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A chat with the first Rainbow Warriors

Background - 25 June, 2007
In Vancouver, on Canada's Pacific coast, Greenpeace set off on a voyage in 1972 which is still continuing. At "English Bay" the most successful environmental organization in the world was launched by just a dozen women and men. Their principles - non-violence and direct action - have been followed by Greenpeace the world over right up to the present day. And those pioneers from the early days -- Dorothy Stowe, widow of Irving Stowe, Dorothy Metcalfe, Jim Bohlen, and Bob Hunter were proud of what they achieved when they gathered, in 1996, to mark the 25-year anniversary of that first voyage. Here's how these first-generation Rainbow Warriors described those early days.

Bob:My goodness, Jim. I last saw you five years ago, at the 20-year celebrations. Is it really you?

Jim:You'd better watch out! - may have got a lot older but I'm still the same old Jim.

Bob: Well, you didn't recognize me straight off either.

Jim: Right. I thought to myself, "Who is that guy!?"

Bob:Appearances change, but then your character gradually starts to form.Before we completely disappear we grow again to our greatest size. likea supernova.

Jim: Charming. After all it's better to lookforward to the apocalypse than to slow decay. By the way, I'm justreading the book you're carrying in your pocket there, "Rogue Primate".From a vast number of possible books we have both chosen the same one.Once aligned and we're still transmitting on the same wavelength.

Bob: Not just aligned. Welded together, on the Greenpeace alias the Phyllis Cormack.

Jim:You mean you've got your armpit in my nose just like I've got yours?Even today I could recognize everyone on board by their smell - welived that close together on board.

Dorothy Stowe: Ofcourse you're talking about how it all began. Actually, it all startedto happen in this house. I can still see Irving sitting on the bed withthe telephone in his hand, and someone is telling him about the atomictests about to be held on Amchitka. They're telling him that theAleutian Islands are an important habitat for sea-otters, and that theyare jeopardized by the tests because their eardrums are in danger ofbursting as a result of the explosion. The very idea of this outragedIrving just as much as the atomic tests themselves. So he called Jim

Bob: "Jim, do something!"

Jim: The rest is history.

Dorothy Stowe: Not yet.

Jim:Irving called me because I was head of the "Sierra Club" of BritishColumbia. But our head office in San Francisco didn't want to run acampaign against the nuclear tests. So we - Paul Cote, Irving Stowe andmyself, together with our wives - set up a splinter group, the "Don'tMake a Wave-Committee", the germ of Greenpeace.

Dorothy Stowe: The Bohlens and the Stowes had already been active in the peace movement for a long time.

Jim:And Paul Cote had been present at the first atomic test protests in1969 on the border between the USA and Canada as weil. Bob had reportedon it and had been in contact with us since then. In spite of that wehad to work hard on him to persuade him to come along to Amchitka.

Bob: Well, after all I had to write a column for the "Vancouver Sun" every day.

Jim:A hippie column. But Bob was very important for us as a media man. Outof a crew of twelve, half were journalists. We did a lot for the mediafrom the very beginning, for example for the Canadian BroadcastingCompany, CBC. We were almost out of port when their camera team showedup late. What did we do? We turned around and cast off again.

Dorothy Stowe:Irving wisely decided to stay at home. He already had cancer at thattime, which nobody knew, and he died just three years later.

Jim: On shore he worked like crazy, collecting money and hanging on to every last cent.

Dorothy Stowe:He wrote everything down in detail. "Collection box : 6 dollars 41cents". later we even found receipts from the post office for 37 cents.

Jim:We were really short of money at that time. We financed ourselves fromdonations, sold Greenpeace buttons on busy street corners for 25 centseach and Greenpeace T-shirts for three dollars.

Bob: ThenIrving had the idea of a solidarity concert to finance the trip toAmchitka. Three dollars a ticket for a concert with Joni Mitchell.

Dorothy Stowe:That had its funny slde: a few days before the concert the phone rang.It's Jonl Mitchell on the line from Los Angeles. Suddenly Irving putshis hand over the mouthpiece and hisses across to us, "Anyone of youknow who James Taylor is?". Nobody knew him. My daughter shouted tohim, "God, dad. That's that black blues singer." She'd mixed him upwith James Brown. Irving was still at a loss. "What am I going to do?She wants him to be at the concert with her. Is he good?", he askedBarbara. And James Taylor's new album was just at the top of thecharts. We hadn't noticed any of this because we'd been so busy gettingthings ready for the trip.

Jim: We even haggled for everyitem on the list of provisions until a dealer gave us everything forfree. We had ice-boxes full of steaks. Bob, do you remember how welater toyed with the idea of going on hunger strike?

Bob:You bet! As I recall, Captain John Cormack was very enthusiastic aboutthe idea; if we all starved to death he would have more to eat.

Jim: That was a good reason not to go ahead with it.

Dorothy Metcalfe:I was a kind of thirteenth crew member on shore. I supplied the mediawith news from on board the Greenpeace. At the height of the campaign Ididn't leave the house for 15 days on end to make sure I didn't missany radio messages.

Jim: If it hadn't been for you wewould have been in serious difficulties. In those days you couldn'ttransmit from the ship direct. You were our relay station and did somefantastic work to make sure that our stories were sorted out and editedbefore they reached the media.

Dorothy Metcalfe: Well, we had to be absolutely reliable to make sure the press believed our reports. _

Jim: In spite of that some people claimed that the first trip was a failure.

Dorothy Metcalfe: If it had been, the Greenpeace that we know today would not exist.

Dorothy Stowe:Don't forget that seven tests had been planned for Amchitka and onlythree were actually carried out. The US Government had to admit thatthe others were canceled as a result of public pressure. Later theydecared Amchitka a nature reserve.

Jim: For us it was asign of hope that people can change things. And our action gave theentire ecology movement a new name: Green. that was better than ecology- a word hardly anyone understood.

Dorothy Stowe: Iremember how we tried to think of a name for the ship. And then BillDarnell came up with the combination of "Green" and "Peace".

Jim:We were aware that no-one would be interested in the fate of a PhyllisCormack. Someone said that the word "Green" would have to appear in itsomewhere. Irving said the word "Peace" was more important. In responseto this, Bill, later our ship's cook on the Phyllis Cormack, threw inhis famous suggestion. Then, when my son Paul designed the first buttonhe had real problems trying to get the words Green and Peace on it astwo words. So I said that he should write it as one word: GREENPEACE.

Dorothy Metcalfe:The secret of our success was being cheeky. Everyone was amazed: howdare they? Attacking governments and demanding the end of atomic tests.That was sensational - David versus Goliath. Only not everyone was onDavid's side: while you were on your trip I was a guest on various talkshows. And there people would call up to say they hoped that this bunchof hippies would all drown. That was hard to handle. Exactly at thattime the ship was battling through a storm with waves ten meters high.

Jim:Apart from Cormack we all threw up. It wasn't an adventure - it was aserious undertaking in every respect. Everyone had had to take sixweeks off work for the trip. They even wanted to fire me as I wasworking for the government.

Dorothy Stowe: Others puttheir own money into the project. Irving, for instance, completely gaveup his job as a highly qualified lawyer specializing in marine law. Isupported the family from my salary as a therapist.

Jim:Not enough people know just what an important part the women played inall this. Greenpeace would probably never have been so successful ifDorothy hadn't made it possible for Irving to devote all his energy tothe cause. And without Irving's commitment a lot would have been leftundone.

Dorothy Metcalfe: We were just a handful of people from different backgrounds, but on one thing we agreed - this planet is in danger.

Jim: I'm still surprised to day that we found a job for every talent - and a talent for every job.

Bob:Take Paul Spong, the well-known marine biologist. He approached us inorder to use our good name for protecting whales. That's how we came totake up the subject of whales. And David McTaggart was another man inthe right place at the right time.

Jim: Or Dorothy'sex-husband Ben Metcalfee, a television iournalist who joined in thefirst voyage of the-Greenpeace as a media observer. Like you, Bob, he"mutated" into an activist and became head of our press office. In1972, when he was chairman of the association, he wanted to dosomething against French nuclear tests and was looking for people tojoin him in New Zealand. That's how we fell in with David McTaggartwith his yacht, Vega. We were worried because nobody knew anythingabout the guy. Ben just said, "we'll give the man a radio transmittingset and a few hundred dollars and we've already got a campaign." Wethought, " OK, what have we got to lose?"

Dorothy Metcalfe:In those days McTaggart was less bothered about the French testingatomic bombs on Moruroa than the fact that they were blocking off ahuge area of sea although they were only entitled to the twelve-milelimit. He wasn't interested in environmental matters. But he was outfor adventure and realized that Greenpeace offered a platform forgetting something meaningful done.

Jim: It wasn't untillater that he became a convinced environmentalist, after the French hadgiven him such a bad beating. That was their mistake.

Bob:Yes, on the Vega's second voyage to Moruroa, the crew was really givena roughing up by the French. But David's girlfriend, Anne-Marie Horne,managed to take some photos of it. She smuggled the film off the shipin her vagina and took it to Vancouver, where we developed it andimmediately realized what we had got hold of. At the time David wasstill in hospital.

Jim: We attacked the French for theirorgy of violence. The government in Paris claimed that David hadslipped up and got his bruises and eye injury from that.

Bob: Only then did we publish the photos. It was a complete knock-out.

Dorothy Metcalfe:After 1974 the direction Greenpeace took changed so much that many ofthe old campaigners no longer wanted to follow. Instead of fightingagainst the atomic threat they took up the cause of protecting sealsand whales.

Dorothy Stowe: At that time Irving no longer had the energy to stand up against this development.

Jim:And I moved out into the country. Sold my house here in the city andbuilt up a farm to do research into new ways of livingself-sufficiently as far as energy was concerned. We called it the"Greenpeace Experimental Farm". Watching from the outside, I thoughtthat the whole outfit would fold.

Bob: And there were alot of fights: Ben and David hated each other. David felt that he hadbeen left in the lurch by Greenpeace in his legal battle against France.

Bob: From 1975 onwards we had a few awful years - nothing but in-fighting.

Jim:In those days though there were some pretty strong characters rubbingeach other up the wrong way. What was to be the future of theorganization? Opinions on this differed widely. The directionGreenpeace should take has always been worth arguing about.

Bob:Did you know that for David McTaggart the history of Greenpeace doesn'tstart until Greenpeace International was founded in 1979?

Jim:The founders of Greenpeace are three people. Or the twelve who riskedtheir asses on the first voyage in 1971. When David got a prize as the"Greenpeace Founder" in Mexico City I was absolutely fuming.

Bob: Sometimes I think it's a miracle that Greenpeace has survived all the fights.

Jim:So it's true what they say: "You can't sink a rainbow!" Whenever wewere in a bad way and had no money left, some government would make amistake and that would put us on our feet again. Ultimately the historyof Greenpeace is based on a lot of coincidences.

Bob: Likein 1975. Everything was very much in the balance at that time. We werebroke and urgently had to pay a whole load of invoices. We werecompletely desperate because someone had run off with 8000 dollars froma concert. Then I come into the office in the evening and there's thisbrown paper bag on the desk. A man with terminal cancer had given us adonation. A whole bag full of ten and five dollar bills. Only 50dollars short of the exact amount we needed to pay off our debts. Andthis kind of thing didn't happen just once. We used to call it "cosmicaccounting " .

Jim: A lot of people tended to depend too much on this kind of thing. Correct accounting or precise planning were alien to them.

Bob:I have always fought for us to have a certain amount of bureaucracy.Decision- making structures and suchlike. The hippie faction thought Iwas completely gaga. My answer was: if we carry on in this chaoticfashion one day we will be completely burnt out. But the government andmulti-nationals' bureaucracies will last forever. That's why we have tocreate a bureaucratic machinery with enough strength and staying powerto fight against the other big bureaucratic machines.

Jim:You have to fight fire with fire. Every step is history: in 1969 thesmall park on English Bay in Vancouver was to be paved over for ashore-side road. Jim, Bob and Irving Stowe got in the way - in front ofthe bulldozers.

Bob: For a time though, my biggest fearwas that I would die in my boots at a Board meeting. But then you justcan't get 30 countries co-ordinated just like that.

Jim:You can only combat the big multi-nationals internationally. And that'swhy in 25 years Greenpeace should have its own office in every countryin the world.

Bob: Just think of China in 50 years. Greenpeace could play a major role in discussions on the environment there. Or in India.

Jim:It always seems to me like watching your own kid grow up. Greenpeacewas and is our baby. And we have worked hard to bring it up.

Bob: But it really has got pretty big, hasn't it Jim?

Jim:But for its old folks a kid will always be a kid. When someone fromGreenpeace calls me up today I react in the same way as with my realkids. The first thing I ask is, "Is everything OK?"

Bob:The emotional tie to this outfit is really strong. I experienced one ofthe finest moments in my life in 1976 in James Bay. We were standing onthe bridge of our ship watching the Russian whaling fleet running awayfrom us, and I though, "Wow. We've got you." A wonderful moment.

Jim: The best thing that has happened to me was meeting my second wife.

Bob: Good Lord! I forgot to mention my wife.

Jim: If she finds that out ...

Bob:The thought of being a co-founder of Greenpeace just goes beyond whatmy mind can handle. I was in the right place at -he right time. When mylast hour comes, I'll be able to say to myself, "You didn't waste yourlife away meaninglessly."

Jim: For me at any rate,Greenpeace was the crowning achievement of my working life. Determiningeverything yourself, doing everything yourself - for yourself and forothers. I only wonder why so few people listen to Greenpeace today. Wetalk about the dying planet, about the Greenhouse effect, the ozonehole - and nobody really listens. Only when it's too late do they saythat we were right. In my opinion, Greenpeace has to become moremilitant. Not in the sense of sinking ships. We must be less willing tocompromise on our demands.

Bob: While we're on the subjectof criticism: I think that Greenpeace has always been too ashamed ofits spiritual side. Anyone who has looked a whale in the eye knows justhow much more Man should feel at one with nature. But anyway we didgive the outfit its main tools - non-violent action and media work. Itsurprises even me just how important a feature of Greenpeace this stillis today. And there is one benefit for me in all this. Dean, thebarkeeper in my local bar, asks for one dollar from me instead of twoand a half. for the rest of my life. Because he doesn't know anyoneelse who has founded a world- wide organization. That's something isn'tit?

Interview by Michael Friedrich