Claremont Students Storm GE Ceremony.

by: Megan Thompson

Published in the Earth First! Journal.

On November 17, Students for the Bernard Field Station (a group at the Claremont Colleges in Los Angeles County) mobilized a large group of supporters comprised of students, faculty and other Claremont residents to take direct action against Keck Graduate Institute's plans to develop the Bernard Field Station. Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) is the first graduate school in the world dedicated solely to biotechnology. It became the seventh Claremont College with a $50-million special gift from the Keck Foundation. The corporate partners who are part of the KGI roundtable are: Bayer, which performed medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps and didn't apologize until forced to in 1994; DuPont, which has toxic factories destroying the environment all over the world; and Genetech, which has a history of stealing university research. The most appalling aspect of this corrupt corporate involvement with an educational institution is that much of the KGI research results will become the private property of these four corporations. In addition, none of the professors at KGI are eligible for tenure, meaning that legitimate objections about the nature of the research (ethical concerns, for example) are far too easily silenced.

KGI is currently in operation in downtown Claremont, California, but has plans to make a new home for itself at the Bernard Field Station (BFS) at the base of Mount Baldy. This biological field station consists of 86 acres of coastal sage, an endangered ecosystem. It is also the sacred site of the pre-Columbian Tonga village Torojoatngna. It is an invaluable educational resource for both college students and community groups. Both students and faculty at the Claremont Colleges have voted overwhelmingly against the development of BFS, and Claremont residents have also voiced strong objections. Despite this unified stand against KGI's plans, the college administration and the Claremont City Council have succumbed to the powerful influence of these corporations and endorsed the development of BFS.

In addition to Students for the Field Station, the community group Friends of the Field Station (FFS) has also been working to protect BFS. Unfortunately, after repeated frustrations, FFS made an out of court settlement with the colleges on November 15 to protect 40 acres of BFS. Students for the Field Station and others who joined in the November 17 protest find this agreement unacceptable. Every acre of this sacred land needs to be protected from the insidious dominance of corporations; compromise is not an option.

November 17 was the first Annual Convocation for KGI. Over 200 concerned citizens gathered at Pomona College to rally, march and take action for BFS. After inspiration from the colleges' Activist Cheerleading Team, some street theatre and a performance from the LA-based "Billionaires" (an activist musical group), the protestors marched with a three person, 15 foot puppet of KGI president Hank Riggs, to the current site of KGI, where the inaugural ceremonies were to take place.

The group was met by security, policemen and supporters of KGI, who were congregated outside the tent. Several students immediately crossed over the police line to block the only entrance to the tent and keep the event from commencing. Behind them the puppet (with six people under it) crossed over the rope and was held back by police. There was a temporary impasse until the impassioned throng of protesters took strength in their numbers and swarmed the police line. With the whole group seated between the KGI folks and their party, the inaugural celebration was successfully interrupted and the KGI faction was led to a building to hold their event privately. Protesters followed and stood chanting outside the building, with the KGI group watching and listening from windows on the second floor. When the protesters sensed that they had made their statement as loudly and clearly as possible, everyone held hands to form a large circle and conclude what was felt to be a successful protest with peace and a song.

This action was a powerful first statement by an ever-growing group who refuses to compromise some of Los Angeles's last open space to corporate biotechnology interests. Action will be continuing throughout the spring when the BFS issue will be on the Claremont city ballot, and onwards from there, until this sacred land is permanently protected.

For more information contact Abigail at

This article is copyright The Earth First! Journal.

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