Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Action Barbie by Chuck Baclagon
July 10, 2009, 7:31 am
Filed under: Stop climate change | Tags: , , , ,
Greenpeace, both famous and notorious (depends whos asking) for its bold environmental protests, figured Obama deserved to be there. Yet not quite for the reason you might think. Right next to Lincolns sculpting, Greenpeace climbers unveiled a face-sized (65 by 35 foot) banner of Obamas face with the words America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians: Stop Global Warming. The message was crafted to call out Obama to move quicker and stronger on global climate policy as he chairs the G-8 policy conference this week in Italy.

Greenpeace climbers unveiled a face-sized (65 by 35 foot) banner of Obama's face with the words "America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians: Stop Global Warming." The message was crafted to call out Obama to move quicker and stronger on global climate policy as he chairs the G-8 policy conference this week in Italy.

From Making Waves

What an insane day it was. Avaaz members strip in Rome. Greenpeace occupies four of the biggest polluting coal plants in Italy and puts Obama’s face on Mt. Rushmore. Oxfam puts on crazy big heads. WWF pokes fun at the G8 leadership.

This is not business as usual. This is civil society crying out for change.

The @Greenpeace twitter account was for a while in the top five most retweeted in the world as our activists thumbed 142-character messages from atop smokestacks and from Abraham Lincoln’s forehead, and the outpouring of support we got from people responding and cheering on our activists was profoundly moving, and an indicator to me that the public temperature is rising over this issue. I saw tweet after tweet saying “Thank god somebody is doing this” and an array of variations — all suggesting that the activists who were on those smokestacks and messaging from Mt. Rushmore were speaking for them. That’s an extremely important sign, and perhaps an indicator that Al Gore’s message of two years ago will soon be dated:

“I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and stopping new coal plants from being built.”

One of the young people up on Mt. Rushmore was a member of my staff here in Amsterdam: Jess, AKA Action Barbie. (Why? Just look at her!). Jess is not only a skilled webbie, she’s a boat driver and one of our best climbers.

Our colleagues in the US had arranged for a live webcast of the banner hang, which was an AWESOME experience for the 3,000+ of us who came flocking from Twitter to watch. My heart was in my mouth as I watched the wind whipping that gigantic banner, like a massive sail next to Lincoln’s ear, and slamming something against the rocks that I feared at the time was a climber.

It wasn’t — it was the black sack the banner had come out of, but it was a good reminder of just how gutsy you have to be to do what Jess & her fellow climbers did, and what a risk you take, and how important it is that our climbers are all properly trained and have the “safety-first” mantra drummed into them.

It seemed the only thing that failed in this action was the camera that Jess was supposed to broadcast from, live from her safety harness, which is a shame. Few people ever see the faces behind a Greenpeace action, and Jess has one that surprises. Not your average hairy hippy, she looks like a cheerleader — although she’ll give you a whithering look if you suggest that. She was in fact a lettered athlete in high school, and out on the playing field rather than on the sidelines.

I was hoping that a wide American audience could see Jess up there in her climbing gear. She has the kind of well-scrubbed face that anyone could see as their daughter, their sister. You wouldn’t pick her out in the crowd as “that environmental extremist.”

When people don’t see the people behind an action, they see only what they imagine to be Greenpeace the institution. That’s a pity — because the institution is nothing more than the sum of our people, and we have some extraordinarily warm, courageous, funny and intelligent folks like Jess knocking around on our ships, hanging messages from monuments and stopping pollution sources.

We did some polling a while back and asked what Greenpeace would be like if the organisation was a person. Audiences picked the scariest, most pierced and snarling face every time, and said they’d be interested in talking to that person, but they would never get a word in edgewise.

That’s certainly one reality, and I know that guy, that gal, and Greenpeace will always have those feral folk. Nothing wrong with that — it’s part of our outlaw DNA. But what we stand for reaches so much further. I’ve sailed or worked with or been on actions with grandfathers, Harvard PhDs, single moms, lawyers, doctors, artists, furniture makers, and even a professsional clown.

Like Jess, those are the folks that are asking for action on climate change, and those are the folks that are going to get increasingly outspoken as the politicians continue to fail us in taking their own action.

And ok, even if Jess wasn’t a cheerleader, I like to think that as more and more people become radicalized by the mismatch between what needs to happen to save our world from runaway climate change and what leaders are willing to do, we are going to see cheerleaders on the barricades. We’re going to see people from all walks of life raising their voices in different ways.

We’re going to see an army of Action Barbies demanding change.

Brian Fitzgerald

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