Kumi Naidoo

Originally posted on Greenpeace International, May 17, 2013.

The tradition of civil disobedience is being reignited. The need is growing and the call to action is becoming impossible to ignore! Non-violent direct action can help re-establish a balance where our rights have been overtaken by the self interest of powerful economic elites, willing to sacrifice our children’s future for their short term gain and profit.

Peaceful acts of civil disobedience have been at the heart of many major struggles humanity has fought over the past several decades: the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the Civil Rights movement in the US and Gandhi’s fight against British colonial rule in India, to mention just a few examples.

Imagine a world without civil disobedience and non-violent direct action. If that’s too abstract and difficult to imagine, try this: imagine a world where women still can’t vote, where racial segregation and institutionalised discrimination still rule, imagine brutal colonial dominance and extreme inequity and social injustice across the globe.  And while in some places we have to look to the past to find such outrageous examples of injustice and inequality, let's not  forget that there are still many places where such disturbing realities remain the norm to this day.

Actions do speak louder than words and actions are needed now more than ever given the threat that our planet is facing as a result of rampant environmental and social exploitation.

Civil disobedience and direct action are at the heart of what we do here at Greenpeace, part of our heritage and history, our destiny and mission. Civil disobedience does not require heroes – it only takes decent men and women to say ‘enough is enough’. While with Greenpeace, I have taken direct action in the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean twice. I have climbed oilrigs to represent the voice and concerns of millions of people saying that Arctic drilling is madness and must be stopped. I have even spent time in jail for this – but the fight is not over, and I will continue to support the Save the Arctic movement to stop Big Oil’s irresponsible ambitions. But this is about more than just stopping Big Oil; it’s about creating a world in which future generations can thrive, a world that is peaceful, just and equitable.

Civil disobedience seems to penetrate the consciousness of our political leaders much more than other methods. The public pressure that comes from civil disobedience can tilt public opinion and re-establish the balance between people power and the deep wallets of private companies sacrificing long-term environmental considerations for short-term profits. Political leaders can realise that they need to listen – if not because it’s the right thing to do, at least for fear of losing their mandates and positions.

A big thank you to all activists out there advancing the environmental cause, whether it’s fighting to bring justice to local communities in Nigeria suffering from Shell oil spills or stopping the Keystone XL pipeline in the US! Civil disobedience momentum is building – but much more is needed to avert catastrophic climate change and environmental destruction and degradation. Please join me and take action too!