12 May 2014
Feb 2004: Creative activism against GM potatoes, where in the absence of volunteers, Greenpeace staff carried out the activity on their own.
My first interaction with anyone from Greenpeace left me in complete awe – of both the person and the organisation. And I am not talking only of the related news articles or the seemingly stupid but effectively brave images of what they had done, which I was exposed to. It was just the clarity and the conviction with which they were driven to protect any dimension of ecology, not to mention topping it off using entirely non-violent means. Nothing but a typical David vs Goliath image can draw a suitable parallel. Arguably, the last time one saw a victory gained through such non-violent means against considerable opponents were in Richard Attenborough's film 'Gandhi' – line after line of people standing up to be clobbered down by English cops without facing an iota of intimidation or resistance.
12 May 2014
March 2003: Greenpeace activists blocking Monsano HQ's entrance pushing them to withdraw field trials of Bt Cotton.
Though the early 2000s could be considered to be the formative years of Greenpeace in some respect, the organisation was actively campaigning on various fronts and where there were campaigns, there was creative activism. And creative activism required participation of activists and volunteers to make them effective and successful.
12 May 2014
May 2004: Greenpeace India's first Public Engagement activity. Creating awareness and influencing people to cast their votes judiciously.
Getting People to Join
The creative activism unit during that period fluctuated between 2-3 people doing research as well as planning activities for various campaigns. In our quest for a larger member base and wider skill base we of course frequented sports arenas where kids would hang around trying, what was then considered out of the box activities like bmx biking, vertical wall climbing and similar stuff. We also looked at the most unassuming places for people who could be interested in participating in our creative activism – youngsters manning sports stores and offering entertainment rides at malls, chatting up people on trains and buses. Our quest also led us to trying to get some like-minded people who shared the same thoughts on issues at movie halls or other hang out places. The easiest people to get into our team were our friends. Come to think of it, some of the most memorable work from those years did involve our closest friends.
12 May 2014
June 2003: Creative activism by two campaigners from Greenpeace.
There are quite a few reasons that could be attributed to people staying away from public protest on such matters in those days – a largely insulated life that people led, completely ignorant of the problems that persisted in their surrounding regions. Secondly, safety of a job. Those were the years when the dot com boom had burst and after a period of instability & uncertainty call centres had started getting traction. Therefore, people who had landed harshly from the dot com slide quickly sought safety on greener pastures. Socially also, it was quite unacceptable and stigmatic to be seen on the wrong side of the law by family, neighbours and friends - after all the law didn't treat you with kid gloves if you were part of a group seen blocking a government building or blatantly jumping over a factory wall, though your reasons could be completely rational to the effect of demanding an immediate reply from a corrupt high ranking official or to stop polluting effluents from being pumped into the river next door, as the case might have been. This lack of volunteers and activists from the larger external pool is what led to a large participation from within the organisation for most of our activities in those days.
Over the years, I think the general awareness among the people of problems that the environment has to contend with and an understanding of the domino effect such problems have on our lives has increased manifold. Their understanding of this and the need for immediate creative activism to quell any serious repercussions in the future indicates the maturity of today's younger generation. This can be attributed directly to the various avenues of news and the extent of information sharing that one has access to nowadays compared to earlier times. While calling the surge in public participation in protests anarchic will be an extreme, the prevailing status quo over the past decade with regard to total apathy to environmental conservation and social welfare at large has surely pushed people to raise their voice and put up a show of strength to take make their intent clear.
It is such a welcome sight to see different organisational networks sharing ideas, forums and strategies to ensure an optimisation of resources in maximising public pressure on environmental issues. My interaction and observation with youngsters who volunteered for the Mahua Camp in Mahan has been very interesting. It is very encouraging to see the extent to which the students are aware of, about the socio-economic problems that we face today. Even more so about how they are able to see the linkages that these problems have to the environmental impacts around us.
Having a volunteer/ activist network in large numbers, exhibiting strength in diversity - of gender, demography as well as skill - is the most valuable resource any organisation can have, most of all Greenpeace. It gives us independence to plan and implement ideas to the best of our ability, in addition to possessing the wherewithal to react to situations at short notice.
Adarsh Vansay is an activist with Greenpeace India.