Blog | May 24, 2013

By Rebecca Medel / rebecca@vueweekly.com, Vue WeeklyPlaid shirt, beard, toe shoes and a bit of a conspiracy theorist—is that the protester costume? Maybe not so much anymore. Mall shoppers, career-climbers, homemakers, retirees and those who rely on community assistance are now joining the ranks of the "stereotypical" protester.Alberta's budget cuts have affected so many that leaving the comfort zone of a quiet and complacent life is no longer an option for a lot of people. Along with budget cuts, other causes—like having a say in where our food is sourced from—have everyone from moms to grandmas, dads, kids, community workers, students, professors, union members, the elderly, the disabled and the developmentally challenged setting up rallies, painting signs, joining together and speaking out. And in a political climate where the Canadian government labels activists as threats to national security, it's especially important to speak out and put an end to the fear mongering and obstacles that are being put in the way of free speech.If you're down with standing up for your rights as an Albertan, then this will be a good weekend for you. Two major protests are happening on Saturday that welcome everyone to drop by and have a say, or simply to find out what all the fuss is about.Block (the) PartyThe Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will be holding its policy convention at the Radisson Hotel on Gateway Boulevard on May 25, and Public Interest Alberta has organized a Block (the) Party rally in a parking lot just north of there. Bill Moore-Kilgannon, PIA's executive director, says 25 or so groups from across the province are coming together to make some noise and have some fun mocking the PCs, including bus-loads of AUPE union members from all across the province."We will be there and we'll be loud. It's for people to become educated, but also to show their disagreement with the direction that the PC Party's going," Moore-Kilgannon says. "They think that it's a one-way street, but we're saying they're going the wrong direction."He adds that many people thought Premier Alison Redford was going to be dedicated to education and families based on her election rhetoric. "And now they're seeing how many teachers are going to be laid off and support staff in our schools. We're seeing the impact on seniors, the fact that people with disabilities are getting $142 million cut. There's rhetoric and then there's reality, and reality is coming home to roost for the PC Party."Seniors and home-care workers have been quite affected by the budget cuts."The actual home-care contracts are being reduced, so you get 15 minutes for a bath and that's all," Moore-Kilgannon says. "The seniors are going to be talking about the new PharmaCare plan that's expected to save the government $180 million, but what it's going to do is, seniors that are middle and upper income are now going to have to pay the full cost of their drugs. So what we're saying is that's really transferring the cost onto the most frail and sick. If you're healthy, it's not an issue. But if you have a chronic condition, then you're paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month in drug costs."While there will be short speeches and live music, this rally is a bit different than a typical protest as there will be interactive stations set up that mock the PC Party, including flat-tax Jeopardy and an area for children to create their own "bitumen" bubbles."I think people are open to doing things a little more creatively than your standard protest rally and we want to attract people from all walks of life to come out and be a part of that," Moore-Kilgannon points out. "And yes, we know people are angry and people are coming out because they're understanding how this is impacting on them, but how you express that can often be done in a more powerful way by mocking and challenging what the PC Party is doing as opposed to just being there and expressing your anger."On one hand, we see the cuts happening and we're told that it's because of some bitumen-bubble issue, but they're not talking about the revenue options that they have, and, in particular, the flat tax."Exploring other revenue options like a flat-tax system is something that will be explored at the rally."I've got a government document here that they've put out that shows that if we were to have the same progressive tax system that Saskatchewan has—this is not talking about adding a sales tax or changing corporate taxes or anything—we would bring in $3.1 billion," Moore-Kilgannon says.March Against MonsantoThe second rally on Saturday is the March Against Monsanto—an international movement of people in about 30 countries and 300 cities who do not want to be force-fed genetically modified food. Monsanto is a US-based corporation that creates GMO seeds and manufactures the glyphosate (herbicide) Roundup, which kills surrounding plants and is absorbed by the GMO plants. There is plenty of debate about the effects of this herbicide on environmental, animal and human health, as well as the ability of Monsanto to patent its seeds so that farmers in some countries have no other options.Monsanto got its start over 100 years ago as a chemical company producing saccharin—a sweetener essentially derived from coal tar—that was used in products like Coca-Cola."Since then they've done everything from vanillin, which is a fake vanilla flavouring instead of using the actual vanilla bean, and they were paramount in producing dioxins, DDT, Agent Orange, PCPs. All of those have been banned or found to cause birth defects and cancer," says Dana Blackwell, one of MAM's organizers."As Canadians, we have a US company that has a monopoly on our seed supply, which ultimately trickles down to our food supply. So, from a business perspective, monopolies in a certain industry can lead to increased pricing and cost as well as they can control and manipulate that market," Blackwell says. "They have a lot of control over a lot of processes in government as well as in our food supply that we should be really, really concerned about."She says it's frustrating when she meets people who just shrug off her concern about GMO food."Especially in my parents' generation, they have been programmed through their whole lives that this is the food pyramid and never question it and never question where any of the food and milk comes from, and it's very hard for them to change that," Blackwell says. "For me, if I see something that could be harmful, I'm going to research the hell out of it, I'm going to find out as much as I can about it, I'm going to find out what other people think about it, and I'm going to make up my own mind based on all of the information.…The trouble with the government is they just say, 'This is the information you get.' How do you make an informed choice based on only some of the information?"Blackwell says she has always been told that if she doesn't agree with something, to vote for politicians who share her concerns."But, quite frankly, that is not working," she adds. "So you need to take it now to another level where now you have normal people, moms and dads and children getting involved in these causes that are close to their hearts that affect them every day, because the system isn't giving them that feeling of satisfaction where they've done something—'I've voted for this person, I believe in what they're saying, they're going to take care of me'—because it's not happening anymore."Michael Kalmanovitch, owner of Earth's General Store and another of MAM's organizers, agrees."We need to hold those in power accountable between those times of voting . And when it's a consumer product like food, the way we vote every day is with this dollar and that is our power.…I get the opportunity to inform my MLA or MP every so often, but every day I'm going to be
buying something—except on Buy Nothing Day."Kalmanovitch has been involved in many protests since the '90s and feels his role in the community is one of educator. One evening a week he opens up his store for a documentary viewing and discussion. He also tries to keep as much of his product as possible organic and non-GMO."I can say all of my produce is 100-percent non-GMO because it's certified organic," he explains. "And I can say everything that's in my store that's certified organic is non-GMO."The problem comes from frozen foods like taquitos that have a list of ingredients."They might say on there non-GMO corn or soya and those are good for me because they've actually identified, but when they have soy in it and they have corn in it that doesn't say those kind of things, it's GMO as far as I'm concerned," Kalmanovitch adds. "As a store, we could not eliminate everything because there are no organic options for them, no substitute at the moment for a lot of these things. So you as a consumer need to decide whether you want to do that."The MAM will start in Steel Park and wind up to Whyte Avenue, past the farmer's market and ending with a closing rally back at the park."Monsanto is just the entity that we can demonize, it's the easy target, but the goal is to have families come out and learn," Blackwell says. "The people that make the food-buying decisions for the most part for their households. So we really want it to be family-friendly, so it's all about teaching people about the GMOs because our goal is for everybody to know who Monsanto is and what GMOs are and the dangers that they present, and then also how to make non-GMO and more healthful choices in their lives."The fight is against the industry, and the only way to beat them is to change the regulatory process in Canada and by each individual person voting with their money and making those choices."

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