My first protest was in 1996. I was one of five people to carry a 15-metre long roll of material that had been folded in half for ease of handling. In the dead of night we climbed over the security fence of a Turkish coal-fired power station. We clambered through the soot alongside a conveyor that groaned beneath a load of coal and gained access to the plant.
Inside the power plant were workers moving about machines at the far end of the floor. We made a dash across the open space to reach a staircase leading to the roof. Despite the bright orange overalls we wore, we remained undetected. We saw the night through, nibbling energy bars to stay awake on the staircase.
At daybreak, timed to coincide with a protest in front of the gates to the power station, we stepped out onto the rooftop of the building and hung the banner. It had a 15-metre drop and rolled out to an 80-metre length of yellow fabric with a message that I had helped to paint in black.
The media positioned outside the gates spotted us and tilted their cameras in our direction. Security turned their heads and responded quickly. Soon there were soldiers with bayoneted rifles charging across the rooftop to arrest us. But they were too late – the message was out to the media that the Turkish government needed to close this particular power station due to its high sulphur emissions.
An incredible feeling coursed through me as we were led away to waiting police cars. That was my introduction to protest – nothing like jumping into the deep end. Since then, I’ve been involved in many more protests and regardless of their nature – blockading the port of Rotterdam from an approaching coal ship or standing outside the head office of Hewlett Packard with a placard against chemical flame retardants used in electronic components – the feeling remains the same. After 16 years with Greenpeace, it still feels right to engage in peaceful protest.
I have had time to reflect on this and believe that if I witness a crime, be it against humanity or nature, I am compelled to take action. If I simply redirect my attention and pretend nothing is happening, I become an accessory to the crime through my own inaction. Each time I do nothing I lose a little bit of my soul and over time, I become disempowered and disenfranchised.
Think of it like this: We all have a personal space surrounding us. If someone invades that space we feel it and are forced to react. We need to create boundaries to delineate and define ourselves. This space extends to include our beliefs and the environment about us.
Taking action can be anything from picking up the telephone and blowing the whistle, signing a petition by clicking the mouse, or even joining in a street march with a placard. The more physically engaged I become in action, the more tangible my reality is. And the more grounded and ultimately, more empowered I become.
In time, this sense of empowerment is reinforced. In May 2011, the United Kingdom committed to phasing out coal and halving carbon emissions (1990 levels) by 2025. This makes the UK the first country in the world to have declared a “legally binding” target on greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020. I am proud to have contributed to this achievement – even if it was just a modest part – through a protest in front of the Kings North Power Station in Kent.
Quite honestly, I believe protest is good for health and promotes longevity. Protest is a public expression of who we are and of our values. Protest is about social justice. It’s a way of engaging dynamically with the world in which we all live.
But protest needs to be peaceful. Forced change is short-lived and can even be damaging. You need to act with the knowledge and belief that if you are doing the right thing, then doors will open for you. Eventually. You just need to keep banging on them and making yourself heard. Change doesn’t happen on its own, it starts with one voice. And that is why I unfurl banners and stage blockades. Change begins with me. With my protest.
|Dr. Mubarak on 20 March 2012 ,22:16 |
Mike is also correct that the change begins with me. We have to shun the thinking that I alone can not do anything good in this world. If all of us think like latter, no one will be there to initiate the change. So change begins with oneself and others follow suit.
|Dr. Mubarak on 19 March 2012 ,02:03 |
But I must add, Mike happened to be part of protests in civilized part of the world. Peaceful protests are non-existent in most third world countries. Here, even if the protesters are peaceful, state functionaries make them unruly.
|Dr. Mubarak on 19 March 2012 ,02:00 |
Nice narrative and joyful experience. Indeed, someone has to lead the change, the later does not come on its own. Someone has to catalyze it. The experience of Mike is for all of us to emulate. Well done!
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