It’s the end of an era at Greenpeace this week. The wizard known as Radagast (Kevin Jardine), the founder of the Greenpeace Cyberactivist Centre, is leaving the web team at GPI (for now).
I poached Kevin from the Greenpeace climate campaign back in 1999. He had been already been doing some early experimentation with list building and helping climate campaigner Steve Sawyer do some online storytelling through what he called “illustrated radio:” using the best tech of the day, Real Audio, to serve up static images in a sideshow overlaying an audio track. It looked like magic — before flash and online video (and the bandwidth to serve them) became ubiquitous (ok, if you ignore 3/4s of the world) you just didn’t see stuff like that. It was wizardry, and wizardry was what Kevin was all about.
Kevin is one of those rare hybrids: a techie with a nose for campaign strategy, and a deep enough knowledge of so many fields that his intellect could play them off each other in fabulous, unexpected ways. Well read in history, philosophy, and religion, he drew on the ecclesiastic debates of the twelfth-century Catholic church for an analysis of differing campaign strategies that he saw in Greenpeace. He saw many “Dominicans” among us: folks who believe that you educate people in order to get them to take action. You lay out your facts. You speak to the intellect. And thus you “bring them into the fold” (be it Catholicism or activism).
But Kevin loved the Franciscan model. Francis would dispense with the scripture in favour of a more tabloid-style evangelism: he’d tell stories, preach to the birds, stage miracles, and bring people into the fold by speaking to their hearts and to their passions. The education came second. That, for Kevin, was what a Greenpeace campaign was all about.
Radagast brought a vision. He wanted to build a non-violent army of “cyberactivists” — people who would join a community of fellow activists, sign up for a newsletter, contribute to campaign ideas, and mouse the world into shape.
Radagast understood the power of a mailing list long before MoveOn proved it in spades. He’d tell us a website was nothing more than a recruitment tool to get people to sign up to do stuff, and he proseletyzed this vision to our national offices around the world.
And over the course of his stewardship our global lists went from an initial 7,000 to more than a 1.5 million names worldwide. He brought everyone into the fold by showing them magic, telling them stories, and putting a dash of wizardry into the mix.
Kevin was a one man show at Greenpeace. When the tools he needed to send e-cards or gather names or photos to petitions or run a discussion board didn’t exist, he simply built them. And because he was comfortable ranging the borderline between Python Code and Campaign tactics, he could spot an opportunity to bend a technology to our purposes and code it up tailor-made.
There were campaign objectives that Greenpeace would not have won without Kevin. There are whales off of Iceland that owe their lives to the tools he created, people in Japan who don’t live next to a nuclear fuel plant because of a campaign he enabled, bears in North America who have homes thanks to long hours he spent in the office, corporations that abandoned toxic and climate-killing chemicals because he had good ideas, and hundreds of thousands of people who consider themselves a part of Greenpeace today because Kevin invited them in, talked to them, and made it possible for them to share in the crazy creative energy of being a part of the Greenpeace Cyberactivist Community.
In February of next year, I will have been with Greenpeace for 25 years. I’ve watched the organisation grow from a rowboat into an icebreaker. And while icebreakers are far more powerful, they take much longer to turn. But Kevin changed the course of Greenpeace, and exactly how much effort and will and vision and dedication and stubbornness that really takes, few know.
Kevin is setting up his own consultancy. If you need advice on Internet campaigns or magic, he’ll be the guy in the pointy hat you’ll want to talk to.