For more than 40 years we have been using peaceful protest to bring about change. Non-violence is a core principle of Greenpeace and at the heart of all of our activities. Our non-violent direct actions have proved essential to the success of campaigns in exposing environmental crimes, confronting unjust activities and stopping environmental destruction.
Gandhi said ‘Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of [humanity].’ This was demonstrated when he led a march of tens of thousands of people to defy British rule in India. Gandhi became a leader of the movement for independence and, although it took 17 years, India threw off the chains of British rule.
But Gandhi is by no means alone. Throughout history, acts of nonviolent resistance have helped to force a reassessment of society’s moral parameters. The movements for women’s and civil rights and against slavery, colonialism and racial discrimination all used various forms of nonviolent resistance.
More recent examples include the disabling of military property destined for use in the Iraq war or sports stars kneeling during their country’s national anthem in protest at police brutality. Courageous, inspiring people have engaged in peaceful protest, at risk of repercussions, to stand for their cause. It remains effective in shining a light on injustice, in raising awareness and in mobilising others to speak up with a collective voice.
Amongst our considerable successes to date is our campaign against Shell, who were trying to drill for oil in the Arctic. In 2015 our efforts paid off! Under public pressure, the oil giant retreated from the Arctic after spending years – and $7 billion – trying to drill for oil.
These actions are not something that we embark upon recklessly and so when planning a Greenpeace campaign action, we ensure that a number of key criteria are fulfilled.
We believe that non-violence direct action is required when all other avenues, such as dialogue or legal action, have been investigated and exhausted, or are clearly not viable.
We also believe that our actions have be proportionate, and only in response to an important problem, threat or injustice.
Safety is paramount. While some volunteers take certain calculated risks to put their views across, the safety of bystanders or those subject to the action is not compromised. Any risks are identified in advance, so they can be best mitigated.
While there may be secrecy around the preparation of our actions, the delivery of them is not covert – anyone taking part is open about their identity, motive and nature of their acts.
Non-compliance with the law is not the objective, but often an unavoidable consequence. Those taking part in non-violent direct actions show their respect for the rule of law by taking full responsibility for their actions. We can only take action because ordinary individuals make a personal choice to help expose an environmental crime or stop environmental destruction and are willing to accept the consequences of their actions.
One of our recent actions took place in Delta BC, where two inspirational women, Mary Lovell and Laura Yates, scaled a monster drill that is going to be used in the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion. Their act of courage drew invaluable public and media attention, and raised awareness of the drill, the project and the huge environmental and social risks around the expansion.
Since a ship full of Canadian activists set off to stop nuclear tests in the 1970s, Greenpeace hasn’t stopped believing in the power of peaceful direct action. By using collective power and in taking non-violent action we can change circumstances, challenge injustice and have our voices heard. Join our movement: click for more information on how you can get involved in volunteering with us in Canada.