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Just saw a great documentary called ‘How to Change the World’. It follows the birth and early development of Greenpeace, the activist group known for some pretty ballsy interventions, including members placing themselves between whaler’s harpoons and whales that have been targeted for slaughter and painting baby seals green so their fur is worthless to their killers.
Those incipient Greenpeace activists looked like a motley crew, but they in fact set the environmental/animal rights movements in motion back in the 1970s. They bickered a lot, there were power struggles, mistakes made, and a lot of cluelessness going on. They hardly knew how to operate their first boat, understood nothing about publicity or financial management, and smoked a lot of weed. But they got things done.
If we’re going to be honest, the Greenpeace of 2016 is probably not the kind of organization that these pioneer activists wanted to create. There’s some real criticism about Greenpeace out there. I see corruption in its European branches more than the American chapters. And like most corruption, it lives at the top of the pyramid of power.
I did activist work for Greenpeace’s New Haven, Connecticut, chapter when I was in college. But I gave it up in less than a year. It was pure instinct that told me that there was something ignoble about the New Haven group. And while I never used the experience to condemn Greenpeace as a whole, I’ll never forget the feeling that eventually overcame me and forced my decision to leave.
But without a doubt, Greenpeace has been a force for good. Its youngest members have all the fire of the young, and they can be seen acting radically, like the group that dangled from an Oregon bridge in 2015 to protest Arctic drilling.
In 2014, nine Greenpeace activists broke into Cincinnati’s Proctor & Gamble headquarters, zip lined between the headquarters’ towers, and hung banners in protest of P&G’s palm oil supplier. Recently, they were charged with piracy by the Russian government for their ongoing efforts to halt the destruction of the oceans through overfishing.
I think this is the great, brave, high-profile work of environmentalism. Yes, consciousness raising and bearing witness are legit, but nothing gets things done like some radical activism. I love, love, love the energy of young activists. They’re fearless and bold. They’re angry and they haven’t yet been programmed by society to play it safe. They make the news; they get people to stop and think. Some people roll their eyes, but at least they’re aware.
This documentary brought back to me the sparkle of my youth, the vitality I had as a college student battling with the mainstream and trying to make the world a saner, kinder place. It doesn’t take much to start my engine these days either, but admittedly, zip lining across towers is not on my to-do list anymore.
I wish it was. I wonder if it could be again. There’s a powerful brother/sisterhood among activists. There’s an understanding among us that getting off of your ass and doing something about what you talk about relentlessly is required. And if I’m going to be honest, you have to have a personality that likes living dangerously.
As a young activist, I was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors in connection with an animal cruelty protest. Those charges will be on my record the rest of my life. But I wear them like a badge of honor. No matter what problems a criminal record may give me, I regret none of it. It was one of the best days of my life. I’d do it again for sure.
I still do tabling and political phone banking, and write all the time, but it’s not the same. It kind of feels like I’ve copped out, drank the Kool-Aid, married, bought a house, got a job, and lost my incandescence.
And you know what? My husband feels the same. We often talk about breaking out, leaving our lives, and blazing new, unorthodox trails. I wonder what’s possible for us now. I wonder what we’re still brave enough to do.
I recommend this documentary, but beware. If there is still a flicker of a fire in your belly, this film might ignite it all over again. Which would be amazing.
Live in peace.