Courage. How we look back and how we move forward.

by Ebony Twilley Martin

September 14, 2021

We need to ensure that the future we build isn’t just green and peaceful—it must be just and equitable

Greenpeace US Co-Executive Director Ebony Martin addresses the rally. The Green New Deal Network (GNDN) organizational principals, community leaders, and allies push for Congress to “Go Bigger to Meet the Need ” on climate, jobs, and justice at a Capitol Hill rally.

It would probably surprise very few people to know that we have struggled with how to commemorate fifty years of Greenpeace. Given the ongoing trauma of the pandemic that has devastated many communities, the extraordinary attacks against our democracy, the violence, the wildfires, the crushing weight of extreme weather events on those already suffering, a celebration feels misplaced.

How does one celebrate five decades of trying to change the world in a world so desperately in need of change?

First, you honor the fact that we are standing on the shoulders of the incredibly brave individuals who came before us and put their bodies and hearts, and souls in harm’s way for the planet. We remember those who are no longer with us, whether by age or misfortune and offer our deepest gratitude for the legacies they have left behind.

Greenpeace USA activists sail out on the San Francisco Bay with a message for Congress and the oil industry. The activists display a banner reading “Oil Is Over, The Future Is Up to You” next to the Amazon Flacon, one of dozens of crude oil tankers stuck off the California coast as the oil industry grinds to a halt.

We can celebrate 50 years of milestones that exposed a host of outrageous practices ‒ like the dumping of toxic waste at sea, the wholesale slaughter of whales, the reckless destruction of ancient forests, the enslavement of individuals for the sake of a can of tuna ‒ and rightly held them up for public outrage and necessary reform.

We can thank our supporters and allies and volunteers for their energy and creativity. These fifty years would have been impossible without each and every one of you. We recognize the contributions of those whose faces you might never see but who have decided to dedicate their talents and expertise to the work that happens every day at Greenpeace US.

Most importantly, we can pay tribute to fifty years of Greenpeace by readying ourselves for the work to come and to imagine the world we can build together over the next fifty years.

Greenpeace US activists walk a large Black Lives Matter banner down 16th NW toward the White House. Activists on the streets adopted the banner chanting “Make Way For The Flag” as they moved it through the massive crowds to the fence in front of Lafayette Square near the White House.

In her remarks to the Young African Women Leaders Forum, former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “[You] may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”

None of us who care deeply for the environment and our neighbors are comfortable right now. The secret is to, first, look for those moments you can honor, can celebrate, and for which you can offer thanks. Gratitude in and of itself is powerful and gives strength, especially in those moments of doubt. And from gratitude, hope arises. For me, that includes my becoming not just the first co-executive director of Greenpeace US, but becoming the first Black woman to lead a legacy environmental organization in the United States. I am joining a strong cohort of other Black women, each and every one of us bringing something unique and powerful to the environmental movement.

As I look toward the next fifty years and more directly to this next decade ‒ what scientists tell us will be the most consequential decade in addressing climate change and the nature emergency ‒ I want to honor the strength and passion of other Black women leaders like Colette Pichon Battle and Dana Aston and Rue Mapp because we need to ensure that the future we build isn’t just green and peaceful. It must be just and equitable.

Reaction to the Murder of George Floyd in Washington DC

I want to celebrate this critical step forward in Greenpeace’s mission because there is no hope of securing environmental justice unless the broader environmental movement embraces and advances the contributions of communities of color in this fight. Real change, real justice, will only come when we are able to truly work together, side by side, and demand it with a voice too loud to ignore. And, as we are witnessing just how fragile progress can be, we need everyone to recognize that we all bear the responsibility to stay engaged and remain watchful.

Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, on a trip to Svalbard to document the rapidly changing Arctic.

Finally, I want to offer thanks to each and every one of you, our amazing Greenpeace supporters, allies, and friends, for making it possible for us to bring about this better world we know is possible.

It’s easy to get lost in the heartbreak that seems to surround us on every side, but when it starts to feel too great, remember that we are here, fighting right alongside you, as we have done for fifty years. Be hopeful. Be brave.

Onward, together.

This essay is part of our Perspectives: Our Next Fifty Years series, in which we reflect briefly on our first fifty years, but more importantly, we lay out the future we are building together—collaborative, ambitious, and intersectional. The work ahead won’t be easy, but we’ve never shied away from hard work. We continue to push for policies that recognize the contributions and leadership of marginalized groups, and we amplify their voices, looking to their wisdom to show us the way. We hold corporations accountable, demanding real action that puts people ahead of profit. We work each day with our partners to co-create green, safe planet for all beings. We recognize that equality is not necessarily justice. We demand more from our leaders, from our colleagues, and from ourselves. A green and peaceful world isn’t just a slogan—it is our mission, and it takes each one of us to get there.

Ebony Twilley Martin

By Ebony Twilley Martin

Ebony Twilley Martin is the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. To win the fight for our planet, this planet - the ONLY planet - the climate movement must be powered by racial justice. That is the reason why Ebony got involved in the environmental justice movement.

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