Before I started working for Greenpeace, the closest I got to being an eco-warrior was sharing digital campaign materials to my blog and social networking profiles. Unlike a lot of my fellow staff, I didn’t start out as a volunteer, nor was I always up-to-date on the organization’s movements. It’s not that I didn’t know of its existence and function; I knew that just as human rights groups are needed to oppose entities that commit unjust acts against unvoiced individuals, the existence of a group like Greenpeace is also needed to speak for and tip the odds in favor of the Earth.
Back then, I thought it apt to assume that for as long as environmental crises subsist, there will always be a counteractive force—Greenpeace or otherwise—that sticks around and goes up against them. Barely a month on the job, though, I realized that my presumptions don’t even come close to how this organization has kept going.
My induction week wasn’t at all as dreary as I expected. I came in just as they were about to launch the Ocean Defenders campaign, which was meant to strive for a global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world’s oceans and for a more sustainable fishing industry. At the last minute, however, Greenpeace Philippines thought it best to cancel the campaign’s activities—yes, the activities that took months for the staff to plan—to respond to the humanitarian crisis in areas hit by typhoon Pablo. When this was decided, they held an office-wide meeting every three hours, to make sure all the departments were updated and on track. Everyone in the office was up to his/her ears in scrapping initial plans, coordinating with possible media partners and volunteers, and making a dozen other arrangements. From that week alone, it already dawned on me that keeping this institution alive while maintaining its credibility isn’t as easy as pie. Its success depends on the people behind its moving campaigns.
Following that idea was the certainty that there is a driving force that each loyal member or volunteer possesses. Is it the passion for Greenpeace, being the well-respected institution that it is, the devotion towards its advocacies, or both?
Of course, there’s no going around history, if I am to attempt to answer that question. Opportunely, a colleague gave me a perfect starting point: The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island—a documentary by Suzanne Raes.
The documentary stars the pioneering crew of the Rainbow Warrior ship, who are now settled in Waiheke Island, New Zealand. They look back on their ventures onboard the vessel, from their first European tour to stop whaling in Iceland and Spain, to their protests against nuclear testing in the US, and to the ship’s tragic bombing by the French Secret Service in 1985.
The late ‘70s through the early ‘80s could just have been the period that defined the organization’s future and that which gained the crew celebrity status. In the film, Greenpeace UK founding member Susi Newborn recalls, “it was like being in a rock band. Everywhere we went, there were lots of people who would want to come onboard, lots of groupies hanging around the boys… It (the Rainbow Warrior) started developing a legendary status.”
Since then, the now bigger and more structured organization has adopted the pioneers’ core values and methods. This time, though, the campaigns are less spontaneous and more carefully planned. Martini Gotjé, who was deemed “The Navigator” of the Rainbow Warrior, says, “nowadays when you’re protesting something, you’re expected to provide an alternative as well. We didn’t have to do that in those days; we campaigned because we wanted to demonstrate something.”
Over the years, the priorities, too, have shifted. “The anti-nuclear campaign doesn’t have much priority for Greenpeace anymore,” Gotjé states, “you can moan and complain about that but the fact is that climate change is one of the biggest problems we’re facing right now.”
To some of the original Rainbow Warriors, the introduction of more advanced campaign techniques and the utilization of online media tools may have helped in propagating environmental news and facts, but it has also cultivated complacency or even subjection among many. Hanne Sorensen, who left the organization after the bombing left her traumatized and drained, says, “I don’t keep up so much anymore ‘cause I find it so depressing, and it makes me feel really powerless; I think powerlessness is what everyone is feeling…you can be so informed about what happens in the world, that it just flattens you, and you do nothing.”
Joining Greenpeace in this day and age, one’s efforts are not likely to be met with immediate fulfillment and praises, not to mention an avid fan base. If anything, one will be initiated into an organization that’s currently at its most complex state, where he/she will chip in to fight a seemingly insurmountable enemy.
But just as the adversary has grown, so has the army of Rainbow Warriors. Come to think of it, Greenpeace currently has a presence in over 40 countries, and has made a massive following. I think that the challenge now is becoming conscious of what we already have—that collective power—to instigate change. More specifically, for me, it’s to realize that I am not alone in my beliefs, and that there’s no better time and place to act on them than here and now.
Johanna Fernandez is a writer for Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines. Follow her updates on Twitter via @gillespia.