How many times have you used the word “Victory” in 2017, and what could you have possibly meant? Military victory is as oxymoronic as military intelligence in the 21st Century, and I’ve ranted before about the inability of any side, state, or freelancer to win a war since 1945.
Other uses seem difficult to justify for progressives, as well, but my keyboard pals at Food & Water Watch planted the word in my inbox the other day in a compelling way. Perhaps you saw it. “Victory over Nestle” was not a headline I could take lightly since the Swiss mega-corporation was the object of the first social justice boycott for which Nancy and I enlisted, and this story was about community action in Hood River County, Oregon, practically our neighbor, across that big river.
My congratulations to the activists who have prevented Nestle from bottling their water and foisting it, with proliferating plastic bottles, upon clueless consumers. It’s even more impressive since more attention was given Nestle’s water scheme in California, as the company profitably plundered the precious resource while individuals and smaller businesses were denied adequate water during a severe drought. Hood River folks can be proud of their accomplishment and promote it with their unsurpassed venue for wind surfing and kite boarding and their splendid, worker-owned brewery. Victory over Nestle, however, is a slippery proposition. In the matter of water, for example, a little township in Michigan is being sued for not accommodating Nestle’s unquenchable thirst. I wonder if victory was announced when the Michiganders united against selling their water to the pushiest bidder.
A few hours before the victory post, SumOfUs.org notified us Nestle is ramping up its old manipulation of infant formula customers. This is where we came in 40 years ago. Not yet parents, we were still outraged at Nestle’s deadly marketing of formula in developing countries, leading mothers without access to clean water away from breast feeding and into dependence upon its product. This formula wasn’t sold in the U.S., so we boycotted Nestle’s coffee before gourmet coffee was a thing-Starbucks had two stores and didn’t sell coffee by the cup. Nestle made instant coffees we liked, so boycotting Taster’s Choice and Nescafe required some commitment. That movement has waxed and waned, and Nestle has hemmed, hawed and waffled, but some of us still avoid Nestle products, and Nestle has never given up its relentless marketing of infant formula. By most accounts, the marketing is less lethal than in the old days, but the human costs and misery index remain very high. Nestle and its almost endless list of products should be boycotted.
Boycotts come and go with varying results. In the past, PJALS was involved in successful boycotts of Nike and Ste. Michelle wines after taking criticism for opposing American corporate support of South Africa’s Apartheid regime through boycotts of Kruggerands and such accomodating companies as IBM and Coca Cola. Today, some of our elected representatives go overboard to suppress boycotts of Israel-based products made more profitable by the oppression of Palestinians. Flag-worshipping football fans want to boycott the National Football League, and Papa John’s claims it’s harmed by the struggle over free speech in the ultra-patriotic world of professional sports. Wal-Mart, the most boycottable retail behemoth, has gradually responded to internal and consumer criticism with notable improvements in some of its environmental and labor policies.
Nancy and I have been asked how we lasted so long at PJALS when we never won our struggles against injustice. There were small victories, of course, and we noted and celebrated them. Now we believe there’s a notable 2017 victory that could not have been attained by boycott. Through legal persistence, PJALS activist George Taylor has been granted the use of a defense of Necessity against charges of blocking a train and trespassing on BNSF tracks, last year.
He’s the last defendant in two 2016 actions by Raging Grannies and Veterans for Peace with Direct Action Spokane. The rest of us felt we had done all we could to warn our community of the danger to our climate, but we stand with George and hope you’ll help us bring back expert witnesses for the trial in 2018.
Victory remains a tentative commodity, even in a winner-take-all court system. The Necessity Defense does not guarantee acquittal. This victory does mean George can explain his motivation for stepping upon the tracks and his belief that safe passage of coal and oil through Spokane means degradation of our environment as surely as it means big money for railroads and fossil fuel purveyors.