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HOME > Review > The Bio 2004 Protests - A View From Inside the Barricades
The Bio 2004 Protests - A View From Inside the Barricades

My Experience in Getting to Moscone

Living in Silicon Valley I had a pretty good idea what to expect when the protesters from a socialist commune of groups decided to try to shut down the BIO 2004 convention on Tuesday June 8th. I decided to get an early start to get to the convention center before the protesters I arrived at the Caltrain station at 4th and King at 6:50AM and promptly hopped on the Jitney that runs by Moscone, Union Square and the Financial District. I looked out the window and realized that something was already up when I saw FIVE helicopters hovering over the Moscone area, I figured it may be a long day.

I arrived at the Moscone center area, and trying to cross the street had an encounter with my first protester. My first reaction was to gag, since this guy had obviously not had a bath for close to a week. The conversation (with him 6 inches or so from my face) went something like this:

"Say no to GMOs! Hey, give me your badge! You don't want to go in there" - protester
"The company I work for develops vaccines. Some of the projects I would like to do are for third world disorders. You people should love me!" - thelabrat
Silence and dumbfounded look - protester.

Ok, well those of you who know me realize I probably did not use the word people in the above exchange...

Now, I was targeting sessions that were going on in Moscone west. For those of you that have never been to the convention center in San Francisco, Moscone North and South are connected by tunnels going under the street and if you need to go to Moscone West you need to cross an intersection. This is the only thing I think the police were not prepared for. Instead of clearing a path for people to transit, they were initially pushing people to the outside to go around the protesters, so I actually had to walk through the people there to get to Moscone west. Fortunately, not too many people were there yet. They later corrected this and provided a clear path for transit.

The protesters and confusion

Most of the protesters were against genetically modified food. Shutting down this conference has a fundamental flaw in that only a fraction of 1% of the people attending this meeting were working on genetically modified organisms! Besides that, you would probably find agreement among many that some of the initial proposals involving GM food products were too risky.

The surprise for me was the co-founder of Greenpeace who expressed his support for some genetically modified food. He had a write-up in a periodical that was distributed to all the meeting attendees that stated that the industry should take a tougher stand in the PR surrounding GM food. For example, show the problems of blindness in Africa and how Golden Rice, which has been genetically modified with the addition of beta carotene could have saved the sight of these children.

It actually seemed more like a party and social gathering at times than an actual protest. The turnout was also somewhat underwhelming given San Francisco's history of protests, with no more than 500 protesters at the height of activity.

One of the funniest times of the day was when several of us were walking in front of the protesters and saw a sign which read BIOTECH + PROFIT = BAD. We obviously started laughing hysterically at this, since it was obvious this person did not understand the state of the industry at all...

The counter-protestors!

There was a small group of counter-protestors on Tuesday organized by a Libertarian action group from BureauCrash.com. The attendees of the convention and thelabrat were quite happy to see these brave souls going against the socialist tide and voice their disapproval of the protesters. That said, it does not do justice to the extent which this group went to try to disrupt the protest. Check out their website for details on how they infiltrated the supporting groups to sow confusion among the ranks. Gentlemen, theLabRat salutes you...

Memorable quotes

Obviously the protest was the major point of conversation on the Tuesday of the meeting. Here are some of the more memorable quotes picked up by theLabRat:

      • "God bless these guys and freedom of speech! Because of them I have a job" - A security guard
      • "Maybe I should go out with a bullhorn and tell them I could increase the THC content of pot ten-fold! Do you think they would go away?" - A scientist working on genetic modification in plants
      • "Stop the lies! BioTech saves lives" - A counter-protestor
      • "My jeans(genes) fit fine" - a protester.
      • "Capitalism Heals! Socialism Kills!" - A counter-protestor


The goal of these protesters was to "shut down" the convention and they did not impact it at all. It was an annoyance to some of those attending, but speaking as someone inside the barricades, I actually made more contacts and potential business using the protest as a starting point for conversation. So, ironically, the protesters actions had the exact opposite influence on the convention as intended.

I also will come out in favor of an organized pro-biotech counter protest in Philadelphia in 2005. I think the protesters could easily be out-numbered. theLabRat will even bring some free cow and snow leopard lab coats to hand out if he is going to attend...


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