Greenpeace Southeast Asia


What happens when the good people do good – Part 2 by Chuck Baclagon

Sarah applauds the local communities for their efforts to protect their forests and thanks them for their support of Greenpeace. ©Ardiles Rante/Grenpeace

Well, when I finished writing yesterday, I really thought that I would be going to the Climate defenders camp to bear witness to a peaceful demonstration of activism being disrupted and our team and local community representatives being evicted.

What a difference a day makes. I did bear witness, indeed, but to something altogether more inspiring…to people power in its most direct form.

We left Pekanbaru at daybreak to get to the camp in late morning. On the way I heard from Rob, our local team leader, that we’d have some of the local community and NGO leaders join us for lunch, and we’d make a small informal occasion of it, with us handing over the keys to the camp to them, as a show of solidarity and cooperation continuing even if we were forced to leave. I was asked to do this on behalf of Greenpeace International, and of course I was delighted to.

On the way to the Kampar Peninsula, we stopped to see an area already cleared by the same company whose work we had disrupted in our action last Thursday – an area of devastation, which looked like a firestorm had occurred there, nothing but dead blackened stumps and ditches (canals) filled with water and draining the peaty soil. Nothing could live there now, it seemed. It was a sad sad sight. Our campaign guide Joko called it the ‘stupid site’ named for the “Age of Stupid” film which premiered earlier this year. I think stupid was too mild a word for what I saw.

But when I reached the Greenpeace camp, after hours of driving and a short boat journey, this was totally different. It turned out that the few community leaders we’d expected were accompanied to the camp – by hundreds of local villagers! And they were mad, yes really mad at the police for wanting to turf Greenpeace off the site. And our small ceremony? Gone. Replaced by a mass rally, children up front, men and women behind them, and ranged all over the camp, each of them listening intently as Zulfahmi, who has worked tirelessly with the local communities, spoke – his voice breaking with emotion – and then introduced me. I was humbled and happy to be able to tell them that their work, together with the Greenpeace team there, had been seen around the world, and that even if we had to leave, our work to end deforestation would carry on.

As pleased as I could see they were to hear the greetings from Greenpeace, and the news about the intense interest in this campaign to save the forests for them and their children, but also for all of us who need the forests intact to save the climate, they were still not happy about the idea that Greenpeace would be forced to leave.

One local community leader got up to speak on behalf of many of the local people who had joined us – “We trust Greenpeace” he said ” We do not trust anyone else to help us preserve our forest, but we trust Greenpeace. They must stay.” He suggested that if the police wanted to get rid of us, first they should get rid of the company destroying their forest. He called upon the police, who were on the fringes of the camp, to listen to him. And, apparently they did. Because within a few hours we were told that indeed the camp could stay open, and the Greenpeace activists could stay to complete their work. The local people who felt so strongly about their forest, their environment, and their work with us at the climate camp, had won the day.

This is even more important, I realise now, with the APEC conference ending and world leaders completely failing to do what is necessary to more towards a deal at Copenhagen next month, to not only save forests, but seriously cut greenhouse gas emissions, and to respect the needs of local people in forest areas such as those I had the pleasure to meet today. But if today taught me nothing else it reminded me of this: it ain’t over yet. Its not over till its over, and our leaders can still make a climate-saving deal at Copenhagen. The planet requires it, and the people demand it.


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