Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Fighting Monsanto with money

Angie Morelli’s crusade against GMOs boils down to one voter, one dollar

Taking a stand: Local activist Angie Morelli is bringing the fight against GMOs to the voters.
Photo: Brian Nordli

Three months ago, Angie Morelli, head of GMO Free Vegas, directed one of the largest anti-Monsanto marches in the country, with some 3,000 protesters shutting down part of Las Vegas Boulevard and drawing national media coverage.

For those who missed it, the protest was about this: Monsanto, a multinational agricultural biotech company, is a leader in the creation of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. That includes corn, which plays a part in roughly 70 percent of the foods we eat.

How GMOs might affect the health of those who eat them is a hotly debated topic, but at a minimum, protesters want Congress to force food manufacturers to label items made from genetically altered organisms. In May, 800 scientists from around the globe signed a letter expressing concerns about the threat of genetically modified foods. They asked for “the immediate suspension of all environmental releases of GM crops and products, both commercially and in open field trials, for at least five years; for patents on living processes, organisms, seeds, cell lines and genes to be revoked and banned; and for a comprehensive public inquiry into the future of agriculture and food security for all.”

The European Union has already enacted strict regulations on these new foods, and earlier this year some 5 million farmers sued Monsanto for $7.7 billion related to the company’s royalty charges on seeds.

In the U.S., elected leaders had done virtually nothing regarding GMOs until March, when Congress passed a farm bill that included a proviso widely known as the “Monsanto Protection Act.” In essence, it prevents a judge from enforcing an injunction on genetically modified seeds. There’s a chance, however, for Congress to delete the proviso in October, which is part of Morelli’s goal.

Morelli, 30, spent five years in the Marines, including time in Afghanistan, where she maintained Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters. The only female in her detachment, she was chosen for the post because she was smart, focused and very good at her job. Those same skills have helped her succeed in her civilian business, Customistic, a custom T-shirt/decal shop on Decatur Boulevard near Sahara Avenue. They also helped her oversee that massive anti-GMO/Monsanto protest on May 25.

The protest was such a success that Morelli—whose Vegas childhood rivals any hard-times story Charles Dickens could dream up­—has been asked by various groups to run for state office. She smiles at the requests but flatly refuses. As much as she loves Las Vegas, Morelli doesn’t want to be a politician.

Like so many others, she’s disenchanted with local and federal elected leaders. The way she sees it, for a few thousand dollars in campaign donations, most politicians become willing corporate pawns and the voters be damned.

Morelli, though, is a doer, not a complainer, so right now she is focusing on continuing the fight against genetically modified foods. “The more we let it go, the worse it gets,” she says.

She’s planning another protest march on Oct. 12, and Morelli has also come up with a fairly ingenious boycott she has dubbed the Corn and Currency Revolt.

Taking a cue from the ’60s grape boycott organized by Cesar Chavez in California, Morelli wants people to boycott GM corn. That’s step one. But it’s the currency part of her plan that might force politicians to pay attention.

In a YouTube video posted recently, Morelli talks about politicians being “bought” via corporate campaign donations. “Since they only understand money,” Morelli is asking people to slip a single dollar into an envelope addressed to their congressman, adding a note that the cash is to buy his or her vote against the Monsanto Protection Act.

“Our dollars,” Morelli says, “will speak volumes.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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