Greenpeace supporters worldwide have been demonstrating their commitment to action on climate change with song, dance, pictures, non-violent direct action, petitions, letter writing, phone calls, "box populi" cartoon care-packages,and a glorious spectrum of other actions.
Greenpeace International's board chair, Lalita Ramdas, talks about her own personal form of solidarity action, a fast, in this email exchange with Sarah Burton, our Deputy Programme Director. Sarah, along with other members of our Senior Management team, are participating in a "rolling fast" in support of the long-term fasters.
Here in India, it is just past midnight on Sunday Dec 6 and we are a few hours away from the start of the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change on Dec 7. Some of us plan to fast for a day, or two days or more in solidarity with a group of committed Climate Activists who are fasting for forty days from November 6th.
I am writing this to share some reflections around the idea of a FAST – or Hunger Strike – and how the very idea has created intensive debates around the question of whether or not Fasting is an appropriate tool for political action.
Interestingly the concept of a fast does shock some – even though it is intrinsically a non-violent, morally forceful and peaceful action. Many of my colleagues in Greenpeace as also other progressives and activists have had problems with the idea of fasting as a tool for projecting the moral arguments on Climate Change to the world leaders gathering at Copenhagen. Further, since the idea of a fast seems intrinsically linked in the minds of many, to Gandhi, and since I happen to be Indian, there have been requests suggesting that I would be an appropriate person to try to offer some explanation around the concept itself.
My own decision to observe a fast was motivated by the need to take a form of individual action. Personally I have been moved and motivated by the group of climate fasters who came together around the idea of the Climate Justice Fast – and their effort to `emotionally engage’ both ordinary people and powerful world leaders, in what has been described as `a moral response to an immoral situation’. Most importantly for me fasting is a form of action that is very valuable in building internal discipline – while at the same time deriving its power from being a voluntary activity which is not externally imposed. I can determine the form and duration of the fast.
Yes, it is true that people in some cultures and societies – such as in India have grown up with the idea that keeping a day/days of fast – for either religious, spiritual, health, self discipline or political reasons – is quite normal, almost natural. Spiritual leaders, monks, yogis and more recently, leaders like Gandhi, have successfully used the fast as a tool to persuade by personal example. In a sense, Gandhi’s appeal for me as a woman and a feminist, is also that he was among the first to combine the `personal with the political’, by the simple device of combining a moral ethical message of personal discipline with a strong political message
But it is also true that the fast as an instrument of religious belief, ethical arguments and political protest has been used by people in many countries – be it Ireland in the pre-Christian era; in Islam; in Catholicism and Buddhism among other faiths over millennia.
Ted Glick, Director of the Chesapeke Climate Action Network put it well in an address on Gandhi Today that he gave recently to the William Patterson University in New Jersey :
“Fasting is a form of action that is very valuable in building the internal discipline and the deeply-felt understanding of what’s really important in this world that we individually need to stay true to our best ideals. When you fast for more than a few days, especially on a water-only fast, you are forced to think about the reasons for your fasting, why you are putting yourself through this. You spend time thinking about all of the people all over the world who “fast” involuntarily because of an unjust world order which is dominated by a relative handful of billionaires and multi-billionaires.”
Unlike a number of my family and friends who do fast regularly – I do not! And I am wondering what it was this time that pushed me to do so? I am not traveling to Copenhagen [ too much CO2] – and I see all around me in my own country, millions who are about to become climate refugees in addition to all the other forms of want and injustice and violence they have endured.
In a sense, I see that we have little choice but to ACT in all the different ways and using all the imagination and innovation of which human kind is capable – be it the Nepali cabinet meeting at the foot of Mt Everest or the Maldives cabinet under the sea!
So this is our small but genuine contribution to all those others out there.
To: Lalita Ramdas
From: Sarah Burton
I wanted to thank you for this note which I am reading at just past 8 a.m. in Amsterdam on the day when I, like you, am taking this personal form of non-violent direct action of fasting.
I feel as you do, the need to show the solidarity I feel with all of those around the world who have not got the choices that you & I have to eat, or not eat. To have a home, to have it disappear or be taken from me. To watch my child grow straight and strong, or to watch her fade and die from hunger. I have never faced such awful choices, but I have had and used the choices given to me to devote my professional life to work which I hope will have the impact of helping -- even slightly -- to end such terrible choices for others in the future.
Those who purport to lead us, our political masters, appear to think that it is just fine to balance other choices, about certain levels of profits now against something that may happen to someone else in a faraway land or time. But those of us who are young enough or whose children or grandchildren are, to face the prospect of living in a climate changed world, or who have the imagination to see and feel that world, should realise there is no choice. This must be stopped. And now, here, today, tomorrow, this week, next week, we have created the opportunity to do that. Stop. Changing. the. Climate.
This is what I think as I sit here reading your lovely message, Lalita. And this is why, today I choose not to eat.
I hope you do not mind, Lalita, that I have also chosen to share our correspondence with some colleagues and friends, and with my straight and strong and beautiful daughter.
Yours, in sisterhood and solidarity,