the 'official' campaign group joined the grassroots movement to help tie in the political portion of this effort. Television commercials were created; newspaper articles written; letters to editors submitted; movie screenings held; signatures collected; numerous fairs and festivals attended; more petitioning; phonebanking; rallying; signs placed in business windows; Facebook posts written; meetings held; food shared; friendships made.
November drew closer and you could sense the collective breath of activists being held. Would Washington state be the first state in the country to require all genetically engineered (GE) food to be labeled? We stood on street corners holding signs and waving to drivers; we hung banners at overpasses and waved; we rallied; we encouraged each other; commiserated; prayed; meditated.
The votes were counted - No votes 51.09% and Yes votes 48.91%. A difference of 2.18%. $33,057,400.50 total raised by the No side; most of which came from out of state corporate donations and amounted to the largest amount of money raised against an in-state initiative in Washington state history. On the other hand, $9,241,296.84 total was raised by the Yes side; most of which came from farmers, activists, advocacy groups, and Washington state residents (http://www.responsiblechoiceswa.org/category/initiatives/i522/).
Yes, the initiative failed and no, Washington is not the first state in the country to label GE foods; however, our grassroots efforts have spread far and wide and the word has spread and people are standing up and fighting to regain control of our food system. So what's next?...