Last week I learned from the Guardian that John Woodcock, the man tasked by the government with making recommendations on dealing with “disruptive protest”, has lobbying links with various arms and oil companies – including firms who have been directly targeted by groups he is now proposing to ban.

The more of this article I read, the more I felt like my head was going to explode. The discourse on “extremism” went through the looking glass a long time ago, but this feels like one of the starkest examples I’ve seen of the sheer topsy-turvy reality warp it is in.

One might think that being complicit in the deaths of tens of thousands of human beings and the destruction of the biosphere was quite extremist. But no, the real extremists are the people blockading roads and arms factories to try and stop it.

One might think that banning peaceful protest groups was quite a coercive thing to do. But no, if you’re a centrist you can recommend such things in a report entitled “Protecting Our Democracy From Coercion”, and nobody bats an eye.

Oh, and the man making these recommendations is an alleged sex pest, too. Perfect.

Once I got past my initial reaction of rage and despair, though, I began to feel curiously hopeful about all this. Firstly, because the fact that someone like John Woodcock feels that Just Stop Oil and Palestine Action should be banned is surely a sign that they are having an impact.

Direct action is designed to hit those in power where it hurts: the worst response it can provoke is an unruffled shrug. If the old adage “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” is true, then surely victory for these movements is just around the corner.

Of course, as the fate of Corbynism painfully demonstrates, in reality it doesn’t always work like that. The outcome of these confrontations is never guaranteed. But the fact that the confrontation is happening at all is, perhaps, a positive sign.

Incidentally, I can never remember where this quote comes from, and it seems I’m not the only one. The version in widespread circulation seems to be one of those popular misquotes: I’m told the closest thing on record comes from a speech by the American union leader Nicholas Klein.

It’s often attributed to Gandhi, but apparently he never said it. What he did say, in the book Freedom’s Battle, is this:

“Unfortunately for His Excellency the movement is likely to grow with ridicule as it is certain to flourish on repression.”

And that brings me to the second thought that’s giving me hope. I suspect the likes of John Woodcock are so inculcated into the world of bureaucratic, hierarchical organisations that they struggle to grasp the anarchist roots of direct action culture, and thus fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the beast they are dealing with.

They think that their problem is “organisations” like Just Stop Oil and Palestine Action – and that banning these organisations will solve that problem. They fail to see that in reality their problem is hundreds of ordinary people, motivated by deep compassion for their fellow human beings and for the planet, who are willing to risk arrest for causes like peace and climate justice.

As draconian as it is, I suspect that proscribing these groups would therefore have quite a limited impact. At the end of the day, they are merely shells for people to organise within. If one organisational shell is banned, six more will spring up in its place. I suppose in theory you could just ban those too, but in practice it would be difficult or impossible for the state to keep up with this game of whack-a-mole.

And if the aim is to cow protestors themselves into submission, I suspect that this too is unlikely to work. Since the activities they are engaged in are often already illegal (indeed, we are moving into a world where almost any peaceful protest can be arbitrarily deemed illegal), legislating against the organising itself seems unlikely to add much by way of deterrent.

Ultimately, this story reminds me of nothing so much as the Zapatista saying (itself apparently borrowed from the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos): “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

And the beautiful cross-pollination of ideas between Greece and Mexico, America and India, that’s revealed by the history of these two famous quotes – which I only learned about in writing this blog – makes me feel that perhaps we are dandelion seeds. Which is bad news for John Woodcock. Because as any gardener knows, dandelions are indestructible.