Sunday, April 15, 2012

They come in peace to dig and sow

Today's Washington Post includes among its top stories a description of a new form of social protest that fits right in with the ecofrugal movement: guerrilla gardening.

These mostly Millennial-generation activists are taking over abandoned properties and either beautifying them with flower gardens or growing vegetables—a source of healthful fresh food in urban neighborhoods that are often "food deserts"(low-income neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores). Some of these guerrilla gardeners even carry "seed bombs"—small balls of seeds and dirt—that can be tossed into a vacant lot from a car window. Like other activists, they leave their mark behind them, painting slogans across the properties they plant—but as considerate activists, they write their graffiti in biodegradable "moss paint" made from a mixture of moss, sugar, and beer.

I'm going to be candid here and say that I could never really get on board with the Occupy movement. I could relate to the things they were upset about—corporate malfeasance, growing inequality, and so on—but the problem was that they never really seemed to get beyond being upset. Here you had a massive grassroots movement, thousands of people gathered together in cities all over America and beyond, which could have been a powerful force for positive social change. But the Occupiers never seemed to be able to agree on any kind of positive social change that they wanted to seek. They not only wouldn't get behind a particular candidate, or a particular bill, or even a particular type of legislation that they wanted enacted; many, if not most of them, seemed to be opposed to the idea of seeking any sort of political solution at all, on the grounds that the entire political system was tarred with the same brush as corporate America and therefore fundamentally flawed. Now, when you really believe that any change achieved through the system is worthless, then pretty much your only option for achieving change is the overthrow of the entire government by force of arms. But the Occupiers didn't appear to want that either—fortunately—so all they did was literally occupy space until it got too cold and they all went home, having drawn a lot of attention to themselves but ultimately accomplished nothing.

The guerrilla gardeners, as a movement, are taking just the opposite approach. They know exactly what they want to do, and they're going out and doing it. They're not gathering together in parks to hold big rallies about the importance of providing fresh food in the city; they're gathering together in parks to dig in the dirt and plant seeds and grow fresh food in the city. And because their goal is to get the job done, they don't actually need to operate outside the law just to make a point; if they have a better chance of building a community garden that will survive by going to the landowner and getting a permit, then they'll go to the landowner and get a permit. But if the process of tracking down the landowner and getting a permit is too onerous, well, then, they'll just go ahead and plant, and cultivate, and harvest, until someone actually notices they're there.

This is a movement that's building on one of the central principles of ecofrugality: let nothing go to waste. These folks are taking unused space that's sitting there empty, looking ugly and producing nothing, and turning it into something useful: food in the desert, flowers in the concrete jungle. An oasis of beauty and a source of nourishment in a place where both are scarce. Bread and roses, where nothing but crabgrass grew before.

Matter of fact, I'd have a lot more sympathy with the Save Highland Park movement I mentioned last month if they'd all go out and plant flowers in those abandoned industrial sites on the north side of town, instead of just sitting there and complaining when someone else tries to do something useful with them, like a bunch of dogs in their own private manger.
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