When I went to work as the legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in 2003, I was unprepared for...
You may not have heard of her, but she's doing a lot of good work. Her name is Lori Grace, and she calls herself a "donor activist."
She's been involved in several big campaigns over the last decade, including global warming and election protection.
But this fall, she threw herself into California's Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.
"I've never worked so hard," says the 62-year-old.
Her nemesis was the Monsanto corporation, the maker of the herbicide Roundup.
"I've been concerned about Monsanto for a long time as a bully against small farmers," she tells The Progressive. She believes that the company has suppressed research in the United States into the harmful effects of Roundup.
"We don't live in a free country, " she said. "We live in a country where corporations control what we think."
"I had to bury myself in European journals" to find out what was going on, she says. One study in Germany revealed that the active chemical in Roundup was found in people's urine at 5 to 20 times the allowable limit for drinking water.
"If Americans could look at the toilet bowl and recognize that they're peeing out herbicides and their children are peeing out herbicides, it would affect them," says Grace, who is funding a study in the United States on this subject.
In the months leading up to the vote on Prop. 37, Grace was a frequent public speaker. She says GMOs have "horrifying effects." They cause "immune system problems, cancer in lab animals, and digestive problems," she says.
But on Nov. 6, voters in California turned down Prop. 37 by 53-47.
"We were bombarded with money," Grace says. The opponents outraised proponents $46 million to $9 million, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Monsanto alone gave $7 million, according to the newspaper.
"I'm living in a country where I cannot make quality choices about food and farming," Grace says.
She says the next battle may be in Washington State in 2015, and she hopes the activists focus on the health risks of GMOs.
For Grace, Prop. 37 was just the latest in a series of issues that she's taken on with great energy.
She founded the Sunrise Center in Corta Madera, California, more than two decades ago. "Our desire is to support, educate and empower the growth of a community, which celebrates the dawn of a greener world," it says on its website. "We offer classes, workshops and events that aid in building our skills to have sustainable relationships while living a sustainable life."
She helped create the Threshold Foundation back in 1982, which defines itself as a "a progressive foundation and a community of individuals united through wealth, who mobilize money, people and power to create a more just, joyful and sustainable world."
It was at the Threshold Foundation that she first heard Al Gore present his slideshow on global warming. This had a huge impact on Grace.
"I felt that the Earth was calling me to help," she says. "So I became totally zeroed in on joining" his efforts to educate the public on this issue.
Her concern about global warming led her to become involved locally with Marin Clean Energy, which is a source of renewable energy to residents and businesses. She gave the organization a sizable loan at a crucial time, which was repaid with interest, she says proudly.
After the stolen election of 2000, Grace became aware of the issue of election protection when she heard a presentation by ace investigative reporter Greg Palast.
"I was horrified," she says. "We live in a sham democracy."
In 2004, she worked with Bev Harris of Black Box Voting, and she helped fund the HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy." She works closely with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman on election protection issues today.
"Our votes are not at all safe right now," she says. "That's where part of my life is dedicated."
She's now championing the Trachtenberg election verification systems for counting ballots. Humboldt County uses such a system, which generates ballot images so that everybody can see the counts.
"There are profound weaknesses in our system," she says. "We need to create a system we can trust."
Through all her work as a donor activist, Grace remains hands on. She's in it for the long haul.
"I'm trying to use what money I have strategically to make a difference," she says. "I have a profound sense of concern about our planet and our country -- and where we're headed. I can't walk away."
The Progressive magazine and the Golden Spirit Awards are honoring Lori Grace and Jackson Browne at a fundraiser for The Progressive in Santa Monica on Dec. 2. For more information, contact email@example.com.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Warnings Pile Up Before Qatar Climate Talks."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.
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