n what was supposed to be a huge gathering of the common man against big, bad, multinational, biotechnology corporations bent on taking over the world's food system, several large biotech companies held their annual meeting in San Diego, California, this past June. Antibiotech activists held a counterconference to spoil the party. Predictions were that four to eight thousand demonstrators would fill the streets in raucous protest à la Seattle, Montreal, and Genoa, where hodgepodges of protesters assembled to demonstrate against technology and globalization. In preparation, the city of San Diego spent nearly $3 million training police in crowd and riot control.
The predictions were way off.
Barely one hundred activists showed up for the first two days of the protest meeting. Even the much-publicized street demonstration held on the opening day of the biotech industry's conference failed to attract more than a few hundred people-many of whom were just spectators, regular San Diegans out for a Sunday afternoon stroll along the waterfront. They were understandably attracted to the scene by the noise of hippie drum circles and the sight of colorful costumes, large street puppets, and a huge banner that read "BIOTECH PERVERTS KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY GENES."
The protest's coordinators were clearly disappointed. After all, this should have been the biggest, most successful antibiotech demonstration of them all. It was held in California, the most activist-rich region in North America, and it was scheduled for a weekend, when activists could hop into the Volkswagen and head south for a sunny weekend of corporation bashing. What went wrong? Lack of motivation. Most of the public simply isn't that worried about biotechnology. And given the vapidity of the activists' positions, it isn't hard to understand the public's apathy.Crashing the Protesters' Party
I attended the two-day activist "teach-in" conducted before the street demonstration, to get a handle on how big the antibiotech movement is and where it is heading. The teach-in was held at San Diego's Balboa Park for the first day and a half, and then in classrooms at San Diego City College, across the street from the park. The event featured an eclectic mix of antibiotech, anticapitalist, and antiglobalization speakers, and even some folksingers. Most of the few who attended, however, were professional activists. They spent much of their time outside the Balboa Park amphitheater attempting to attract visitors from the adjacent aerospace and automotive museums to their teach-in. They weren't very successful-especially after museum-goers learned about the $10 entrance fee. "I'm not paying to hear that garbage," said one man as he passed under a huge SR-71 Blackbird spy plane perched over the aerospace museum's entrance.
The futuristic plane provided welcome shade from the hot southern California sun, and endless grist for conversation among the activists. They complained predictably about the "huge waste of money" spent on the "war machine." At one point, as I was sitting under the plane using a cell phone to call my office, a middle-aged activist ran up to me with a device that looked like a pager. She held the device inches from my face-it started beeping-and loudly proclaimed that using a cell phone "is like sticking your head in a microwave oven! They aren't safe! Protect yourself!" She then ran off, bracelets and crystal jewelry jangling, having spotted a fellow antibiotech activist heretically using a cell phone several yards away. You quickly learn that each activist brings his or her own agenda to these events; they spend much of their time hectoring one another over assorted technological sins.
On Saturday afternoon, when the teach-in moved to San Diego City College, things got more interesting. Actually, I made things more interesting. After sitting through two hours of lectur