On Guerrilla Gardening

Too many activities have been declared mala prohibita by the government. Everything from selling raw milk to jaywalking has been arbitrarily dictated as being illegal. If it is indeed true that we all might as well be committing Three Felonies a Day, may it be time to accept the fact that the several American governments have essentially outlawed freedom, and thus we should act accordingly in order to re-secure our Liberties?

 

 

Guerrilla gardening is simply defined by the author as “the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land.” It is the practice of growing flowers or vegetables on what is usually public land. While it could be considered a cousin of culture jamming, it is uniquely different from it by virtue of the fact there is a direct utilitarian benefit from it, besides the fact that it doesn’t enjoy even the shred of legality that most culture jamming does.

As you can no doubt tell from the name, this unique form of civil disobedience necessarily carries several allusions to guerrilla warfare. Reynolds says:

 

“For a start, guerrilla gardening is not just about breaking convention but about breaking rules. Our enemy is not just normality, but something much worse. Just like the original Spanish guerrilleros, guerrilla gardeners are reclaiming land from enemy forces, and although our battle is seldom with imperial invaders, as theirs was, it sometimes feels as if we are up against a lot of little Napoleons.”

 

I’ve never heard of power-tripping local statists as “little Napoleons,” but I think that aptly describes the Austin City Council, who themselves violated Article 1, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution. Reynolds continues:

 

“Do not, either be tempted (as some people have) to describe an activity as guerrilla gardening in places where permission has been granted. Defining it as anything other than the illicit cultivation of someone else’s land belittles the bravery and imagination of genuine guerrilla gardeners. The most shameless appropriation of the term I have seen was the Mayor of London’s brief gassing of Trafalgar Square with Yorkshire turf in May 2007 (a rather pointless, expensive and ecologically dubious gesture about ‘greening’ the city), which was called ‘guerrilla gardening’ simply because the small lawn was installed at night.”

 

In other words, in order for a gardening activity to be truly a guerrilla one, it must also be throughly illegal. If that’s applicable to the rather benign act of gardening, wouldn’t you also think the same would apply to guerrilla operations in defense of our Liberty? Regarding the history of guerrilla gardening, Reynolds had this to say:

 

“The earliest widely publicized act of guerrilla gardening took place on an English hill in 1649. It was a turbulent time for the whole country. King Charles I had just been beheaded, the Council of State was in charge, and radicals were energetically pamphleting suggestions for the shape of their new society. Among those wanting changes was an impoverished textile merchant called Gerrard Winstanley, who was born in Wigan but by this time was living in Surrey. Calling for England’s unjust land rights to be corrected, he rallied a group of men and women who became known as the Diggers.”

 

Reynolds goes on to say that Winstanley pushed so hard on this because the English people were starving, so obviously the focus was on growing edibles, such as vegetables (kinda reminds you of the “crime” of killing the “king’s deer” to feed your family, doesn’t it?).

Some libertarians might get all in a hissy fit over guerrilla gardening, since they are likely to claim that not only does it violate individual property rights, but that it also somehow worsens the tragedy of the commons. First, most guerrilla gardening takes place on public land, so the worst any of them could say about that is that the guerrillas are fruitlessly attempting to homestead government “administered” property. Second, whatever private property the guerrillas are cultivating plants on are abandoned anyway, much like the abandoned property dumpster divers seek to reclaim for themselves. Reynolds comments that:

 

“Most guerrilla gardeners are up against two main enemies. These are not people or organizations but conditions of the landscape: scarcity or neglect, problems that come from how we all use the land. They are in some ways contradictory – if land is scarce you would not expect it to be neglected, and likewise in an area where land is being neglected you would expect there to be plenty to spare. But the world is not logical. People are not distributed according to what they need from the landscape, and rules and regulations prevent those who want land from making use of neglected space. Guerrilla gardeners ignore the rules and regulations, resolve the contradiction and have a lot of fun doing it. By cultivating someone else’s land without their permission, a guerrilla gardener directly confronts the problem through the landscape rather than the person – a strategy which is more often than not helps to avoid conflict.”

 

Generally speaking, yes, private property owners take better care of their property than the government takes care of public property, but that doesn’t always mean those owners aren’t statists or otherwise negligent:

 

“Private owners also neglect and abandon their land, particularly if they live far away from it. As some see it, they need nothing from the space and owe nothing to the community in which it sits – their land is simply an economic asset that they have decided is not worth investing in or selling yet; to the owner the land might as well be precious metal in a bank. But the difference is that the land is not packed away like gold bullion and hidden in a vault, but is a visible blight to everyone. Fortunately the lack of Fort Knox-level security means that the guerrilla gardener can strike.”

 

A corporatist treats “his” property similarly to how a government employee might neglect to cut the grass, the only difference being that a corporatist might do a better job if there was an incentive present for him to rip off his hapless customers had he just planted a few azaleas. Reynolds describes how John Chapman (aka, Johnny Appleseed) was able to cultivate as many guerrilla gardens as he did without violating anybody’s rights:

 

“Chapman avoided confrontation with the local inhabitants by befriending them, speaking their languages and teaching them how to cultivate trees and mix herbal medicines. He cut informal clearings in the abundant landscape and seeded apple trees all around the outskirts of nascent settler towns such as Warren and Franklin in Pennsylvania and Mariette and Mansfield in Ohio. He favoured discreet riverside spots, as it was in these fertile and accessible lands that the settlers were most likely to come and put down roots. In every inviting patch he planted some seeds, fencing the area to keep away peckish cattle and deer. His guerrilla orchards soon produced seedlings that he sold on to the local inhabitants.”

 

See, anarcho-capitalists? It’s not a mortal sin to grow plants on someone else’s land, especially if you are improving the quality of the land. While it is certainly preferable to ask permission from the owners, that’s not always possible or even desirable in some situations, but as long as the guerrilla gardener does not violate the Non-Coercion Principle, he therefore does not cause a common law tort with a genuine victim, so you can stick your overly self-righteous attitude right back into your pretentious black turtlenecks.

Not only does guerrilla gardening serve as a precursor to monkey-wrenching, but it also possesses agorist characteristics. As Reynolds describes:

 

“Personally, for most guerrilla gardening I favour the casual approach. When I am on regular maintenance missions to weed, collect litter and do a little planting I do not dress very differently from how I would normally. This means I can fit it in on my way to and from doing something else. If you are likely to be gardening, assemble your outfit with the practical common sense of a regular domestic-gardener: wear something warm, breathable, and comfortable. A hooded top would be eminently practical, except that in Britain, as the uniform of delinquent youths known as ‘hoodies’, it may provoke fear and aggression. You will want to stretch with your tools and kneel down in the dirt, so go for baggy and washable. Loose combat trousers (though please note my earlier comment about camouflage patterns) are well suited. Deep pockets are useful for shoving in a spare trowel, gloves, and other gardening odds and ends. Layers that can be removed and rolled into a bag are handy for when you get hot.”

 

He goes on to say that wearing those orange reflective vests with the yellow reflective strips can serve as effective camouflage during the dig, although Reynolds does admit there were a few times he had a couple brushes with government agents who, interestingly enough, after a brief chat, decided to leave him alone to dig without resorting to snitching on him to the cops. Reynolds goes on to say that:

 

“Choice of vehicle is critical. You might expect a capacious estate car or truck to be most practical, but both have their drawbacks. When driving a rusty old green Volkswagen Golf I was pulled over by London’s Metropolitan Police as a suspected terrorist and searched under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. My sacks of wood chippings piled up on the back seat were assumed by the twitchy officers to be a giant fertilizer bomb. The car was screaming out ‘terrorist cliché.’ A van, while disguising the innocuous contents from police view, has also been trouble for me. I hired a large white Ford Transit to carry waste to a municipal dump, but the beefy staff (who had been friendly when I had gone there by car) turned mercenary and demanded a fee for what they no considered ‘commercial’ dumping – all because my vehicle had no side windows.”

 

Timothy McVeigh jokes aside, it almost doesn’t matter whether your car has side windows or not, just going by Reynolds experiences alone. What it does mean is that, as a guerrilla gardener, you should be prepared to be at least pulled over for a police encounter. For a more monkey-wrenching application, here is what Reynolds describes:

 

“Guerrilla gardeners also grow crops that are more intoxicating than vegetables. In the global drug trade this activity is a cottage industry compared with mass-market drug agribusinesses, and there are advantages to the guerrilla’s boutique approach. A problem for drug barons who grow narcotics on their own land is that their incriminating crop is rooted to their land’s title deed, so they require a personal security force to keep prying enforcement agencies away – Peru’s coca growers rely on the 500-strong guerrilla army called the Shining Path for protection. But guerrilla gardeners need no guerrilla army because they are not cultivating their own land; as long as they are not caught in the act there is nothing to link them to the evidence. One anonymous guerrilla gardener discretely planted 3,400 marijuana (Cannabis sativa subsp. Indica) seedlings along the riverbanks of Carmel Valley, in the grounds of a huge Californian estate owned by the media baron Rupert Murdoch. They were eventually spotted, but the guerrilla gardener escaped before he could be arrested and the crops were destroyed.”

 

Even though I doubt Murdoch was arrested, it is conceivable that if his employees hadn’t discover it, and if, say, an “anonymous informant” had tipped off the Monterey Sheriff’s Department instead, I think there would have been a greater likelihood that Murdoch, the unrepentant statist war-monger, would have gotten what was coming to him, unlike the majority of the incarcerated population. In terms of agorism, Reynolds says:

 

“Although our activity is illegal, discreet and often carried out under the cover of darkness, we do not need to feel like spies in the night. We certainly do not need to deceive our loved ones with elaborate excuses for why we come home with mud all over our hands and knees. So, the first place to start your propaganda mission is at home. Gain the trust and perhaps even the enthusiasm of your next of kin, friends and family. This is essential. While your ultimate aim should be to recruit them to fight alongside you, there are other more pressing concerns that make it essential to tell them about your activity at the earliest stage. These are the people to whom you will turn should anything untoward happen in the field – an arrest, perhaps, or an accident. Do not wait until after something has gone horribly wrong to explain to them what you were doing. I do not mean to worry you – guerrilla gardening is relatively safe – but think of basic propaganda as common-sense safety. Imagine your family at your funeral, agonizing about why you were found dead on a roundabout with a fork and a tray of pansies. Propaganda need go no further than telling them what you are doing.”

 

Trust is the most important commodity for agorists, whether in or out of government prison. Discrete peer-to-peer trading is the best recruitment tool, for it demonstrates the utter lie of statism. These despotic jokers can’t even keep what they consider to be illicit narcotics out of their own prisons, so why should we expect drug prohibition to keep these same alleged narcotics off the streets? Similarly, guerrilla gardeners rely on the trust of their close friends and family in order to safely and effectively conduct their digs; for them, taking their loved ones on a dig is the best recruitment tool, for it too demonstrates the utter lie of statism.

Reynolds does address the pros and cons of guerrilla gardeners transitioning into just gardeners when they try to “legitimize” their gardens by asking the government for permission to do something they were already doing anyway. As he describes:

 

“The fight with authorities is never over, even when you think you have official permission. The guerrilla gardeners of New York thought their street-fighting days were well behind them by the mid-1990s. While a few gardens had been bulldozed over the years, most had been legitimized after the gardeners agreed to pay a nominal rent to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. There were also supported by a publicly funded organization called Green Thumb. But the political landscape changed in 1997, when Mayor Giuliani set about auctioning off 300 of the gardens. What were once seemingly worthless patches of land had become ripe for development. Mass protests that extended far beyond the gardeners saved many old guerrilla gardens during this period, but the fight continues.”

 

Isn’t that just delightful? So, those guerrillas cultivated the land, homesteaded it, and then that statist boot-licker Rudolph Giuliani unilaterally began auctioning off 300 gardens? If there any example (besides the bankster bailouts, the Iraq War, and American police state terrorism) to convince those skeptical of our overall political situation as being blatantly tyrannical, I think this is prima facie evidence that the State does not give a shit about you or your family; in that case, then why bother offering allegiance to an entity that admits it does not bear an obligation to protect you or your property in exchange for that allegiance? Reynolds elaborates:

 

“When a journalist calls, answer their questions in as matter-of-fact a way as you can. It is important that you avoid the risk of playing up to media stereotypes. Generally, people who do something illegal, particularly if it is at night, are shifty and reluctant to talk about it – eccentric at best, obstructive at worst. On the other hand, people who spend lots of their time doing community work have a reputation for being a bit dull, which makes neither a good story nor appealing propaganda. The journalist may well have a preconceived idea that you are naïve eccentric fool and be looking to play this up. Your role is to convey that you are anything but this – just an enthusiastic average gardener who is keen to take responsibility for public space and who sees the illegality of the activity as a silly quirk of the world we live in.”

 

Of course, this assumes that you are willing to go public as a Freedom Outlaw of the agitator persuasion. Reynolds cautions:

 

“Victory is possible without legitimization. Do not feel that it is an inevitable step. An owner who has neglected a piece of land for years may continue to do so indefinitely. Your intervention may be totally acceptable to that landowner, but not something they wish to be seen sanctioning. So, even though a truce has not been signed, your battle could well be over. Accept that, remembering this: a guerrilla gardener who wishes to go straight risks losing everything. You are blowing your cover, you are confessing, you are pointing out your success compared with their failure, you are putting whoever is officially responsible in an embarrassing and defensive position. What you thought was neglect may turn to interference, and what you hoped was a supportive blind eye could become an obstructive beady eye.”

 

Yeah, it’s exactly for that reason that I think moles and ghosts are more desirable types of Freedom Outlaws because they avoid the limelight of the camera and the Carousel who will attempt to rip them apart, in addition to the corporate whore media. Reynolds describes what happened the one time he tried to “go straight” when he approached his local government in order to receive their seal of approval on what he had already been doing on his own initiative:

 

“The meeting immediately went off course. The horticultural expert pointed out issues he had with my planting, describing the one tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum) as ‘totally inappropriate for a flowerbed’, warning me with a shaking head that the lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Prince Wolkinsky’) was invasive and predicting the laurels (Laurus nobilis) would get very big if I did not look after them – oblivious to the fact that (unlike his department) I would indeed be looking after them. The labourer insisted that the butterfly bush was a damaging weed and posed a threat to walls and railway bridges, but was blind to its safe location and unable to explain why, if it was so dangerous, he had merely cut it back rather than digging it out. I lost patience with their nitpicking, the absence of an explanation for their neglect and their lack of appreciation for my voluntary contribution. I told them so, at which point the particularly twitchy senior contractor declared, ‘Hey, this guy is completely unreasonable. Let’s just chop the lot down.’ This petty outburst provoked some sense from his colleagues and we moved on to discuss responsibility.”

 

A perfect demonstration of statism as I’ve ever seen. Notice how the horticultural “expert” automatically assumed that Reynolds are careless but that the local government was, when in fact the complete opposite was true; in fact, Reynolds’ description of that entire meeting was more akin to a polite version of a Mafia negotiation, whereby one or both sides are attempting to determine how they will divide up the spoils.

Richard Reynolds’ On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries is an absolutely useful insight into how to resist the proverbial Nanny State. I also noticed that the skills learned while guerrilla gardening are easily translatable to the survivalist practice of burying supply caches. One of the many reasons I prefer direct action to reformism is because it takes any reliance you may have upon the State and gives the responsibility for your own liberation back to you. As Emma Goldman is often quoted as saying, “If voting ever changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” Yet, this is not the only reason to participate in direct action. I’ll leave you with this concluding thought from Reynolds himself:

 

“By breaking rules, guerrilla gardeners are challenging the conventions of society. Doing so in public space is a direct rejection of our political environment. As guerrilla gardeners most of us fight within a democratic society, a structure that is meant to be sufficiently free to hear opinions and accept them if the case is compelling. We are also participants in a capitalist system, where everything has a price and resources are traded. Most guerrilla gardeners evade the pigeonhole of political affiliation. Observers label us as being all over the political map – a mayor of New York has described guerrilla gardeners as communists, the Adam Smith Institute (a right-wing think tank) has expressed support for GuerrillaGardening.org, while journalists describe us as anarchists and culture jammers. Guerrilla gardeners themselves variously describe their approach as communist, egalitarian, situationist, libertarian, spiritual, therapeutic, and even fascist; I describe it as common-sense.”

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