Potential activists for Greenpeace learned on Saturday how to place U-locks around their necks to attach themselves to objects, erect blockades of linked human bodies and go limp when arrested.
The workshop in civil disobedience was part of a Greenpeace festival held in the city where the global environmental group was launched 40 years ago.
Several hundred people braved cool wet weather for a day of live music, workshops and Zodiac boat rides, as Greenpeace wrapped up its 40th anniversary week.
It was from Vancouver that a boat named Greenpeace set off on Sept. 15, 1971, for Amchitka Island, Alaska, to protest US nuclear testing. The US Coast Guard blocked it, but the campaign helped end the tests in 1972 and marked the group’s first act of civil disobedience.
More recently, workshop trainer Jessie Schwarz said, people have locked themselves to trucks in Alberta’s oil sands, sneaked onto the roof of Canada’s parliament building to unfurl a giant banner reading “Climate Inaction Costs Lives” and visited groceries stores worldwide slapping “Contaminated” labels on genetically modified foods.
“You can’t always wait for someone else to save the world,” Schwarz told some two-dozen participants in one of a series of civil disobedience workshops. “Direct action removes the middle man.”
“It’s extreme sport with a cause, so it’s really fun,” she joked.
Schwarz told participants to be clear on why they launched any action — and gave scenarios to have them consider how far they might go. Almost everyone said they would paint a slogan on a billboard. Most agreed to block a road to stop workers reaching environmentally destructive jobs.
About half said they would join a candlelight vigil on the grounds of a corporate CEO’s private home. Just a handful said they’d pour sugar into the gas tank of a heavy machine. Just one said he’d throw a police smoke grenade back at officers.
Non-violence is difficult to define, Schwarz said, but Greenpeace avoids “harming anything living.”
Violence would be counterproductive because it would detract from a message and alienates supporters, she said.
In a one-hour summary of Greenpeace’s three-day activist training sessions, Schwarz showed workshop participants how to link arms and legs in sturdy chains to foil arrest, and warned them if they put a U-lock around their neck, to hide the key in their underwear. Tzeporah Berman, co-director of climate and energy campaigns for Greenpeace International, said civil disobedience is “the only reason” that most governments and corporations consider the environment into decisions.
Greenpeace, which began with confrontation, today often meets with business and state leaders, Berman said. “But corporations only came to the table because of protests. Without the conflict, you would not have the collaboration.”
Greenpeace International director Kumi Naidoo, visiting from Greenpeace’s headquarters in Amsterdam, told the festival that around the world “Greenpeace activists are being thrown in prison, for longer and longer periods of time — but more and more young people are saying enough is enough,” he said. “We are fighting here for the future of our children and grandchildren.”
“It’s easy to disagree with something, but it’s much harder to do anything about it,” said Mat Hargraves, a participant, at the end of the civil disobedience workshop.