3. Making a commitment

In this section...

"'Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself then providence moves too .... whatever you can do or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.'."


3.1 Ground rules

See also introduction.

The genetiX snowball is committed to safe working, nonviolence, openness and being prepared to accept the consequences of the action. These are ground rules which we see as central to genetiX snowball and it is essential that everyone who takes part makes a serious commitment to follow them by signing the Pledge (see appendix 3.2).

After much discussion, we have come up with a working definition of nonviolence which forms the basis of the pledge. We do not presume this to be either definitive or watertight in a general sense. Maybe your group would find it useful and interesting to explore definitions of nonviolence as a way of informing yourselves of the issues.

Being open means that you do not hide what you are doing or planning to do. Being accountable simply means that you actively tell people either about what you intend, or what you have already done, when you have done it, and are prepared to take responsibility for your action. Again, in a general sense, there are many ways of being accountable and many possible people to whom you might want to account.

3.2 Explanations about the pledge

The Pledge is produced on one page suitable for photocopying in the appendix 3.2.

3.2.1 Safety

- I will put all GM plants pulled up by me into strong polythene bags, seal them with heavy duty tape, mark them with a biohazard symbol, leave them at the site and inform the Environment Agency giving full details of the location.

Toxic herbicides, sprays or fire should not be used to destroy the plants, because these would damage the wider environment and be a safety hazard. We do not have the expertise or necessary equipment to destroy the GM crops in a safe way. We should not get into thinking that we have to be responsible for clearing everything up; it is okay to ask for help with something we cannot deal with safely. The Environment Agency is responsible for clearing up biohazards.

Bags which contain plants should be sealed and clearly marked with the official biohazard sign; see Appendix 5.12. They should be left at the site and the area office of the Environment Agency (details of your area office are in the local telephone directory) informed that there is a biohazard and given the exact location of the site.

- I will take appropriate precautions to ensure that no genetically modified plant material on my body or clothing will contaminate any area beyond this site. Pollen is microscopic and it could get into your clothing or hair and so be transported on you to a site where it could fertilise wild relatives of the plant. To avoid this you will need to wear protective clothing, shoe covers and gardening gloves.

Before you leave the area take off your protective clothing and bag this up, seal it and mark it as a biohazard in the same way as you have with the GM crops and leave them for collection by the Environment Agency as above.

Point out to anyone else, such as journalists, security guards, police, who enter the contaminated area that they are likely to spread genetic pollution if they walk amongst the GM plants without protective clothing. It is a good idea to cordon off the contaminated area with some brightly coloured tape and biohazard signs. See Appendix 5.12 on preparing equipment for the action.

3.2.2 Nonviolence

- I will remove ____ (no more than 100) individual genetically modified plants on this day. See section 5.7.2 for some ideas about how many GM plants to pull up.

Our definition of nonviolence goes beyond the relatively passive stance of not hurting anyone either in retaliation or in self defence (being a pacifist). Nonviolence can be active when we take steps to prevent violence from other people by deliberately obstructing or challenging them, yet without hurting them in any way. The safe and careful removal of GM plants is an effective way of preventing danger to people's health and to the environment resulting from cross pollination or horizontal gene transfer. This is an active expression of nonviolence.

- I will not engage in physical violence or knowingly take part in any action that will cause harm to any living being.

Violence in this context is any action that can cause psychological or physical damage, and includes actions that can create a panic situation. Fear is usually at the root of violence. Whilst it is impossible to completely rule out causing fear, we should take steps to avoid it and reassure anyone we encounter. Fear can block people, preventing them from being receptive to change. Ridicule and humiliation is a kind of violence which is so easy to fall into when just having a bit of a laugh at someone else's expense degenerates into something rather nasty.

- I will not carry any weapons.

Don't take anything with you to your action that may be assumed to be a weapon. Be aware that some of the gardening tools you will need for plant removal could be mistaken to be an offensive weapon; so be careful with the way you handle your tools, e.g. do not point them at anyone or throw them. If anyone outside your group approaches you, put your tools down before you speak with them.

- I will try to create an atmosphere of calm.

It is worth discussing this in your group and role playing possible scenarios. Think about the way you move, the way you speak and what you say. All of these things contribute to creating a particular atmosphere.

- I will try to treat everyone I encounter with respect.

We want anyone and everyone to be respected for several reasons. Most important of these is that simply being respectful of people is more likely to create the kind of world we all want to live in. We also need to allow for the possibility that we are wrong and carry with us the humility to reflect on this possibility.

Keep in mind that the aims of the campaign are to halt the bad practices of the companies; not to target the companies themselves or to see them as enemies. They are more likely to be receptive to change if the people who work there are treated with respect.

Farmers are likely to be anxious about their land - show respect by following the country code. We have told all the farmers that we will ask people not to bring a dog.

Some people may feel disinclined to show respect for the police. We have had both very good and very bad experiences of the police. Many will respond well to our action and will support us. It doesn't harm to chat with them about the issue, although they are not allowed to have opinions on duty. It is very likely that they will be nervous, so take the trouble to reassure them by explaining what is happening.

If you are charged you will also be encountering court officials. The court is structured in an intimidating way, but some of the staff may be supportive of your action. Don't be intimidated by the court system and don't fall into the trap of thinking of yourself as a criminal. You took responsible nonviolent action and you have the right to defend yourself.

- I will not take any alcohol or drugs other than for medical reasons.

The third snowball action on Sunday 16th August 1998 at
Sharpe's International seeds, Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire, was
completely open. The group disclosed the location in advance and started
a dialogue with the seed company. (photo Nick Cobbing)

3.2.3 Openness

- I will carry out my genetiX snowball action during daylight on the first or third weekend of every month.

The reason for this fixed time structure is to give the genetiX snowball some kind of momentum, a possibility to increase in size over time and so that snowballers can choose the best time for their own group. Lots of groups of people all acting at the same time builds a sense of community, shows a unified presence and will carry stories better in the local and national media. The dates are set at weekends to allow the majority of people who work regular hours to participate more easily. It also gives space for people from other campaigns to do other kinds of actions.

We would like to develop a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the farmers and they are more likely to be reassured if they know when to expect us. Our time-frame gives reasonable intervals between actions which gives farmers space between these weekends when they can be sure that genetiX snowball will not be active; this will also be an opening for dialogue.

- I will be open and truthful about my identity and my actions: I (or someone from my group) will write to the farmer who is host to the GM release site to be decontaminated by me to inform him/her that we intend to decontaminate the GM release site.

If we are to challenge the biotechnology corporations effectively, their irresponsibility and lack of accountability must be exposed. If we want people to understand the issues and give us their support we need to tell them about what we have done and why, and give information to highlight and explain the issue. Thus we are widening the community of those opposed to GM and bringing the issues into the public domain, where they belong.

We want the actions to be open because we have got nothing to hide and we want to generate an atmosphere of trust. However, we can only be as open and accountable as our circumstances allow. There is a tension between being able to carry out our action unhindered and being able to tell everyone everything. This is an example of nonviolent action as an experiment in truth; an exploration of the tension between being able to act and being able to tell, with the aim of always reaching towards the truth.

The circumstances of this action are very unpredictable and are likely to change, so we need to be flexible. Therefore we have given a minimal rule of openness which is to write to the farmer who owns the land for your chosen target site. There are varying 'degrees' of openness which you could use to do this - you may want to only write to the specific farmer whose land you intend to visit or you may want to write to all farmers within a given area and keep your specific target a surprise. We have already written to all the farmers, the companies, the police and the Environment Agency outlining what genetix snowball is about.

- I will provide my own prepared and signed statement giving details about this action and the reasons for it to the police (if I am arrested), the farmer, and the company who has grown the crop.

Your statement is an opportunity to give your reasons for your action to the company that is carrying out the experiment and the farmer whose land is being used. If you are arrested you should have two copies of your statement handy in your pocket to give to the police on arrest and the second one (in case they lose the first one) to give if you are interviewed - you could read it out at your interview. Your statement will then become evidence which you could use in court. You may want to give a contact address as an opening for dialogue, this will also be an opening for an injunction so you should be prepared for this. We recommend that you do not give a home address to anyone other than the police, but be aware that the police are allowed to pass your home address on to the company.

Before you write your statement it would be a good idea to have thought about whether you will want to use a legal defence in court, should you be arrested and charged. This is important because your statement could provide a good foundation for your defence - see section 6.1.4. It is advisable to leave yourself enough time to prepare your statement rather than leaving it to the night before the action when you might be feeling stressed rather than reflective. Your personal statement should make it less likely that, if you are arrested, you will be charged for anything other than what you yourself have done.

For general interest we have enclosed some of the statements which were used for the first genetiX snowball action in the appendix 4.2.

You might also want to give a copy of your statement to the press.

3.2.4 Accepting the consequences

- I will keep to this pledge throughout the action and any consequences of the action.

We consider the action as not only the business of getting the GM crops out of the ground, but also anything that happens after you are arrested (if you are arrested), the trial and anything that happens as a consequence of the trial.