ADM Protest: Stench, Soy, and Severe Security

Written by Robin

Topics: Agribusiness

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I’ve just returned from a quick trip helping our Rainforest Agribusiness team organize a protest the ADM annual shareholders meeting in Decatur, IL.

If you haven’t yet, check out Leila’s post about all the action inside the meeting.

My job was to help put together our outside action. I’ll give you the summary first and you can read more for a blow-by-blow rundown of my experience.

First, the short version:


  • go to Decatur
  • hear strange things on the radio
  • meet with the chief of police
  • learn all about ADM and Decatur
  • head to Urbana-Champaign to get some student support
  • back to Decatur for the protest
  • encounter a crazy aggressive/ridiculous/paranoid/intimidating private mercenary security presence contracted by ADM
  • get followed out of town
  • see a vision of the future
  • make it safely back to San Francisco.

I landed in St. Louis two days before the event, rented a flexfuel (how appropriate) vehicle and hit the road for the soy capital of the world, Decatur, IL.

Quick radio side note: the first thing I hear on the radio, no joke, was an environmental radio show on KDHX. And what are they talking about? A protest on RAN’s National Day of Action Against Coal Finance. I was kinda floored by that. I mean, it just seemed like a crazy coincidence.

My first order of business once I arrived was a meeting with the Decatur deputy police chief. He had called me a couple days before and asked if I’d come meet with him. Apparently ADM had told him we were coming. He turned out to be one of the friendliest police officials I’ve ever encountered. He had lots of pictures of RAN’s banner drop in Chicago along with printouts of news releases from our website.

I told him we planned a completely lawful and peaceful demonstration. I think I had him at “lawful.”

He was so pleased to hear that we wouldn’t be scaling any buildings and our conversation quickly turned towards advice on where to park. Fifteen minutes later we exchanged smiles and I took off to check out the location.

Decatur is a very interesting town. First, it stinks. Literally. It just smells terrible from all the corn and soy processing. Pipelines carrying corn syrup, built by ADM to circumvent a labor lockout at in-town competitor (or is co-conspirator a better term) Tate & Lyle run through the town, over and under roadways. Did I mention ADM is not unionized?

Despite my fascination with the town, I did have to leave Decatur and head to Urbana-Champaign. I met up with a few great activist from Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS), a campus environmental group and we painted our final banner in preparation for the early morning protest the next day.

First thing in the morning we head off towards the stench (I again only mean that in the most literal sense) of Decatur.

When we arrive at the shareholders meeting, held in a building that used to be a middle school, we are immediately stopped by a group a special private security mercenaries. We don’t even make it to the regular entrance check point where everyone else has to stop. Our car is surrounded immediately by at least six guard in black. A few of them have video cameras and they clearly want to put on quite a show of recording each of our faces.

The guards, who by the way traveled in $100,000 Mercedes sedans, tell us to park across the street and point to chalk-outlined box on the front lawn of the facility where we are allowed to peacefully hold up our banners.

At this point we have twice as many guards and police as protesters. A news reporter had been waiting for us on location and he set up his camera outside of the designated “free speech zone” to interview Leila. What a dilemma for the guards: do they interrupt the NBC interview to enforce what they called the “white line rule” and risk an embarrassing news report or do they just keep quiet and wait for the cameras to leave?

Of course, they waited. Because keeping peaceful demonstrators in an arbitrarily-drawn box is ridiculous.

ADM had people standing on top of their building sniper-style and the collection of large men they’ve hired spent the whole morning our videotaping our every move. The guards told us that ADM flew them all in just for the protest. The overall vibe was just pointless but clear intimidation.

Personally I mostly find this to be both hilarious and somewhat reassuring:

Hilarious because they’ve got a small army and we show up, quietly hold up some hand-painted banners, and wave to folks as they drive by.

Reassuring because it is such a clear sign that ADM is totally freaked out by us. That’s a good sign to me.

But I also know that I am somewhat insulated from the threat of police/corporate violence and that one of my privileges is that I am far less likely to be harassed or attacked by these people.

So I also see how this display of force is not just funny, but also genuinely frightening and sad. The fact that ADM thinks hiring intimidating guards is somehow an appropriate response to non-violent dissent is disturbing. The fact that the guards and the police we’re chatting it up all morning is disturbing. They took down our license plate numbers, video taped each person there, and ultimately followed us out of town as we left for the airport.

I’m really not sure if I should feel proud, scared, or both.

Finally clear of the mercenary’s vehicle we hit the highway heading toward St. Louis.

My final note comes from the drive back. We stopped at a gas station and came across a row of oversized trucks carrying what we eventually realized were gigantic blades for wind turbines.

Hmm. The future sure looks different from the past.

10 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Martin w says:

    you are sadly misguided, and have not done your homework. the 400+ members of the BCTGM union would be disappointed in your comment about no unions. ADM has only ~7% of Wilmar. the pipeline you mention is for steam. stop wasting the money given to you by children and others concerned about rainforests. camp out on government doorsteps in brazil until they stop the destruction.

  2. Robin says:

    I’m glad you wrote in. First, I will freely admit I got my info from folks in Decatur and I took them at their word. Looking into things, it looks like ADM does have some union employees, maybe even up to the 400 you mention (ADM’s total workforce: 26,000+). Also, on the topic of labor, let’s not forget that ADM wouldn’t even sign on to an agreement against using slave labor in Brazil until just a few weeks ago and they still don’t have any enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure they live up to that pledge.

    As for the pipelines I mentioned, I heard that one in town as well, and here is an article by Richard Whitney of the National Lawyers Guild discussing just what I mentioned the building of those pipelines as a way to move corn products during a labor lockout:

    Here also is an article from the Center for Land Use Interpretation which also talks about the corn syrup pipelines:

    Also, as if that wasn’t bad enough. There’s another crazy thing about the industrial landscape in Decatur I forgot to mention. How does ADM power its agricultural facilities? With their very own coal-fired power plant of course!

    As far as ownership of Wilmar, I know that ADM loves to claim over and over that they have no influence over anything since they don’t wholly own the plantations in question. Sure, but as the world’s largest agricultural processor they are clearly in a particularly powerful position when it comes to influencing the business practices of the industry. If ADM wouldn’t do business with anyone who used forced labor, or destroyed rainforests, or exploited indigenous communities do you think these practices would keep on expanding?

  3. Nick says:

    Martin makes a mistake by assuming that rainforest destruction can be stopped simply by changing laws in Third World countries. Governments in developing nations that try to protect their natural resources from exploitation by US corporations have a disturbing tendency to be overthrown – covertly, of course – by the United States. What do you think would happen if every country in South America suddenly said it would not allow ADM and thier ilk to destroy forests? Those governments wouldn’t last long, in a world where mega-corporations control US politics, and the US is willing to “intervene” in other peoples’ countries their own to protect corporate interests. No, you can’t stop rainforest destruction without fighting the corporations on their home turf – in the US. RAN has it right.

  4. Heywood says:

    Although not a shareholder or employee of ADM, I was happy to hear that the city of Decatur, IL did not give you the keys to the city or welcome you with open arms. Though I have given to your cause over the years, I’ve become somewhat disillusioned with what I consider to be terrorist tactics and the fact that those that are truly exploited in the name of the saving the rainforest are the “leaders” that you bring to the states in order for you to display like a “prop” at your protests. No one likes a bully or a crybaby and your organization has come to epitomize both. Good luck BS’ing others in your attempt to destroy companies such as this one. I for one will no longer accept your rhetoric as the truth and hope that others come to the realization that you indeed exploit others in order to solicit donations and fill your coffers, while maintaining that you are protecting the interests of the Rainforest and its inhabitants.

  5. Robin says:

    Wow, “Heywood,” how did you manage to break into ADM and use one of their computers to post that comment? Your IP address indicates that you posted from an ADM computer.

    I guess I should call the Decatur police–who were for the record very welcoming–and tell them that ADM has a bad security breach.

    Seems like you’re getting closer to committing an illegal act of terrorism than our peaceful and totally lawful demonstration ever was.

    Bottom line, your comment displays just the kind of ignorance I expect from an ADM crony.

  6. Mike E. says:

    I am an employee of ADM and also a proud member of the United Steel Workers. We work just across the tracks from where you were. We are by far not the only union that ADM has.They have sever thousand that are made up of a lot of diffrent unions. We have over 300 members just in my plant. So you need to get your facts straight before you post them for the world to see.

  7. Robin says:

    Mike, like I said, I was just relaying what I was told by folks I met in Decatur. I understand now that ADM has both union and non-union workers in Decatur. Got it. I wonder if you have any thoughts, as a union member, about the overall labor practices of the company? In particular I wonder what your thoughts are about the gross abuse of labor right ADM has been responsible for around the world or about ADM’s history with unions here in the U.S.?

  8. Fred says:

    “Governments in developing nations that try to protect their natural resources from exploitation by US corporations have a disturbing tendency to be overthrown – covertly, of course – by the United States.”

    You cannot be serious. I mean you could argue that powerful transnational corporations in practice control local governments, but the idea of the United States planning coups so it can produce more biofuels is laughable at best. I like how you say the US will do it “covertly”, so there will be no evidence for your claim. Very convenient.

  9. Por insatisfação, e ingnorar sobre a renovação da mesma venho requerer o canselamento e reembolso refentes aos saque feito em minha conta no banco do Brasil no valor de 48,00 o qual eu ingnorava, vindo a perceber no ultimo saque no dia 03/03/2009.
    Sem mais Antônio Roberto

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