Five summers ago, Dwayne Lee Johnson, a former school groundskeeper, won a lawsuit against Monsanto. He claimed that exposure to the weedkiller glyphosate caused his Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and the jury agreed. Johnson ultimately won a multimillion dollar settlement, and over one hundred thousand more cases were settled out of court for over $10 billion.
I found my way to Johnson’s San Francisco courtroom after learning that glyphosate, the same chemical under legal contention, is regularly sprayed on grains in the US and UK just before harvest for use as a harvest aid. In fact, the CDC recently reported that 80% of Americans have glyphosate in their urine. Independent, peer-reviewed research shows a connection between glyphosate and cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, microbiome disruption, and endocrine disruption, but the EPA routinely claims that it causes no harm to human health.
Curious to learn more about this controversial chemical, I drove to the courthouse on the first day of the Johnson pre-trial meetings. I expected an appropriate San Francisco-style protest against the company that most would consider the epitome of environmental evil. Instead, there was no fanfare. No nude bodies painted with MonsantNO nor twenty-foot inflatable GMO corn cobs that I noted present in European protests. Rather, I saw a lone ABC news van. With a folded protest sign reading “Monsanto Gave Me Leaky Gut” tucked into my messenger bag, I walked through the empty courthouse halls, straight into the courtroom, and took a seat in the third row.
A paltry few reporters sat in the galley. Meanwhile, this historic trial marked the first time Monsanto ever faced a jury, despite a record of manufacturing notorious toxins including Agent Orange, DDT, and PCBs. To provide supplementary trial coverage, I decided to blog the daily litigation, and on a whim named my blog “Glyphosate Girl”. A rather odd moniker I never imagined I’d claim for my own.
I had never been inside a courtroom, and felt painfully underdressed. Appearing more ready for pickleball than a courtroom, I looked to my left. With a partial smile, and a peek of my computer screen, the guy next to me put out his hand, “Glyphosate Girl? I’m Bobby Kennedy.” I had no idea who he was, but did note that his shoes were kicked off, exposing his worn blue dress socks.
Kennedy was part of a dynamic legal team, led by Wisner Baum and The Miller Firm, that I ended up observing closely. I learned expert by expert, study by study, just how Monsanto managed to continue selling glyphosate despite evidence that it might cause cancer.
As the months of the trial progressed, I became a regular. I watched Kennedy not only help craft legal strategy for the Monsanto trial, but also pour diligently through innumerable stacks of documents made available through legal discovery. I watched Kennedy debate in his friendly but intense style, which likely continues to intimidate his ideological foes. I watched Kennedy study and masterfully articulate how corporate capture of our regulators was rapidly leading to the demise of our health, soil, and future as a country.
But my most meaningful connection with Kennedy came on a day in August as we awaited the return of the Johnson verdict. He was particularly solemn – noteworthy mostly because I rarely saw any emotional shifts in him one way or the other. Kennedy turned to me and with deep sadness and asked “What will we do if the insects go extinct? I am worried that we are too late.” Indeed, if regulators continue to approve pesticides including glyphosate in order to support the profits of chemical manufacturers, this essential component of our food web will continue its apocalyptic decline. We will all be screwed.
I had never considered myself an environmentalist. At that moment I became one.
One lunchtime, Kennedy accidentally left his credit card at the cafe in the court basement. Starstruck after reading the imprinted name of the card’s owner, the cashier asked me if I knew that “Blue Eyes” was a Kennedy – like, a Kennedy-Kennedy. She showed me an article on her phone, and I learned this passionate environmental lawyer was RFK Jr.
My experience is the account of only one person, but my impression of current US Presidential Candidate RFK Jr does not match the claims of a “crank”, “nut” or “conspiracy theorist” so widely reported in the media. Kennedy is not a guy who was litigating against Monsanto for fame, money, or power. He holds deep concern that our environment and bodies are being poisoned by toxins in order to support the financial interests of corporations. He wants to do his best to cease the poisoning and stop the chronic disease epidemic that brings so much suffering to over half of the American population, including me.
Five years following the Johnson verdict, my hope is that RFK Jr gets an opportunity for citizens to hear who he really is – the version whom I met when he had no office to win nor unprecedented censorship with which to contend. He was just a lawyer with his shoes off, who ultimately helped bring justice to a hard-working California school groundskeeper made critically ill from the most widely used and perpetually reapproved pesticide on the planet, glyphosate.