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We Surrounded the Prison Where Jose Bove is Incarcerated

On Bastille Day the French show their support for rebellion and Jose Bove
The modern prison where political prisoner Jose Bove is incarcerated is built in the scrubby garrigue, a rocky shrub covered landscape that covers a lot of the land between the Mediterranean and the Cevennes Mountains in the South of France.

Bove, the leader of the Cofederation Paysanne, a french small farmers union, is imprisoned for political reasons, though the official reason is that Bove destroyed Genitically Modified crops government scientists were growing in a govt. lab.

Bove is a political prisoner because his sentence is extraordinary in a country where farmers and truckers and winemakers regularly break the law to express their outrage at government policies. Bove is dangerous because he is a skilled political activist who knows how to use the media, and how to form coalitions with groups outside of France who are opposed to capitalistic methods of farming. Bove wrote a book titled 'The World is not a Commodity'. Bove is also vocally pro-Palestinian, in a country where you can be arrested for disrespecting the Israeli flag.

So we gathered in the hot garrigue near the prison, within sight of the mediterranean in one direction and the city of Montpellier in the other. There were people from the League Communiste Revolutionaire, whose presidential candidate, a 27 year old postman, won over 4 percent of the votes in the last election. Also people from the anti corporate globalization group Attac. Also the Green Party was represented, as was the anarchist CNT, and the radical labor union Sud.

On the way to the prison we banged stones on the guard rail alongside the road, and this continued throughout the demo, because the prison sits below an overpass of a major four lane highway, and there are lots of stones and guard rails around for musical purposes.

Near the prison the CRS, the riot cops, were waiting, but they could do nothing as people streamed down the embankment to the prison walls, which towered 50 high. The cops tried to intervene when some of the protestors began spraypainting the walls with anti-Chirac and pro-Jose slogans, but the crowd surrounded the cops and some big guys pushed the cops away from the spray painters. There were not enough cops to intimidate the crowd, no horse cops, and no tear gas (though they had some tear gas guns ready).

I would say there were between 2000 and 5000 people. We did not surround the entire prison, but did a pretty good job of surrounding almost three sides of it.

Many prisoners at the windows could be seen from the overpass overlooking the prison. They waved white towels in support.

Bove was visited by some local politicians. He is supposed to get out in December. This is only the latest in a planned series of protests to try and get Jose out as soon as possible.

img 14.Jul.2003 13:48



Photo is Misleading 14.Jul.2003 23:52

Frenchy O'Brian

I don't know who posted the photo above, but it is misleading. The Photo above is NOT of the prison where the demo took place! That is simply bad journalism.

The photo looks to me to be Avignon, where the technicians and actors classified as 'intermittants' have been striking (as in other french cities where big summer festivals occur). 'Greve' means strike in French.

La Guerre 15.Jul.2003 07:46

M. Petain

Mon Dieu! non...Merde!

Jose Bove is a hero 13.Aug.2003 19:19

Theresa Wolfwood bbcf@islandnet.com

Two years ago I travelled to the beautiful Larzac region of France to meet Jose Bove and his partner in their 300 year old stone farmhouse. His passion for peace, for life and the land was the spark that lit this man and thousands of others. His continued work and resistance are an inspiration to us all! To read the article that I wrote which was widely published in Canada nad internatonally see: www.islandnet.com/~bbcf

No Way Jose 20.Sep.2004 10:03

Peter D. Bove fastbackfilms@optonline.net

No Way Jose

Or (Move over Ronald McDonald)


Peter Bové

Unlike other Latin based languages, in France the "J" is hard. Pronounced more like the "J" in "Josie and the Pussycats." Which brings to mind the love hate phenomenon France has for American Culture. American Culture? American culture isn't far from another oxymoron: American Cuisine. What is American Cuisine anyway? A ®"Big Mac"? Interestingly enough there are actually people who would argue that it is not the Big Mac at all. It's the ®"Whopper".

The Jose I speak of here is Jose Bové. Jose Bové has all but split our family in half. A family spread over four countries on two continents: France, Switzerland, Italy and America. My father informs me, Uncle Jose is indeed our cousin. However, this assertion is based solely on the fact that Jose was born in the part of Bordeaux where my grandfather originated. I call him Uncle out of respect. Often while toasting his latest arrest with a glass of Bordeaux.

Relatives a bit more provincial and right of center insist he is no relative, is crazy and, that the authorities should put him in jail once and for all and throw away the key. Those of us a bit left of center insist that we should be proud if he is in fact our cousin and do what we can to further the noble cause in which he is engaged.

If you have yet to hear of Jose Bové, he is the French farmer who made international headlines in 1999 for "vandalizing" a McDonald's as a political protest against "the McDonaldization of the world" in the tiny town of Millau, Montpelier (in the South of France). At the time, the United States slapped a 100 percent duty on Roquefort cheese in response to a European decision to ban importation of hormone-treated U.S. beef. "The Americans took Roquefort hostage, so we had to act beyond the law to defend ourselves," Jose told the London Times.
Uncle Jose is a somewhat ubiquitous international figure turning up at Zapatista marches in Mexico and anti-trade conferences from Seattle to Brazil. Part of this ubiquity is that he is not really a farmer-turned-activist at all. Instead, he is an activist-turned-farmer; a farmer routinely enmeshed in international controversies. You see, it was way back in 1987, when Uncle Jose helped found and became a leading spokesperson for the Confederation Paysanne, a radical farmer's union designed to champion small producers.
I am a filmmaker by trade and my dream is to make a film about Uncle Jose. I confess that there is one image that comes to mind that seems at least in part to motivate this dream. It was the McDonalds episode in Millau in 99 that first caused me to smile so wide I almost hurt my face,
especially his statement to the French court: "I defend this action not because it was legal, but because it was legitimate". Didn't we base an entire country on this premise? (In turn, I previously used the term vandalize not because it was legitimate, but because it is included in the official legal charge.)

This was a protest that occurred in broad daylight with women and children participants. Jose drove up the street towards the half-built McDonald's on a 1960's turquoise blue Ford Tractor wearing a straw hat and smoking a corncob pipe. I am not sure but I will imagine for the moment he was smiling. Together the protesters did some serous damage: removing doors, roofing, and electrical plates using a tractor, axes, and chainsaws. McDonald's closed its doors during the two days of the trial, "as if to excuse itself for still remaining there," as Le Figaro put it. And though the French penal code asks for a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a 500,000-Franc fine, the prosecutors recommended suspended sentences for the 10 cohorts and an 18-month probation for Mr. Bové. At least one prosecutor, Alain Durand, was honest before the trial: How will we be able to judge if thousands of people are screaming (outside) the name "Bové"? Apparently during the trial for this crime half of Paris was outside the courthouse cheering for Uncle Jose. Not even Mark Twain could have invented a finer folk hero.
The Wall Street Journal describes Uncle Jose as "The Bakunin-quoting former hippie who only became a farmer in 1975 as a political act". But he is so dedicated to his cause that his book with Francois Dufour, The World Is Not For Sale, outlines an alternative vision of sustainable farming respectful of the long-term and global context; proving this is no radical publicity junkie.
On a far smaller scale I have been engaged in the same battle my entire life, however poetic, by supporting shops that market what is now produce abiding by the USDA Organic food standards. This is food that is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a government-approved and certified agent inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
At one time finding such foods was an adventure all its own. Now, all one needs do is go down to the local supermarket like King Kullen to find shelves full of organic or at least natural food. Not all of it is genuine since technically words like "natural" and "organic" are broad terms defining many altered foods, but they're on the right track. In most of Europe, the food - everything from planning to plate - is part of the lifestyle. In the US, we rush through so much of
life we need McDonalds to get by as there is no time or energy left to prepare and eat proper meals. Of course this has become the case of the dragon eating it's tail as the more we propagate this lifestyle the more it engulfs us and requires us to promote it.

After the Confederation Paysanne was formed, Uncle Jose's activism continued. Among other protests, in 1988 he and the confederation helped to organize the "Plowing the Champs Elysees" protest in Paris to object to European farm policies. In 1990, he led protests and hunger strikes demanding more government subsidies for sheep farmers; which explains why the first time I heard of him was as, "the sheep farmer who blew up the McDonald's". In 1995, he joined Greenpeace activists on the Rainbow Warrior II to protest renewed French nuclear testing. Uncle Jose affirms that the free-market philosophy is anything but a project for the liberation of the men and women who live on this planet. Pushed to extremes, free-market society is the privatization and transformation into commodities of everything that makes up the daily life of humankind, including elements essential to life itself: water, the earth, seeds, the genetic heritage of humanity.
This destructive system, based on the law that might is right, offers no future to billions of human beings, notably the peasants of the south for whom daily life is destitution and the hoe or, at best, animal-drawn implements they wield. France prides itself on a strict, regionally based specialization in produce and cuisine that has evolved over hundreds of years. McDonald's, for Bové and his supporters, is a symbol of a standardized industrial approach to food cultivation and preparation, which they see as the antithesis of French culinary culture.
As Americans we champion freedom. Especially freedom of choice on everything from favorite snack to favorite presidential nominee - often times confused. Doesn't indirect manipulation through policy count when it denies this freedom? Does this sound like free choice? Or is it slight of hand? All is not fair in love and war. Fair is fair wherever defined. Take the current state of affairs touted by the WTO, agribusiness. Agribusiness uses genetic modification, hormones, fertilizers and pesticides to force ever increasing yields from the land in vast monoculture farms. Such farms possibly cause health and environmental problems, and certainly result in an excess of a bland crop. This excess is then dumped onto the foreign markets, undercutting the price of local produce and bankrupting the farmer, proving that genetic modification is not the answer to the problem of hunger in the world. In fact, one would be hard pressed to believe that the problems of hunger and underdevelopment can be solved by technological means; economic, social and political conditions must be taken into account.
This type of culture also poses a threat to the future of farmers. For some decades "productionism" has served to enslave farmers. No longer an autonomous producer and entrepreneur, the farmer has become just someone else who is exploited. Farmers can no longer decide for themselves how to manage their land, nor can they freely choose their own techniques for it. But, a real revolution has been taking place for the last 15 years amongst members of the Confédération Paysanne, who have put agriculture back into action.
In 1997 maize production increased yet again. The European Union has to stock the excess of overflowing the silos. And who pays for this? Citizens. Who needs these new seeds? Companies such as Novartis which want to reap the returns on investments and remain the number one pharmaceutical group in the world.
Jose Bové is one of the farmers who stood trial for this "crime" of destroying the "crops". In June of 2003 Uncle Jose was snatched from his farm in southern France in a dawn commando-style operation that involved scores of police officers. He was taken away in the helicopter to begin a 10-month jail sentence for destroying genetically modified crops. "We picked him up as he slept," one police officer told AFP. "That surprised him. He didn't look triumphant."
In an address to the judge regarding why French farmers from Confédération Paysanne destroyed the GE maize Uncle Jose put it this way: "... this is serious, and that's why I assume full responsibility. I am not going to hide behind collective, anonymous responsibility ... Why refuse something, which is presented as 'progress'? It's not because of nostalgia, or regret for the 'good old days.' It's because of concern for the future, and because of a will to have say in future development... "
As for this side of the pond, the Confederation Paysanne is not totally unlike some of our less radical local associations. Take East End-based "Slow Foods". Slow Foods, founded and run by Tom Morgan and Mary Foster-Morgan, champions the use of local farm produce prior to purchasing outside local markets, as well as other aspects of pro-farmer and other worthy natural causes. Even the name Slow Food comes from a moment of poetry. In the mid 80's, McDonald's tried to open a franchise near the Spanish Steps in Rome, and Carlo Petrini staged a huge sit-in, saying Rome is about local, seasonal cuisine, about "slow food" and not "fast food". The idea of eating well from foods produced by your farming neighbors and artisans swept Europe, came to the US and is now 10,000 members strong.
Slow Food USA is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating the food traditions of North America. From the spice of Cajun cooking to the purity of the organic movement; from animal breeds and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables to handcrafted wine and beer, farmhouse cheeses and other artisan products; these foods are a part of our cultural identity. They reflect generations of commitment to the land and devotion to the processes that yield the greatest achievements in taste. These foods, and the communities that produce and depend on them, are constantly at risk of succumbing to the effects of the fast life, which manifests itself through the industrialization and standardization of our food supply and degradation of our farmland. By reviving the pleasures of the table, and using our taste buds as our guides, Slow Food USA believes that our food heritage can be nurtured and saved. Slow Food USA oversees Slow Food activities in North America, including the support and promotion of the activities of more than 90 "convivia".

As much as these may be global human issues, and, as much as most media concerns itself with the celebrity resort aspect of the Hamptons, the East End remains in large part a farm community. True, in many areas spuds have turned to Cul de Sacs of trophy houses. Irony everywhere: Cul de Sac is a French term which literally translated means Bag bottom - 'nuff said. But, the farming tradition is still an inherent part of our local complexion, that is, our local 'culture'.

I attribute leaning towards the natural life in part due to my upbringing. Although my immediate family is from Brooklyn and Queens via France and Italy, my family contributed to urban blight and I was raised in the suburbs. Most of our neighbors there had lawns in their back yards where my Grandfather who lived next door to the east had a garden. His brother, Uncle Sal, who lived next door to the west raised rabbits and grew the best asparagus in town. Not an easy vegetable to grow. I received many a Da Vinci styled anatomy lesson from Uncle Sal as he engaged my assistance in skinning those bunnies. Still miss the rabbits foot good luck charm he gave me.
Beginning in late spring my Grandmother would send me out to pick dandelion leaves for the salad. With pride I would whip out my Boy Scout knife and harvest the wild dandelion leaves. Bitter as hell but now sold in gourmet shops for a pretty penny because of their renown health benefits. Dandelion leaves and roots have been used for hundreds of years to treat liver, gallbladder, kidney, and joint problems. To learn more go to  http://www.truestarhealth.com/Notes/2078009.html. One of my new missions is to talk Tom Morgan of "Slow Foods" into creating a "Dandelion Wine."
My Grandmother is 83 years old and takes no prescription medication. I will never forget the most ferocious mother-in-law attack I have ever witnessed when in the late 60's my father discovered ®Scotts lawn fertilizer with Weed Killer and created what was in his view the perfect lawn. I returned from my dandelion-harvesting mission with a paltry harvest. She looked at the pathetically small bunch clutched in my fist and asked with a roll of the eyes: "What are you in love?" "No, Grandma there just aren't that many this year." I answered guilty as sin. "Let me see." She accused as she pushed through the door of her kitchen. Upon discovering the new perfect lawn devoid of any weeds. I had to confess about the ®Scotts Weed Killer and how we put it on last fall and this spring and how it really worked. She screamed up a storm worthy of Anna Magnani. My father came out to see what all the commotion was about. I thank God to this day it was not one of her pasta making days as she may have had the rolling pin handy and killed him on the spot. More then a just a funny story this occasion is indelibly etched in my mind as a great lesson directly relating, (however stretched by the entertainment of comedy), to the issues at hand. It is a way of life, a philosophy of life that people such as Uncle Jose and Slow Foods fight for. Decisions that each of us make on a daily basis contributes, supports and furthers one approach to land use, hence farming, or the other. One needn't be a radical law defying French farmer to make a difference. It is up to us, right here and right now on a multitude of levels to pass on to future generations the values that will eventually nurture the right decisions based on more then the bottom line. Perhaps it is a case of altering and redefining the bottom line. The bottom line is not a temporary condition. Not unlike mathematics, is infinite and stretches on forever. Our farm policies must reflect this fact. Often it is the small moments that, like seeds, mature into ripe fruit that feeds us. Sometimes it is our mind that needs nourishment beyond our bodies. This spring I was at ®Home Depot when a sight I will never forget caught my eye -- Twenty foot high shelving at least 200 feet long containing tons of various Weed Killers. I walked over where a small group of paunchy lawn caring men surveyed the stock deciding which one to select when I could not help but to address them. "Was it Emerson or Thoreau who said that a weed is a plant whose virtue has yet to be discovered." I asked. They looked at me as if I was from another planet, which in some ways perhaps I was. Dead silence. Suddenly buried somewhere in the group of unhealthy looking paunchy fellows came the gravely voice of a slight grayed haired man who couldn't have been less then 83 years old. "It was Emerson." He admitted. He looked me in the eye with a smile so wry and, a wink so devilish and knowing,
I would bet money right now that he was not a man at all, but a leprechaun.
So, culture does exist in America. Albeit, most of it predates WWII when there yet existed a reverence for the many other countries in the world evolving art to the degree where it became an integral part of their, hmmm... - culture - and, Americans still had time to pursue it. Back before we began to suffer the backlash from our efforts to define our identity. Are we too proud and full of fear to benefit from the efforts of our fellow man, wherever they are born?
The popular French singer Francis Cabrel has described Jose Bové "One of the last courageous, natural, honest voices left in a world where the rest are tarnished by compromise." In the spirit of this statement Mon Uncle Jose, I give you two small gifts of American culture from two great American icons: Mark Twain and John Wayne. The first: " It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare
." And the other. " Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway." After all, have we become so full of ourselves (fearful) that we really believe we can improve on millennia of evolution? Maybe not, but some of us have become greedy enough to attempt to trick everyone into thinking we can and should. God made it right the first time. It is our responsibility to learn how to use it properly. When I was in my mid-teens my good friend contracted a terrible case of poison ivy. His mom brought him to a doctor who gave him penicillin and asked him to use calamine lotion. It just got worse. By the third day he was in total agony. I looked up a cure in one of my trusty books based on Japanese folk medicine and Macrobiotics and found one. Chlorophyll plaster. 90% green leaves, 10% mint leaves and 10% unbleached white flour to cause it to paste. I went out to a field and gathered up all the broad leaf greens I could find, borrowed some mint from my Grandfather's garden and grabbed some unbleached flour from my Mother's cupboard. We spread the plaster over the affected area, which in this case was his entire body, and sent him off to bed. Aside from a ruined set of sheets he awoke with 90% of the poison ivy gone. It seemed a miracle to us. We were so excited we went to tell the doctor who refused to see us. "Get those hippie quacks out of my waiting room." We heard him squelch. I guess we scared him. We ignored him and went happily off, because we knew, as Eleanor Roosevelt had said, "No one can make you feel inferior without mutual consent." I will keep you in my prayers Mon Uncle Jose.

Confédération Paysanne, tele: +33 1 43 62 04 04 ( http://www.mygale.org/00/confpays/qsn.htm)

As our local representatives pedal the 5-acre zoning in many areas as a conservationist position, it in fact prevents most farmers from being able to utilize valuable land equity to actually preserve their farms. Will Rogers once said, "We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." If you believe this even a little, place October 3rd on your calendar. The Peconic Land Trust and the North Fork Promotional Council have planned a day of celebrating Long Island's North Fork farms, vistas, and vineyards from 11 am to 4 pm on Sunday, October 3. For more info, contact Mary Foster Morgan (631) 852-8660 ext. 37 or  mf92@cornell.edu.