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Friday, 21 April, 2000, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Guerrilla gardening: Resistance is fertile

Sowing the seeds of dissent
Welcome to the latest weapon against the forces of global capital - a packet of lettuce seed.

Not just lettuce, actually. Carrots, potatoes, flowers. Anything that will grow. Just bring your own spade.

Activists are expected to rise up against the establishment by planting seeds on May Day. Their first target is Parliament Square, although they hope similar activities will go on all over the country - on roundabouts, central reservations, gardens of the rich, disused bits of land and so forth.

As a threat to the new world order, perhaps it lacks some of the drama of picketing the World Trade Organisation, but the impetus comes from the same motives. As the quotation below shows, Guerrilla Gardening is inspired both by environmentalism and anti-capitalism.

Learning to produce our own food is both essential if we are to ever truly take control over our own lives, and is implicitly a threat to capitalism as it makes a start towards breaking free of the cycle of supply and demand

From Reclaim the Street's site
It might sound innovative now (its roots have been growing in New York), but there is the chance that it could become a regular form of protest.

Peter Waddington, professor of political sociology at the University of Reading and an expert in protest movements, says novel forms of dissent can be a sign of a forthcoming boom in activity.

"Protesters devised the sit-in and the teach-in as a form of protest. A couple of hundred years ago, it was protesters in the 18th and 19 centuries who started to devise things like strikes.

More active demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation

"This is probably what we're seeing now - new players coming onto the scene with lots of novel ideas, some of which will fly as a way of protesting, and some of which will not. At first new methods of protest look bizarre and weird, but they can seem completely normal in a few years."

The question many people will ask, however, is that who will care if odd bits of land are overcome with radishes? How will that bring capitalism to its knees?

Containers of all types especially those that had a previous life linked to obvious capitalistic companies e.g. oil drums, Nike trainers, washing powder boxes. Subvert them, plant in them and bring them along

What to bring, Reclaim the Streets
There are two points to consider. Firstly, it would be a very visible protest. "Basically it's a challenge to authority and to the established order, and that's what protest is about," says Mr Waddington.

And secondly, it's going to get support from many sections of society. "It's a very clever form of protest, as it will appeal to all sorts of people, including those who will be spending their May Day weekend going to the garden centre to buy a tray of peonis to stick in their own yard."

And how about those older people for whom it will rekindle WWII memories of digging for victory?

One group which is unlikely to be impressed is the police, says Mr Waddington. Perhaps not knowing exactly what they are dealing with, the Metropolitan Police have cancelled leave over the bank holiday weekend so they will be able to cope should there be widescale disorder.

Another difficult policing situation: The Euston demonstration last year

"The problem for the police will be that it's not containable. The nice thing about a demonstration or rally is that you know where it is and where it is going," he says. "It may well take the authorities a while to get some sort of handle on it, there may well be some over-reaction or under-reaction as they struggle to come to terms with it."

But it would surely be a very brave policeman who would arrest somebody for planting a lettuce. Imagine how THAT would go down on Middle Britain's front pages on 2 May.

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