Report Back from Plant-Ins For Peace

On the 1-year anniversary of Obama’s inauguaration last week, a Bay Area coalition of peacemakers held a series of actions as a reminder of the travesty of our permanent war economy while domestic problems related to healthcare, education, and jobs continue to haunt average Americans.  In particular, we focused on the need to step up and continue pressure on Congress to put a check on the president’s executive war-making powers as the Constitution requires and to say no to funding the escalation in Afghanistan.  As one of the slogans of the day said: “We took out the Bush, but the Roots of War run deep.”

We didn’t quite have the numbers to do a strategic direct action, but we did speak to hundreds of people, in particular having people on the street call Pelosi and other Representatives to support Barbara Lee’s H.R. 3699 and Kucinich’s Privileged Resolution in exchange for a plant.  In addition to flyers, we put labels that said:

HR 3699: NO $$ for the surge
Call Pelosi:415-556-4862 or 202-225-0100
D.C. switchboard: 202-224-3121

I started the day by bringing plants, signs, & flyers to the downtown Oakland group before rushing over to Market & Powell to meet folks from United For Peace and Justice, Code Pink, and unaffiliated active citizens.  Meanwhile, Gavin Raders single-handedly underwrote the MacArthur BART station action!  He gave away all the plants and facilitated about 15-20 calls on the spot.  Other actions were taking place that day including “Where’s my change” rally and march to the SF Federal building for homelessness and affordable housing rights,  a “Panhandling for my salary” action by laid off teachers and others in front of media outlets, and grandmother’s saying “Take me, not my grandchild!” action at Berkeley’s Marine Recruiting Station.

I want to thank everybody for taking the time out of  busy schedules to help get the word out.  These things are not possible without dedicated peacemakers!  Such committed acts of resistance and witness, however small,  are vital to questioning the “normalization of war and violence.”  It comes down to a question of values–what type of culture do we stand for?  What are our priorities? And will we struggle for it?

Because of these folks many people were reminded about what’s going on, will share it with friends, will perhaps get a little more involved, and of course, will plant some delicious organic peas & other vegetables!  Lots of people were given the tools for concrete political steps to take.

I want to give a couple special shout-outs:

1)First to Peggy Kass & Helen Krayenhaff of Kassenhoff Growers Nursery and Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi of Planting Justice for the hundreds of beautiful plants that were donated for the cause of peace!  Their abundant generosity is heartfelt and greatly appreciated!  Check out Helen and Peggy’s Local Harvest Calendar, which you can purchase online or at some local stores, and supports local school gardens. Also check out Planting Justice and the amazing work they are doing to expand food justice and permaculture in Bay Area communities.

2)Second, a big shout-out to all the students of Cynthia Ganote’s “Pockets of Resistance: Social Protest in the Bay Area” course at St. Mary’s College, who came on a cold and rainy day and jumped enthusiastically into the peace movement by making signs, handing out plants and flyers, and having conversations with people in downtown Oakland!

I want to share 3 vignettes from the day.  One falls under the category of “WTF?”  A man actually said to me provocatively, “What wars?”  Another middle-aged  guy said, “There’s no occupation.”  I refuse to spend energy on such folks, and instead focus on those who get it and want to engage politically as citizens.  The other was that of a homeless man.  He had all his belongings crammed into a shopping cart, some of it in black garbage bags to prevent it from getting wet.  He took a plant and put it atop his towering “house on wheels” and pushed away.   I realized that he doesn’t even have a place to put the plant, not even in a pot on the porch, let alone a garden.  Unfortunately, there are too many people in this country in similar circumstances.  Finally, a professor and her students and also a grad student taking time out of a busy doctoral program in history to drive up to SF from San Jose,  all engaging people and facilitating calls from citizens.  Wow! Not merely complaining about what’s going, but doing something! Imagine if such simple actions were scaled up?

From an organizer’s perspective I learned a lot–both in terms of logistics and in terms of messaging–that I can put into my toolbox for next time.  Admittedly, such actions are small-scale and the plants were a bit of an instrument, though I believe there is something to it, both of symbol and of substance.  We are out there pulling at the roots of war (profit, fear, propaganda, complicity) but also planting seeds of a new society, both  literally and figuratively.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of those who are not just peace-talkers, but peace-walkers, getting out there, spreading the word, building the peace movement, standing witness to what is going on, and fightin’ the good fight!


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