Occupy the world

by Kumi Naidoo

October 21, 2011

At the weekend my twitter feed was alive with news of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including in my adopted city of Amsterdam, taking a stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It is a movement that has quickly spread far beyond the shadows of Wall Street’s skyscrapers, and the reason is simple – all over the world, citizens are tired of profit being put before people and the planet.

Greenpeace is tired of polluting corporations with vested interests dictating policy to governments, without concern for the consequences for those who have to live with them. We are tired of corporations controlling the quality of the air, people’s access to food and the availability of clean, safe energy. As an organisation and as individuals, we share the growing demands for change.

The Occupy movement is in its infancy, but the discontent that gave birth to it is long-lived and broad-ranging.

Since I became the Executive Director of Greenpeace, I have seen first-hand how corporations are given licence to pollute and control our environment.

The horrors of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown brought into sharp focus the cosy relationship between the nuclear industry and governments, as well as the liability caps the nuclear industry enjoys. The people of Japan, already scarred by the consequences of radiation contamination, are now paying the cost of the clean-up too.

In Indonesia, the Amazon and Congo, commercial interests are driving deforestation; at sea large-scale industrial fishing fleets are emptying our oceans at a terrifying rate; agri-business is tightening its stranglehold on people’s access to the basics of life, threatening food security. The giant chemical companies are polluting our rivers and even our childrens’ clothes and toys.

There is one other common denominator in this equation – almost always it is the poor that pay the price first.

We share the aspirations of Occupy Wall Street for a better, freer world. We share their non-violent stance on civil disobedience. We are proud to have sent our solar truck “Rolling Sunlight” to help power the OWS media centre in New York and we urge everyone who has not yet engaged to do so now.

In just a few weeks we will see governments and corporations gather in my home town of Durban to yet again debate what Greenpeace believes is the most urgent issue facing our people and planet – climate change. But the time for debate is long passed. Now is the time for action. Action on the scale of that which we saw this weekend across hundreds of cities in the world – from Sydney to New Delhi to Rio de Janeiro to New York.

We know that there is broad-based democratic support for a rapid transition to renewable energy, but fossil-fuel companies are corrupting climate politics worldwide. In the US, the Koch Brothers – oil billionaires of the 1%’ – are actively funding climate change denial and – along with many other fossil-fuel corporations and their front-groups – are holding us back from the political change that we so desperately need.

Greenpeace is no stranger to peaceful occupations – some may say that we have even made a habit out of it! So it should come as no surprise that we share the ideals of the Occupy movement. This is just the beginning of a mass movement for change and we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their peaceful endeavour.

Like all movements, it will take time for the ideals to crystallise into concrete demands for change that everyone can agree on, but we encourage them to stand firm and continue on their path. The peaceful, non-violent public dialogue we are seeing at the occupy events worldwide is a vital part of a healthy democracy.

Last week I was interviewed for the Huffington Post Game-Changer series and asked about the importance of civil disobedience. In my many years of working to end poverty, against apartheid and now in the environment movement, I know that civil disobedience and peaceful protest on a massive scale is the only way to bring about real change and real democracy. Greenpeace is determined to play its part in ensuring that our governments and corporations deliver what the people want – a peaceful, equitable, green planet.

Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo

By Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo has served as executive director of Greenpeace International since November 2009.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.