The First Amendment of the US constitution guarantees the right to free speech. In an astonishing and outrageous move, the State of Iowa wants to remove this fundamental right in its trial against two protesters against Monsanto, the activist known as Reverend Billy, and his co-defendant, Father Frank Cordaro, a peace activist and co-founder of the Des Moines, Iowa Catholic Worker Group.

The State of Iowa’s motivation appears to be to protect Monsanto.

1. In a trial against protesters, the state of Iowa seeks unusual ban on first amendment defense
2. Why Monsanto wants me in jail – the Rev Billy Talen

1. In a trial against protesters, the state of Iowa seeks unusual ban on first amendment defense

Monte Burke
Forbes, 10 Jan 2017
[links to sources at the URL above]

In an unusual move, the State of Iowa has asked the District Court for Polk County to preclude the use of First Amendment freedoms as a defense in its trial against two protesters, the activist William Talen, who is also known as Reverend Billy, and his co-defendant, Frank Cordaro, a peace activist and co-founder of the Des Moines, Iowa Catholic Worker Group. The trial stems from the October 13, 2016, arrest of Talen and Cordaro, who were protesting a Monsanto-sponsored gathering at the Iowa State Capitol building. The State of Iowa argues that Talen and Cordaro trespassed, so they shouldn’t be allowed to use any First Amendment arguments or evidence. The jury trail is set to begin January 11th.

The background: On October 13, 2016, Monsanto, the $13.5 billon (revenues) agricultural giant, was hosting the World Food Prize Party in the Iowa State Capitol building, a gathering that included representatives from Bayer, Cargill, Syngenta, and other chemical and seed companies. Talen and Cordaro were part of a protest organized by a group known as Occupy the World Food Prize. The protest began in the designated protest area, across the street from the capitol ground. Talen and Cordaro later crossed the street to stand on a public sidewalk some 250 feet from the capitol grounds. Iowa State Troopers asked them to leave. When they did not comply, the two protesters were handcuffed and arrested for trespassing, a misdemeanor. The State of Iowa subsequently filed a motion asking for a ban on any First Amendment defense.

The motion can be found [here]

Cordaro is a well-known Iowa peace activist. Talen (whom I profiled here), as the character known was Reverend Billy, has a long history of staging protests. One of his frequent targets is Monsanto—in particular, the company’s use of the controversial chemical Glysophate (which is used in Monsanto’s popular Roundup herbicide and may or may not cause cancer, depending upon whom you ask). Talen and his 35-member “Stop Shopping” choir recently interrupted an EPA meeting on the possible carcinogenic qualities of Glysophate.

Talen and Cordaro have denied that they trespassed during the October 13th event, arguing that the state capitol grounds are public (and were rented out for a private event by a corporation). The court will decide who’s right on this misdemeanor charge.

The bigger decision will be made before the trial: Could First Amendment arguments and evidence be precluded from a trial involving a protest? "I've been doing protest demonstration cases for 25 years, and the First Amendment is always an issue" says Martin Stolar, a New York City criminal defense who tried cases involving Occupy Wall Street and who is not involved in the Talen/Cordaro case. "It's pretty outrageous that they are trying to remove it in this case."

2. Why Monsanto wants me in jail

Rev Billy Talen

I am facing some jail time for standing up to the evils of Monsanto and other Big Ag usurpers of the Earth.

This week, a prosecutor in Iowa appears corrupted by Monsanto and has proposed to a judge that protesters of its toxins be deprived of their constitutional rights at trial. Let's repeat that. A Des Moines assistant District Attorney has filed a motion that would preclude any "referencing" of the 1st Amendment or free speech protections of the Bill of Rights in my trial. This would retroactively strip a protester, me, of the right to protest simply. Here's a link to the motion ­­ that will be litigated against me this week.

Stripping a protester of his or her rights as a citizen in a misdemeanor trial? We cannot find a precedent. There are two of us on trial, me and another person were popped on the charge of trespassing. We face 30 days imprisonment or $500. I'm in New York and Father Frank Cordaro is a Catholic Worker priest in Des Moines Iowa, so this preacher-priest duet doesn't get to talk that much. I'll see him at the rally before the trial on Tuesday night the 10th. Frank is finding me a good church organist because Nehemiah Luckett, the music director of The Church of Stop Shopping, can't come this time.

We don't have videotapes of Monsanto handing brown paper bags of cash to the government lawyers. But that's where politics comes in. We can't prove that Monsanto knew that Agent Orange would be causing birth defects fifty years after the Viet Nam War, but they brag on their website about Agent Orange. We can't prove that Monsanto poisoned the African-American town of Addison, Alabama for years because the statute of limitations has run out on the emails we found between their scheming execs.

Politics is an act of faith. You have enough proof to excite your suspicion that evil is being committed and people need to be protected.

Politics is most powerful when a belief in the good is powered by a belief in the amazing miracle that is life. Frank and I are on the outs with organized religion. But anyone who has sung water songs while facing the gun-men at Standing Rock knows that the disorganized religion of 300 kinds of indigenous peoples singing their clashing harmonies of water prayers by the river while the gun-men watch – that's a power that no enforcement official, corrupt or not, can stop.

And so I pray for the people of Iowa. In our church we pray to the Earth. I pray to the clean and complex soil of Iowa that my great grandfather William and his wife Lena farmed near Pella, farmed nearly a century ago.

Monsanto's business model is that the Earth is flawed and we need to make a replacement Earth. Like God the Almighty, the company is devoted to creating life or re-creating it. So Monsanto copyrights life itself. It is laughable to Monsanto that we expect it to be regulated or their products to be tested by researchers who don't accept their money. Would God submit to the people?

In the service of its God-like presence, Monsanto is devoted to a post-analogue existence. You can't find it. It is beyond our senses, not unlike its toxins. Our Church of Stop Shopping has tried to find Monsanto. We staged performances at its headquarters in St. Louis; led parades and rallies with our high-stepping gospel; exorcised the demons from their labs in from the farmlands of California to Harvard to the high-rises of Chicago.

We sang our hit single, "Monsanto is the Devil", at the EPA hearings on Glyphosates in Washington just last month. Suddenly, after tracking this company for years, I feel this filing that would take away my rights as a citizen – that the mad scientist Monsanto has broken down my front door and aimed a gun at my head.

Consider our crime: we were 250 feet away from the Monsanto "Food Prize" at the Iowa state capitol, standing on a public sidewalk. In Iowa, the governor is very much like an employee of the company. For the part, Monsanto rented the Iowa State Capitol building and grounds. That's what I was talking about when the state troopers the had cuffed me.

I can't remember if I asked them how it feels to be bouncers at a night club called Big Chem, checking peoples' tickets at the door. I know I asked them about the renting out of their gold-domed capitol, now symbolically covered with the logo of this celebration of GMO crops. "Doesn't that look corrupt? Isn't there some unfortunate symbolism here?" They acted like even to ask the question was a crime.

When someone announces their opposition to Monsanto, to Monsanto these citizens become super-weeds. If we are not the cash crop, we are treasonous, we super-weeds. That's Monsanto. Scientists who disagree are defamed, even the World Health Organization is called corrupt. What do they do about activists? Use that old tried and true method for social changers that protesteth too much called jail.

As I write this note, it is 3 AM in Brooklyn in a blizzard and I have a bad feeling about his trial. My partner and my six-year-old daughter Lena are asleep. I fly to Iowa in 48 hours. I'm writing to you, oh reader, in hopes for my cause and well-being.

And I pray to the pure earth of my name-sake William and my great grandmother Lena. Earthalujah!

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