By Mackenzie Kamalei Feldman – The Star Advertiser, 10 July 2019 | Source
In the last two weeks of June, Lee Johnson, the Bay Area school groundskeeper who made history by taking on Monsanto/Bayer and winning in court, was in Hawaii meeting with policymakers and community members.
I am grateful that Johnson is my mentor, friend and biggest inspiration. Little did I know, that slipping a note to Johnson in the San Francisco courtroom during his trial would result in him offering his help with our UC-Berkeley student-led initiative. Johnson became an adviser for Herbicide-Free UC, our campaign to ban herbicides on University of California campuses.
Born and raised in Hawaii, I grew up following the stories of activists here fighting biotech corporations, asking for protection from toxic pesticide drift, and a moratorium on genetically modified experimental crop production.
Working with Johnson, I witnessed his eagerness to raise awareness about the toxicity of the herbicide glyphosate, so invited him to Hawaii to share his story to advocate for pesticide reform. I partnered with the Protect Our Keiki Coalition, a group of nonprofits that have inspired me over the years.
While in Hawaii, Johnson met with groundskeepers, state and county agencies, elected officials, teachers and community members.
I am grateful to state Rep. Amy Perruso for inviting the Board of Education (BOE) to listen to Johnson’s story at a public meeting at Leilehua High School. Because of BOE Chairwoman Catherine Payne’s sincere concerns, and the presence of schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto, the banning of herbicides from all public school in Hawaii was announced the very next day.
It was surreal to be in a room where my worlds collided — filled with the activists who inspired me to get involved with this movement, and Lee Johnson, the reason I continue to carry out this campaign. As a Punahou graduate, I can only hope that private schools will follow suit.
Because of the efforts of many people, Lee Johnson’s outreach in the islands has caused the arc to bend toward justice.
We owe him and his family a great deal for coming to Hawaii while battling a grave illness. His story and sacrifice motivate me to work even harder; if I can prevent one person from experiencing what he is enduring, then I must.
With a full heart, I continue my work with the UC system, ensuring that it commits to making its temporary glyphosate ban permanent, and eventually banning all of California’s Proposition 65 pesticides from UC campuses. I am excited to train groundskeepers on transitioning to organic methods, and to inspire more students to join our movement because I know firsthand that students can make change happen.
This seemingly small battle represents a larger issue at hand. Conventional agriculture uses an overabundance of chemicals, which deplete our resources and harms human health. My Hawaiian ancestors were self-reliant farmers, and it saddens me that Hawaii is ground zero for industrial agriculture. It frustrates me that over 90% of the food consumed in Hawaii is imported. It angers me that it is so difficult for small-scale organic farmers here to access land to grow food in a manner that doesn’t harm the environment.
But I am filled with hope knowing that there are many people who are working to make our food system — and our world — healthier and more just. Mahalo to everyone who has dedicated their lives to this cause, and for trusting in the next generation to carry the torch. I promise we will not drop it.
Mackenzie Feldman, a 2018 graduate of the University of Califorina-Berkeley, is founder of Herbicide-Free Campus; her campaign recently resulted in the entire University of California system going glyphosate-free.
By Jonathan Latham – The Ecologist, 28 May 2019