The Activists of Paris Are Ready for a Movement Now

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a workshop for activists at the labor union hall

Paris   On the bus to our meetings in Paris we were clogged up in a huge traffic circle where the Bastille, the infamous prison of the French Revolution was located. On that site now is a quite grand appearing Opera House. My colleague had earlier reprised stories of Charles De Gaulle and his comeback after the worst defeat of the French Army “in 2000 years,” as he called it. We met members of several local political parties in the afternoon at a café, where even I could translate the original sign saying this was the Café of the Unions. Down the street we met that evening in the a vast building constructed by the unions after the mid-1800’s Paris Commune, when workers concluded that they had insufficient space in Paris to meet, discuss, plan, and take action. In the room where we met a score of local activists, a translation of the sign on the door was that this was the room “of the little strike.” History seemed everywhere around us, but even surrounded by history, this is where things start.

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In Grenoble, our leaders were focused on the hard problems at the basics of organization. How to build their local groups and keep the members active? How to balance growing the organization with maintaining the existing pace? How to navigate their role as leaders between the staff and membership? In Paris, our colleagues had vast political experience in the labor movement, student unions, mobilizations, political parties, and more, but they were looking past the grassroots specifics to the grander vision, and they were hungry to ignite the movement that would bring back the good times and create the big changes of our dreams. They knew the work of our affiliates and partners, Alliance Citoyenne and ReAct, and the idea of ACORN excited them about the possibilities they could see in the future.

Answering Questions

Answering Questions

The questions probed recruitment, campaigns, and of course politics and how ACORN handled these issues around the world and historically in the United States. Ironically, where with the leaders I had tried to gently pull them towards looking at the bigger picture of their opportunities, with this crowd of seasoned activists I found myself pushing them to the concrete realities of the work and what it took to realize those dreams.

For example, one great question spoke of the decline of the workers’ movement in France and Europe and seemed to ask if ACORN could be the modern vehicle to revive those times of sweeping change. The question took my breath away with its excitement, but the enormity of the project and our place in it, forced an answer that must have disappointed many, when I argued that we would simply be one force of many and that we in fact couldn’t make it all happen without a wider array of organizations, especially labor, moving in the same direction. I had to remind my new friends that despite the growth and success of ACORN in the USA over its years, there was still galloping and growing inequity, the end of welfare, stagnant wages, declining incomes for many of our families, and abandonment of support for much of the urban America where ACORN members struggled and fought.

one of our leaders in Aubervillers and Solene Compingt of ACORN's affiliate Alliance Citoyenne

one of our leaders in Aubervillers and Solene Compingt of ACORN’s affiliate Alliance Citoyenne

Nonetheless, this was a hopeful crowd ready to do the work, and that was exciting in itself, and challenges us to do more in Paris and across France and Europe. It was refreshing finally to answer questions that came from one of our leaders in attendance from Aubervilliers, a Paris suburb on the brass tacks of negotiations, something I could handle more confidently. I even got a question on whether dues should be lower for a 23-year old member where with relief I could simply answer, “No.”

As we left in good spirits together after several hours of dialogue, we passed the door to the giant auditorium on the main floor. A peek inside saw people lined along the walls of the great expanse. They were singing, and we left the building to a joyous noise.

adrien roux of ACORN partner ReAct listens in on a small group at the end of workshop

adrien roux of ACORN partner ReAct listens in on a small group at the end of workshop

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GMO Contradictory Claims and Tripping up McDonalds in Paris

14600870_935690983201659_1568748584969979036_nGrenoble   The counterclaims around genetically modified crops around the world are head spinning. Thousands march to protest their use in the US and Europe. Noted scientists take out ads in major papers claiming they represent no problems. Some argue they are necessary in the future to feed the world’s growing population. Back and forth it goes. Sometimes it seems we should just pick and side and hope for the best.

Some things are clear though, and disturbing. Whenever a conglomerate like Monsanto can make money on both sides of the deal, it is deeply worrisome, and hard not to believe something has gone terribly wrong. They – and others – sell both genetically modified seeds and plain seeds. They also sell the insecticides and herbicides to both kill weeds and to essentially avoid the weed killers like Roundup. The German-based conglomerate, Bayer, is now trying to buy Monsanto and a Chinese company is trying to buy their big competitor, so this could all get even harder to sort out.

An article in the New York Times by Danny Hakim, “Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops,” throws another powerful wrench into the works. Using United Nations crop yields data over a period of years since the introduction of GMOs in basic crops like corn, soybeans, and rapeseed in the United States and Canada with similar production in the European agricultural powerhouses of Germany and France, there was no evidence of superior yields. And, equally disturbing there was increased use of chemicals, rather than less. Monsanto claims the data was cherry picked, but unconvincingly answers the argument by cherry picking different data to try to make their case. Both parties understand that the house crumbles if the very foundation of the manufacturers’ arguments about increased production are not sustained after two decades of use. Monsanto sums up its case with something of shrug, saying if you don’t like it, we’ll sell it India and elsewhere that are wild for it.

All of this was on my mind in the wake of an excellent report issued by our partner, ReAct in Paris recently that extensively documented the reliance of the McDonalds’ fast food operations on genetic modifications throughout its supply chain in beef, potatoes, and chicken in the very anti-GMO and GMO-conscious French and European markets. The release of the report was big news throughout Paris partly because it was accompanied by a demonstration in a central Parisian Mickey-D’s by fifty or more folks including farmers, students, and members of ACORN’s affiliate, the Alliance Citoyenne from Aubervilliers, a Paris suburb that is the poorest district in France. The action featured a Ronald McDonald look alike that was “arrested” by the demonstrators for polluting the supply chain with GMOs that are banned expressly in France and the European Union.

Monsanto may be scurrying from the Times article in the US, but McDonalds is now ducking and weaving over GMOs in Europe, and no matter which side you come down on about GMOs, French consumers seem clear, and they are saying loudly and in no uncertain terms, they want no part of it.

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