Kumi Naidoo (left) joins activists at a rally in Istanbul calling for an ‘end to the age of coal’
Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International recently said, “Mahatma Gandhi once said, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. My dear brothers and sisters, they are not ignoring us, they are not laughing at us they are fighting us, and the fact that they are fighting us means we are just one step away from victory.”
Recently, I met Kumi Naidoo at the Global Power Shift event in Istanbul, Turkey. It was a gathering of more then 500 youth leaders from 135 countries organized by 350.org along with Greenpeace International and other partners to talk, share and learn from each others experiences. The focus was on global warming, its effects and solutions and participants can later go back to their respective nations and organize climate movements.
On June 27, 2013 morning, Kumi addressed the energetic and enthusiastic climate leaders at the Istanbul Technical University. In a 15 minute speech, he emphasised how important and urgent the issue of climate change and global warming is and more importantly the need to act.
Some sentences from his inspiring speech which moved and motivated me were: “Resist the idea that you are the leaders of tomorrow, take leadership now. Further questioning business leaders on their business practice which is already endangering the future of many for short term profits.”
His messages to business leaders was simple, “People and planet before profit, because that profit means nothing if people cannot share in equitably.” Before he concluded he made the young crowd repeat Obama’s slogan which Kumi completed in his way, “ Yes, we can, yes, we will and yes, we must.”
Later on June 29, Kumi joined the rally and marched with hundreds of protesters to the venue. The road leading to the venue was filled with colourful banners while people clapped and raised slogans in different languages. The most prominent slogan I heard was, “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”
Kumi was holding a banner which read, “Mandela you inspire us,” marking respect and support to the ailing anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. Marching alongside Kumi with a banner was matter of pride for me. While marching I updated him on the contributions our Indian activists are making to win campaigns in India. He responded with a smile and expressed his wish to visit India and meet activists.
Reaching the park, Kumi greeted the crowd in Turkish and acknowledged the Taksim Square protest and the right of the people to protest peacefully. He strongly emphasised, “One more penny investment in coal is investment in the death of our children and grandchildren.”
He questioned, “Why is it that when so many studies show that we can meet our energy needs through clean renewable energy, our governments continue to invest in coal? The answer is clear, it is a handful of powerful people in business that have bought off too many governments around the world. Our governments do not save the people, but protect the interest of a handful of business people who are killing our planet and our children's future.” Taking into account the scams related to coal in India and the involvement of politicians and business people, I strongly felt his words rang true.
Kumi concluded the speech with a message and chant “Mandela, you Inspire us, Mandela, we love you, Mandela lets hope that leaders will follow your example.”
After his public address he met with Greenpeace activists, exchanging pleasantries and continued his journey inspiring activists like us along the way.
Ali Abbas is an Activist Coordinator with Greenpeace India.