By Les Gibbons
On eve of the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of the people of Hiroshima, the ‘Vine & Fig Tree Planters’ went to the Saab Microwave factory at Mölndal, Sweden to plant more vine and fig trees. We planted near to the factory walls and looked for deep rich dark earth for good growth.
Following a period of silence, prayer and reflection and after finishing our planting and watering in of the plants near to the factory walls, we were able to restfully welcome, and offer grape juice, figs and grapes to the attending police and security guard guests who came to see what was happening.
They were pleasant and surprised to see us calmly enjoying the plants and sitting in the new garden we had made, however they arrested us to ask more about this. Fellow Vine and Fig Tree Planters’ Herngren and Johnson were released after about an hour however it was decided that I ought to interviewed and investigation further. I introduced myself and went willingly into a police detention center into what turned out to be solitary confinement for three nights.
My main pastimes during the time in my cell was much silence, rest, reflection, a bit of basic salsa practice and to read a uniquely poignant book, permitted to me in the cell. This book “The Prison Journal of a Priest Revolutionary”, by Phillip Berrigan, documented reflections of his own imprisonment (between 6th 9th August 1967) as part of the Catonsville four in resistance to the draft of serviceman to Vietnam in 1967, 40 years before.
This nonviolent subversive book had been given to me by a Catholic Worker/Ploughshares Priest Fr Martin Newell who himself had been imprisoned for preventing the conveyance and delivery of nuclear warheads from RAF Wittering to Faslane for deployment in 2000, it was given to him by his co-conspirator Dutch Catholic Worker Susan Van De Hijhden.
I set myself a task to make and distribute 40 peace cranes from this disintegrating book for random distribution to ordinary people I met, police officers, members of the public and friends alike and so retell the story of the prophecy of Micah, the plantings at SAAB and our ongoing resistance to war, distress and poverty today.
Planting the Vine and Fig trees was for me something that seems to have gotten into my blood. I felt annoyed personally that my rights were taken away, that I was being told nothing nor could make even a phone call and more broadly that also others lives are taken away in war zones. I decided in response to my emotional state to fast both food and water (which I did for two days). The last time I had done this was outside 10 Downing Street with Voices in the Wilderness (UK) to resist the imposition of sanctions on Iraq. Iraq got into my blood too, into my heart its people and especially its current sad circumstances.
I went to Iraq to proactively break the sanctions (2001) with UK Voices in the Wilderness and now I had planted Vine and Fig trees at weapons factories with others and the trees themselves seem to challenge the very necessity of these dangerous places in ways people with placards, and blocking roads never can.
At the police detention center I recall one detective was particularly humane and friendly, she reflected on the rising violence in Gothenburg suburbs amongst young adults who carry weapons and how the police are now expected to wear armored padding against knives and guns, I reflected that weapons factories do not give citizens correct messages about what is acceptable. She kindly got me a blanket confiscated from me by police wardens me for my resistance to some of their demands.
A preliminary hearing for remand was held on the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki in a Gothenburg courtroom. I was released after explaining with the aid of an interpreter that I would be only too pleased, and was seriously committed to returning to Sweden and court at their convenience to retell the story of planting these Vine and Fig Trees at places such as SAAB microwave.
These planting interventions are motivated by and completed as creative civil disobedience rather than as protest. Rather than protest we choose to show and initiate resistance with creativity not
complaint. We start the process and invite others wherever they are to continue the transformation of other weapons factories themselves. There is surely a paradigm shift between what is protest and post protest, I am committed to the latter.
SAAB Microwave are participants in the war in Iraq with the weapons locating radar ARTHUR and the surveillance system Erieye.
The Vine & Fig Tree Planters have abandoned protest and the language and behaviour of protest, no negative catchwords are used, instead they try to put focus on creative activity. Perceived leaders are not asked to do the job for us. Henry David Thoreau’s writings indicate that he believed that the problem is not the government, but those who protest and still obey. Here he sows the seed for nonviolent resistance that is built on completely different logic than protest or being against, utter dissatisfaction, being reactive.