Fwd: Rowan Tilly's pilgrimage

Martin Haggerty martin at envoy.dircon.co.uk
Fri Sep 5 16:03:16 BST 2003

Rowan Tilly, the renowned anti-GM activist, will be among 10 or so 
"pilgrims to a GM-free Britain" travelling to London from various parts of 
the country in early October. I am forwarding her statement to this list 
because it frequently touches upon land-rights issues, but especially for 
day 9 of her pilgrimage when she will visit St George's Hill on account of 
Gerrard Winstanley.

With best wishes,


Subject: [gmwalk2003] Rowans pilgrimage

A pilgrimage to a GM free Britain
"We must come again to worship you on our knees, the common living dirt." -
Marge Piercy

Adversity usually brings opportunities and GM crops have brought people's
awareness to the problems of industrial agriculture with its attendant
curse of pesticides, chemical fertilisers and monocultures. GM crops have
been a rude awakening for many of us to what has already been threatening
our food and countryside yet with worse to come if GM is commercialised.

I am bound on a pilgrimage to a GM free Britain. A journey to bear witness
to the land which has already been contaminated by crops engineered out of
greed and delusion. A journey to celebrate the communities of resistance
that have sprung up in response wherever the GM crops have been planted.

Many of these people have never been involved in campaigning before, much
less taken direct action. They have responded with awe-inspiring passion
and a persistent dedication to bringing the truth to light. Many of them
are facing the loss of their livelihoods if GM commercialisation goes ahead
and some who are near to GM test sites have already suffered economic
losses. They have been quietly working away at producing sustainable
harvests of food in a tapestry of local organic small holdings and farms
and will not stand by and see their rich harvest ruined. They also steward
the wild places and creatures.

For the last six years citizens and country folk have campaigned and, when
needs must, have rolled up their sleeves and taken to pulling up, cutting
down or hoeing in the GM crops. Some go in small groups quietly at night,
others openly in large colourful processions in full brazen daylight. Some
brave souls have even tackled local trial sites single-handedly going back
night after night to pull up acres of crop. All go with their knees
knocking and the belief that the dangers of GM outweigh the risk of being
cast a criminal. Actions are meticulously planned and cautiously executed,
or they are a chaotic shambles throwing caution to the wind (better this
than GM pollen). The diversity of tactics mirrors the diversity of people
taking part, aging from seven to seventy five, middle class sensibilities
are brought to their knees alongside rough diamonds heaving roots out o' t'
muck. That great leveller Adversity calls all to prayer for the sake of
wildlife and local harvest, for "we must come again to worship you on our
knees, the common living dirt."

I will travel by bicycle. Old and simple technologies are hard to beat and
affordable by most. In appreciation of innovation and technological
progress, my bicycle is a recumbant, an odd looking beast on which to
recline and pedal in comfort and style. My recumbant bicycle will be
sporting not a flag, but a splendid pair of green gardening gloves. The
gloves symbolise a pledge to pull up GM crops if they are commercialised in
Britain, to which I am a signatory. I will be broadcasting these Green
Glove Pledges as I travel. I will also be carrying aloft my small gardening
fork which has been with me from my first GM crop pulling venture and has
seen the inside of many a police station, always to be returned to dig
again another day. It carries two messages on either side of the handle:
"Bless our food" and "Bless our land". I will collect seeds saved by the
people I meet and visit, to give to those who would bring GM upon us
against our will; this will serve to remind them that our land is fertile
with GM resistant communities.

I am no athelete and thus will travel slowly enough to see the wee beasties
in the hedgerows, yet just fast enough for a sense of changing landscape.
I will travel the teeny weeny roads for the quiet they afford, the rich
sweet smell of damp soil, and of course the more to chance upon other folk
and creatures going about their business and ask their blessing on mine.

Rowan Tilly
August 2003
A pilgrimage to GM free Britain

Rowan Tilly's planned route

Time estimate: 5 days (I will try to get more specific with dates as soon
as I have had a good look at maps, which might be today).

1) Hereford
The anti-GM community in Hereford was one of the first to organise an
action to pull up GM crops. I will ask to speak with the Bishop of
Hereford about his position in favour of GM crops. On behalf of Martin
Haggerty, another pilgrim, I will ask the Bishop why he did not reply to
Martin's letter and if he intends to make a reply.

2) GM maize farm-scale trial sites at Rosemaund Farm research station,
Preston Wynne, nr. Hereford.
This was the site of a GM maize pulling action resulting in two arrests -
see (3).
Inspired by Jim and Barbara's example, the following year I took part in
two night-time actions in July 2001 to pull up GM maize followed by a
public delivery of 50 sacks of the GM crop at DEFRA where five people
handed in statements claiming responsibility. No legal action was taken.
Contacts for local community: Barbara Charvet 01981 510659 and Jenny 024
7667 6948.
Pass over Malvern Hills.

3) Worcester Crown Court
In November 2001 Barbara Charvet and Jim Riddout went on trial at Worcester
Crown Court for their action to pull up GM maize at Rosemaund Farm (see 2).
Neither of them had ever been involved with direct action previously. The
jury came to a unanimous verdict in less than one hour - not guilty!
Contacts for local community: Barbara Charvet 01981 510659 and Jenny 024
7667 6948.

4) GM oilseed rape farm-scale trial at Long Marston, nr. Stratford on Avon.
People from the surrounding counties and locals joined a 200 strong public
procession. Some 30 people openly pulled up the GM oilseed rape. Five
were arrested but all charges were dropped.
Contacts for local community: Jenny 024 7667 6948 and Mick 01789 841994.

5) Stratford on Avon
Prior to the procession and action at Long Marston (4), a public meeting
was held in Stratford. A range of experts, including a genetic scientist
from the region, spoke against GM. As usual pro-GM speakers were invited
but they declined to speak.
Contacts for local community: Jenny 024 7667 6948 and Mick 01789 841994.
Pass over the Cotswold Hills and past the Rollwright Stones.

6) Community of resistance in Oxford
In 1998 genetiX snowball: a campaign of nonviolent civil responsibility
invited people to pull up GM crops throughout Britain in ever increasing
numbers. genetiX snowball began in Oxford at Hammers & Spanners: a
gathering to explore a ploughshares approach to environmental action. An
anti-GM group has thrived in Oxford through many years of many actions and
Oxford people were involved in both Watlington actions - see 7.

7) GM sites at Model Farm, Watlington, Oxfordshire.
This was the site of the first open and accountable GM crop pulling action
by genetiX snowball on 4 July 1998. I pulled up just one - my first - GM
plant. We had been prepared to go to prison but instead we got an
injunction from Monsanto - see (10). Also the site of a second mass action
on 4 July 1999.
Contacts: Olaf and Kathryn Tulip 01865 791391 or 770833
Pass over the Chiltern Hills.

8) Syngenta at Jealott's Hill Research Centre, Bracknell in Berkshire.
Syngenta have carried out research and development trials of GM potatoes
and GM wheat. I will be delivering a single green glove.
Following the Thames.

9) St. George's Hill, nr. Walton on Thames, Surrey.
This is the site of the Diggers, landless poor people who occupied and
farmed the commons of St. George's Hill in the 17th century. Their legacy
is local food production, the commons reclaimed and people's nonviolent
resistance to enclosure. Gerrard Winstanley, who founded the Digger
community, was an activist, a radical christian and an outspoken critic of
the Church. Our struggle is linked to theirs and we can draw inspiration
from their example. The biotechnology companies are threatening enclosure
of the commons, the pool of genetic diversity.

10) Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London
Here in the High Court participants and organisers of the genetiX snowball
campaign defended ourselves against two injunctions: one from Monsanto, one
from AgrEvo (now Bayer). After a two year struggle we lost and the
injunctions became life-long. Both injunctions were broken. The AgrEvo
injunction has proved worthless since it has been broken countless times
without ever being used. Also at the High Court I won an appeal
overturning a conviction (in Cambridge) and upholding an acquittal (in
Weymouth); this also resulted in a legal precedent improving civil

Currently researching further possible sites to visit along this route,
open to suggestions and ideas for events.
Biography of Rowan Tilly
August 2003

Rowan Tilly is 45 years old and lives in Brighton. She has a B.Sc. (hons)
in Human Ecology. Since June 2002 she has worked as a Grassroots Support
Worker for Genetic Engineering Network. She also engages in grassroots
direct action and is committed to nonviolence. She draws inspiration for
her actions primarily from the "Swords into Ploughshares" tradition of
peacefully and safely disarming weapons.

In 1998 she co-founded genetiX snowball: a campaign of nonviolent civil
responsibility. This group had the aim of removing GM plants from Britain
in open actions providing personal statements after each action. The group
produced the Handbook for Action: a guide to safely removing genetically
modified plants from release sites in Britain to involve increasing numbers
of participants in mass actions across the Britain. This led to the
organisers and some participants being served two life-long injunctions
(civil restraining orders) from the biotechnology corporations Monsanto and
AgrEvo, now Bayer, which if breached would ensure convictions of the GM
crop pullers without a trial. In 1999 Rowan and two others breached the
terms of the AgrEvo injunction. In spite of the high financial costs borne
by AgrEvo to put the injunction in place they did not make use of it,
resorting instead to criminal charges of aggravated trespass brought by the
Crown. Rowan was convicted but decided to appeal and was acquitted in the
High Court resulting in a legal precedent which has improved civil liberties.

Since the termination of genetiX snowball Rowan continued to work with
grassroots groups to pull up GM crops using the same methods. She was part
of a group that was acquitted in another court case. In March 2003 she was
convicted by a jury for pulling up GM crops in an action in 2001 to keep
Wales GM free. She has refused to pay her #750 fine on principle and is
expecting a one month prison sentence. Rowan has not been charged for
several most recent GM crop pulling actions.

She enjoys cycling and walking.

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