4. The genetiX snowball begins....

In this section...

The common living dirt

The small ears prick on the bushes, furry buds, shoots tender and pale. The swamp maples blow scarlet. Colour teases the corner of the eye, delicate gold, chartreuse, crimson, mauve speckled, just dashed on.

The soil stretches naked. All winter hidden under the down comforter of snow, delicious now, rich in the hand as chocolate cake, the fragrant busy soil the worm passes through her gut and the beetle swims in like a lake.

As I kneel to tuck the seeds in careful as stitching, I am in love. You are the bed we all sleep on. You are the food we eat, the food we ate, the food we will become. We are walking trees rooted in you.

You can live thousands of years undressing in the spring your black body, your red body, your brown body penetrated by the rain. Here is the goddess unveiled, the earth opening her strong thighs.

Yet you grow exhausted with bearing too much, too soon, too often, just as a woman wears through like an old rug. We have contempt for what we spring from. Dirt, we say, you're dirt as if we were not all your children.

We have lost the simplest gratitude. We lack the knowledge we showed ten thousand years past, that you live a goddess but mortal, that what we take must be returned, that the poison we drop in you will stunt our children's growth.

Tending a plot of your flesh binds me as nothing ever could, to the seasons, to the will of the plants, clamorous in their green tenderness. What calls louder than the cry of a field of corn ready, or trees of ripe peaches?

I worship on my knees, laying seeds in you, that worship rooted in need, in hunger, in kinship, flesh of the planet with my own flesh, a ritual of compost, a litany of manure My garden's a chapel, but a meadow

gone wild in grass and flower is a cathedral. How you seethe with little quick ones, vole, field mouse, shrew and mole in their thousands, rabbit and woodchuck. In you rest the jewels of the genes wrapped in seed.

Power warps because it means joy in standing over: because it means forgetting how we too starve, break like a corn stalk in the wind, how we die like the spinach of drought, how what poisons the vole slays us.

Because you can die of overwork, because you can die of the fire that melts rock, because you can die of the poison that kills the beetle and the slug, we must come again to worship you on our knees, the common living dirt.

Marge Piercy.

4.1 Gathering the snow

The first snowball action was carried out by an affinity group of people which included members of the coordination group. We all worked together on the preparations for the action as well as the action itself.

Before doing the action, we distributed several hundred leaflets giving information about the campaign at public events and through publications. We also wrote to farmers hosting GM release sites, all the companies releasing GM crops, the Thames Valley Police to let them know about the genetiX snowball campaign and the Environment Agency specifically to let them know that there would be bags of biohazard which needed their attention (see letters in section A.4.1.). The letter to the farmers invites them to join the campaign. The letter to the companies asks them to remove the crops themselves. The letter to the police informs them that the companies are committing criminal damage and asks them to investigate this crime. The letter to the Environment Agency asks for their cooperation in helping to remove the GM crops by destroying them safely after they have been dug up. We also prepared all our equipment together: banners, protective clothing, tools which we painted with messages about our action.

The final planning for the action was a bit stressful and hectic at times but working together through all our preparations helped us to build up enough trust in each other to sustain us through the difficult patches.

4.2 Launching the snowball

The first snowball action took place at Model Farm, Shirburn, Nr. Watlington, Oxfordshire. We walked to the site carrying a banner, brightly coloured flags, tape to cordon off the area and heavy duty plastic bags marked with the biohazard symbol for the GM plants. As an example of a more sustainable way of producing our food we also took an apple tree to plant at the site.

Five people took the decontaminating role and six others did support work: liaising with and explaining the action to press, farmer and police and recording what was happening. We took known and trusted press with us to film and take photographs whilst Andrew (press liaison) met other press at a point nearby. The police had decided to meet there too and take advantage of a guide to the action.

The decontaminators used ordinary gardening tools and wore protective suits. Each puller chose a number of plants significant to them; Jo chose to pull up 25 as she is 25 years old, Kathryn pulled 64 for the number of experimental trials currently in progress, Mel wanted to do 74 in memory of her friend Ray who had died recently aged 74, Rowan plucked one plant symbolic of the number of genetiX snowball actions, Zoe chose 99 as she wanted them out of the ground as quickly as possible.

We arrived about five minutes before the police and just about had time to put on our protective clothing and begin digging up the plants. The police were met by Jane and Phil (farmer and police liaison) We felt a man and a woman together would be safe and not intimidating. They introduced themselves and explained who we were and what we were doing. An agent for Monsanto then arrived and gave us a warning to leave the site.

When the police tried to stop us digging one of us explained that we couldn't as we had work to do. A sergeant asked if there was anything they could say that would pursuade us to leave the site. Rowan said: "Yes, arrest Monsanto! They're causing criminal damage to other farmer's crops through genetic pollution and we are preventing this by removing Monsanto's GM crops". The police officer went off to speak to his superior. We continued digging up, snapping in half and bagging up the plants. We were asked again to leave, we continued decontaminating.

The police began to arrest us for criminal damage after about 20 minutes. Our action/legal observer busily noted down significant events, the time that they happened and names, numbers or descriptions of people involved. At this point more press arrived and Zoe and Mel both managed interviews with them before being arrested. Jo managed to hold an impromptu press conference with some journalists before being led away. The decontaminators left their signed statements for the farmer and the company and gave copies to the police as they were arrested.

Andrew, Jane and Phil, did further press interviews after the arrests. When they offered the apple tree to the farmer's son who had arrived at the site he refused it. The arrested decontaminators were taken a few miles from the site and released without charge. The police confiscated our tools and the banner.

Twelve days later and just two days before the second snowball action the five decontaminaters were served injunctions by Monsanto. The injunctions are intended to prevent the five from entering Monsanto's release sites or from encouraging other people to decontaminate the sites and also has a damages claim. (See section 6.6 for further details of injunctions).

A video of this action will soon be available, contact the office for details.

Launch action genetiX snowball, 4th July 1998. Jo Hamilton, Zoe Elford, Kathryn Tulip,
Melanie Jarman. Photos Nick Cobbing