Part 2: Conveying the moral of the story

Storytelling is the process of conveying events in words, images and sounds. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instil moral values.  In the previous post, we explored how meta-narratives work as stories that help us make sense of the world around us.

Today, we are confronted by the urgency to tell stories about the world and its problems, which would hopefully challenge those who’ll hear them to take it upon themselves to act upon the lessons of our stories.

We do this because we are activists.

This may be an obvious point, but one that needs to be stated over-and-over again. There are those who benefit from ignorance of, and naiveté to, issues at hand. And to speak of something wrong about the world is to state fact, as every single person knows from experience that the world as we know it does not provide equally in terms of resources, rights and privileges.

This is the starting point of all forms of activism because, in a perfect world, activism would be rendered irrelevant. Having said that, it is also a salient reminder that being part of Greenpeace means that we are part of something bigger than what we are working on. It means that we are activists first and foremost –using activist language, we are part of what is called the civil-society, which is just a fancy name for the broad movement that seeks to enact positive change to a system that does not function for, and because decisions and interests in areas of power are not that of, the people.

In the case of Greenpeace, it means that we are part of the environmental movement, which is composed of communities, organizations and individuals that recognize people as parts and participants of ecosystems; it is a movement  centred on ecology, health and human rights. We exist because we are under the threat of global environmental problems like climate change, toxic pollution, genetic contamination, nuclear disasters, habitat destruction, deforestation etc., which is the very reason why we ‘bear-witness’ -- to expose something that is wrong, or to highlight something that is right or something that needs to be protected.

This is where the meta-narrative starts: it begins with the story that comes from a North American Cree Indian legend:

"There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the World who believe in deeds and not words. They will work to heal it...they will be known as the "Warriors of the Rainbow."

Since the early 1970s, this legend of Rainbow Warriors inspired some environmentalists in North America with the belief that their movement is the fulfilment of this Native American prophecy. Among those inspired was Bob Hunter who, perhaps more than anyone else, invented Greenpeace.

A student of Marshall McLuhan, he was bent on changing the world with what he termed "media mind bombs" -- consciousness-changing sounds and images to blast around the world in the guise of news.  He got involved with a few folks in a church basement who wanted to stop a US nuclear weapons test off Amchitka, which he called the "Don't Make a Wave Committee".

In 1978, Hunter chronicled the birth of Greenpeace in his book "Warriors of the Rainbow."  It was a masterful feat of storytelling, one which attracted a further generation of young people into the ranks of the organisation.

Among Hunter's stock stories was the tale of how he'd stumbled on to the Cree Indian myth of the "Warriors of the Rainbow" -- a legendary tribe of spirits who would rescue nature when the Earth became sick.  The story involved a gypsy dulcimer maker, an old set of fenceposts, and the gift of a book which Hunter claimed leapt into his hands -- quite literally -- when The Greenpeace dropped down a steep swell on its way to Amchitka. The story itself was magical and mythological, and over the years Hunter would embellish and polish it into a hilarious and inspirational piece of campfire folklore.

This now speaks of the need for us to not just be content with stating the problem and with telling stories, this is what sets us apart from other environmental groups that work on ‘awareness’ campaigns, because we believe that to tell stories is to present a moral lesson like those tales that were told to us when we were young. For Greenpeace, telling stories provides us with morale and moral lessons that challenge our audience to make informed choices in the way we live.

For us, this meta-narrative stands as a challenge to appropriate the story as our own to become Rainbow Warriors who would make our actions speak louder than our words...