How many remember the movie Witness, with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis? It was a great movie, but the point we want to make here is based on one of the culminating scenes in the movie, as the Amish community rapidly responded to a little boy’s ringing of a warning bell.
Things have changed a lot in the last 30 years.
In the current story, social media, including Facebook served as the the warning bell, and Facebook friends responded much the same way Amish neighbors responded in the movie — and, just as in the movie, made a real difference.
Michael Schmidt said about 20 officials from Ontario’s ministries of agriculture, natural resources and finance, as well as local police, arrived at his farm in Durham, Ont., at 10:30 a.m. Officials started removing equipment and computers when members of the collective showed up, he said. They began removing equipment and computers, intending to confiscate them for the crime of providing raw milk to people who freely choose to drink it.
Then something awesome happened. Up to 50 members of Schmidt’s farming collective showed up and blocked the path of the officials, risking arrest to demand that the government leave Schmidt’s possessions and exit the property….And it worked.
“There was a complete standoff,” Schmidt said. “Finally the farmshare members negotiated a deal that everything stays here, and they’re leaving.”
Adding to the spectacular nature of this peaceful resistance is the fact that it started with a Facebook post that was put out when agents arrived at the farm.
At about 11:45 am, raw milk activist Liz Reitzig posted:
“URGENT: Michael Schmidt is getting raided right now! Agents are on the farm right now. Michael is requesting anyone who can please come to the farm immediately with video recording equipment.”
At 2:53 pm Schmidt posted on Facebook:
“Stand off. Nothing leaves the farm until we get the assurance that premier Wynn respects the right of people to drink their own milk.”
Then, at 4:30 pm, Reitzig posted:
“Update: Michael just texted that the equipment and products the agents confiscated were just unloaded from the trucks. The people have their products back! And no arrests so far. Super news!”
This is a testimony to the power that comes with a combination of peaceful resistance and instant social media. Immoral, corporate-backed laws can indeed be fought with knowledge and passion.
Schmidt has been fighting the Canadian government for the last decade, with outstanding fines of $9,150 under the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act. He even went on a hunger strike in 2011 for 40 days, losing 50 pounds, until he could speak with the premier.
It is not illegal for someone to possess and consume raw milk from their own cows, but the Canadian government believes that selling it is a threat to public health. There is no evidence that Schmidt’s raw milk has ever harmed anyone, and supporters instead tout the health benefits.
Schmidt has tested Canada’s prohibition on raw milk distribution by first allowing consumers to buy an ownership interest in a dairy cow, then by allowing them to buy part ownership in the farm.
Those who want Schmidt’s milk obviously go to great lengths to get it, so it’s not as if some uninformed grocery shopper is buying a product they know nothing about. Yet Canada is intent on dismantling this “criminal operation.”
“The owners went there and went, ‘What the hell are you doing? It’s our food, why are you taking that away? We can make our own choice,’” Schmidt told the Toronto Sun. “It’s not distributed to the public. I’m not asking for change in the laws, just this should be exempted from the general law because it’s a private arrangement.”