Two weeks ago today, I was heading south for the inaugural "ShiftCon" gathering in Los Angeles. It was a fascinating event, attracting hundreds of women (and a handful of men) committed to "Shifting the Conversation" about health, wellness and the environment through social media activism.
My top two takeaways left me feeling optimistic. The first relates directly to our campaign work here at PAN: the pesticide problem is now front and center in the conversation about GE crops, and the link between the two is crystal clear. This is hugely encouraging. And the second? It may be obvious, but at ShiftCon it was palpable: the social media world is an astonishingly active and powerful place.
I'm holding onto this optimism as we digest this week's deeply disappointing (but not unexpected) news that EPA is giving the final go-ahead to Dow's new 2,4-D crops. Though the news is terrible, it would have come much sooner if thousands of people across the country hadn't raised a ruckus.
In fact, this awful decision was delayed by more than a year because people who care about food and farming are paying attention, standing up and speaking out. The online activism that took center stage at ShiftCon was critical to slowing the 2,4-D train. And the battle is far from over.
Well beyond consumer choices
The positive energy in L.A. was contagious, with the ubiquitous #ShiftHappens hashtag capturing the mood perfectly. From blogs to Twitter to Instagram, people are busy sharing powerful ideas and information, inspiring each other to make changes that make a real difference.
And its not just individual consumer-focused change that's happening, though that can be a powerful force. It's lasting shifts in policy and practice — from city councils to corporate boardrooms and beyond.
The conference organizers — led by Mamavation's Leah Segedie, a social media force of nature — brought together a potent combination of social change organizations, innovative and socially conscious companies, and online activists.
Many folks had longstanding connections in the virtual world, but were meeting each other in person for the very first time. For those of us in L.A. representing nonprofits, it was clear that blogger-activists are hungry for information and eager to dive deep into complex issues.
Leading by example
We had a lively conversation on our pesticide panel, touching on the history of pesticide use and regulation, the dramatic jump in the use of harmful herbicides linked to RoundUp Ready corn and other GE crops, and the steady, hopeful growth of the organic market.
Gary Hirshberg, of Stonyfield Farms and Just Label It fame, told the inspiring story of how and why he got involved in it all. It was a full room, with lots of great questions and discussion — and all present shared a clear desire to jump in and do something to improve our food and farming system.
And those 2,4-D crops? In just the past two weeks, more than 1/4 million activists called on the White House to block this wrong turn for U.S. agriculture — and emails are still rolling in. Legal action is in motion and people across the country, from farmers to health professionals to consumers, are more engaged than ever on this important issue.
After my inspiring weekend with the growing army of eco-bloggers and activists, I'm feeling surprisingly hopeful despite of the bad 2,4-D news. Working together, #shifthappens.