Greetings, Hippies: my Greenpeace induction speech.

I’m here to tell you, kids, that your real par­ents were hip­pies. And guess what? It’s genet­ic. You’re hip­pies too.

A few years back, some bright spark in the Green­peace Inter­na­tion­al Human Resources depart­ment cre­at­ed an induc­tion pro­gram­me for new Green­peace staff, and asked me to give a speech about “the old days.” I did, and because no good deed goes unpun­ished, end­ed up giv­ing it again and again and again. I final­ly wrote it down… or rather, I wrote down one ver­sion which I would deliv­er if I could actu­al­ly stick to a script. Enjoy. 


Greet­ings, Hip­pies!

Aha, I see a few of you cring­ing — but you’re in Green­peace now, and they’ve wheeled me out as the hon­orary dinosaur. I’ve been asked to tell you a lit­tle bit about your past — about the organization’s past. I know a lot of you who have nev­er known a world with­out the inter­net, DVDs, or Super Mar­io (and some of you look like you’ve nev­er known a world with­out Face­book, which is pro­found­ly scary) — you may think that Green­peace is a multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tion born in the mar­ket­ing depart­ment of some slick PR firm, or the result of dot com boom star­tup.

I’m here to tell you, kids, a hard truth: your par­ents were hip­pies.

And I hope you’re sit­ting down, because it’s genet­ic. Which means you’re hip­pies too.

I don’t have a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion to induct you into Green­peace. I don’t have any charts or visu­al aids. I’m here to tell you a sto­ry. And where I come from (which as you can tell from the fact that I speak Eng­lish with­out an accent) , is North Amer­i­ca. We don’t tell sto­ries in mod­ern open-plan offices that look like Ikea show­rooms. We tell sto­ries around the camp­fire. Since we don’t have a camp­fire, and light­ing one here would get us arrest­ed for the wrong rea­sons, I’m going to light a can­dle. You can accept it as a can­dle, you can imag­ine it to be a camp­fire, or you can go for the Hip­py gold star and imag­ine it to be a roar­ing bon­fire sum­mon­ing the spir­its of Green­peace past.

That flame also rep­re­sents the peo­ple who have gone before us, many of them far more wor­thy of stand­ing here and induct­ing you into Green­peace — peo­ple who risked their lives, their rep­u­ta­tions, their careers, the under­stand­ing of their loved ones, to fur­ther this idea called Green­peace. And despite the fact that in this day and age it’s used as a deroga­to­ry com­ment, many of those souls would be proud to be called hip­pies.

You know the score: his­to­ry is told by the vic­to­ri­ous. And that’s pre­cise­ly why every­thing you’ve heard about Hip­pies is wrong. Hip­pies have been trashed by his­to­ry and mass media because they were the ulti­mate threat to pow­er and the sta­tus quo. They reject­ed mon­ey and con­sumerism and held oth­er val­ues in high­er esteem. They reject­ed vio­lence and embraced love. Hip­pies in the US stopped a war, brought down a pres­i­dent, died for what they believed in, and shook an entire cul­ture to its roots, with­out much more than a cou­ple crazy ideas, some cre­ative com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the form of art and music, the pow­er of their ide­al­ism, and the naivete with which they set out to accom­plish absurd­ly impos­si­ble tasks.

That’s real­ly what Green­peace at its best is all about.

And when I say that, I’m talk­ing about today — not the van­ished past. This is not a sto­ry about the “good old days.” They’re are not that old, and they weren’t always that good. Steve Sawyer, anoth­er accent­less dinosaur, says that he was hear­ing sto­ries about the good old days back in 1978 — y’know, boys in boats sit­ting around chew­ing tofu and del­car­ing “arr it’s not the good old days when men were made of iron and ships were made of wood.”

What I’m going to tell you about is the orga­ni­za­tion that I joined, and you can make your own com­par­isons with the orga­ni­za­tion that you’ve joined.

This is the rea­son I joined Green­peace: a book called War­riors of the Rain­bow. It’s a fine book, by a fine man, who was called Bob Hunter. It tells the sto­ry of the found­ing of Green­peace and its ear­ly days. It’s most­ly non­fic­tion. This book was wait­ing for me in a cab­in in the woods in New Hamp­shire which had no elec­tric­i­ty and no run­ning water, where I spent a win­ter writ­ing poet­ry and com­muning with nature and all that hip­py stuff. The cab­in belonged to a doc­tor in Boston, whose daugh­ter I’d known at uni­ver­si­ty. It was a great mid­dle-of-nowhere-Walden kind of expe­ri­ence that I’ll always val­ue hav­ing done and if you tried to make me do it again I’d kill you.

I was snowed in for a bet­ter part of three months. Dur­ing that time I read not only every­thing I’d brought with me, but I start­ed in on the good doctor’s book col­lec­tion, which includ­ed the mem­o­rable sur­vival man­u­al by Yuell Gib­bons enti­tled “Have you ever eat­en a pine tree?” and anoth­er book which had con­tri­bu­tions by anoth­er Green­peac­er, Rex Weyler, which was called “chop wood, car­ry water.” Which has a real­ly roman­tic sound to it unless you’re 20 some­thing years old and already doing those two things end­less­ly every day out of neces­si­ty. “Right, thanks for the advice, Rex, but I don’t real­ly have much choice about that…”

Also on that shelf was this book, and I lived in the sto­ry for the cou­ple days that it took me to read, in between chop­ping wood and car­ry­ing water.

Here’s some­thing I read there:

We fought… an unequal bat­tle again­st Amer­i­can and French nuclear weapons mak­ers; Rus­sian, Japan­ese, and Aus­tralian whalers; Nor­we­gian and Cana­di­an seal­hunters; multi­na­tion­al oil con­sor­tiums and pes­ti­cide man­u­fac­tures; cyn­i­cal
politi­cians; angry work­ers; and, again and again, our­selves. The peo­ple involved were men and wom­en, young and old, not all of them brave or wise, who found them­selves face-to-face with the fullest eco­log­i­cal hor­rors of the cen­tu­ry…”

And what Bob describes in here are the amaz­ing, almost mirac­u­lous vic­to­ries that this group of hip­pies pulled off in the ear­ly days of Green­peace, despite (or may­be because of) fuck ups like sail­ing in cir­cles because some­body put the mag­net­ic tape play­er on the com­pass so they could lis­ten to the Grate­ful Dead, or sail­ing along the track of the moon or fol­low­ing a rain­bow in search of the Rus­sian whal­ing fleet, which again­st all odds they found by those meth­ods.

I was an anti-nuclear activist in col­lege, I had marched again­st nuclear pow­er and vol­un­teered with a cam­pus dis­ar­ma­ment group, but some­how walk­ing down a street hold­ing a ban­ner and gath­er­ing sig­na­tures to peti­tions didn’t real­ly feel like it was mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. But when I read War­riors of the Rain­bow I was total­ly inspired by the zany, crazy, risk-tak­ing of it all — how the­se peo­ple could have gone out in the­se rub­ber boats in front of har­poons, sailed into nuclear bomb test sites, and stopped seal­ing ships on the ice of New­found­land just by stand­ing in front of them.

Every one of those images just drew the bat­tle lines in black and white, and forced you to make a choice: whose side are you on — the ones behind the har­poon, or the ones in the lit­tle boat?

This was pow­er­ful, heady stuff full of mag­ic and mys­ti­cism and mis­sion, and I closed it think­ing “Green­peace must have been a fine orga­ni­za­tion. Too bad they’re not around any­more.”

Now under­stand that in 1982 Green­peace was not a house­hold word. I had nev­er heard the name before I picked up Hunter’s book, and I thought that the orga­ni­za­tion had closed up shop short­ly after Bob left. This actu­al­ly is a con­sis­tent pat­tern in many of the his­to­ries — at the point the author left the orga­ni­za­tion, it all went to hell or it lost its edge, and you close the book think­ing Green­peace closed shop…

Spring came and the snow melt­ed and I was out of mon­ey so I head­ed down to Boston to get a job in a book­store. And one day into this book­store walks an old friend who was from the same town I was from in Upstate New York. Now that may not seem like much of a coin­ci­dence — to run into some­body you grew up with, except that the town I was from was so small (How small was it you ask?) that the guy who drove my school bus in the morn­ing was also the milk­man. And the May­or. So it’s like, whoa! That’s weird, what are you doin, and she says, oh, I’m work­ing for this group called Green­peace. Ding aling aling fate starts doing that wink wink thing. Turned out she was can­vass­ing for Green­peace, and did I want to give it a try. So I showed up one day, Feb­ru­ary 11th, 1982, at 3pm in the after­noon and walked into this old, run down ware­house on the Boston water­front, room about the size of this, where one hip­py is paint­ing a mural of whales on the wall, anoth­er hip­py is play­ing some Grate­ful dead music out of some tiny cas­set­te deck, anoth­er hip­py is drib­bling a bas­ket­ball. There are beer cans all over the place, and this col­lec­tion of envi­ron­men­tal­ists com­mu­nists paci­fi­cists fem­i­nists this-ists and that-ists are run­ning around load­ing up clip­boards with leaflets and but­tons and bumper stick­ers or hav­ing the­se real­ly intense polit­i­cal argu­ments, man, about John Lennon’s lat­est album, or paint­ing a ban­ner that’s spread out in the mid­dle of the room and get­ting ready to roll out into the streets of Boston and the sub­urbs spread­ing the word about whales, seals, dol­phins, and nuclear weapons. And there is a buzz of opti­mism and ener­gy in the room that can only be gen­er­at­ed by inspired mad­ness, by peo­ple who actu­al­ly have the chutz­pah to think they can change the world. It was a hip­py dream and I was home.

So I became a can­vasser, first one day a week, then two then three, then ultim­i­tate­ly I had to quit my day job because it was cut­ting into my vol­un­teer time, and my action time. And it was in those days that I first saw the inside of a jail cell.

And while I wouldn’t wish a Boston jail cell on you, I do wish all of you could get a chance to can­vass, it’s an extra­or­di­nary­ex­pe­ri­ence. We’d go out at night, hit 60 doors an evening. We were lucky if 3 had heard of Green­peace. But the ones that had heard of us gen­er­al­ly remem­bered what they’d seen or heard — those images of some­one in front of a har­poon sav­ing a whale’s life, or stop­ping a nuclear bomb just stuck with peo­ple. I got chased away at gun­point, I had red­necks give me mon­ey because “You’re them guys goin after Rusky whalers (that’s Rus­sians in Red­neck) I hate those com­mu­nisits c’mon in I’ll give you a check.” I had doors slammed in my face, one of them by an 85 year old guy who said “Green­peace, no thank you, I’ve got my own reli­gion,” and I had a 10 year old kid give me her pig­gy bank to save the whales.

And past, present, and future — when­ev­er I think this job’s too hard or it’s not worth the inter­nal squab­bles that we all have with each oth­er, I think about the rea­sons a 10 year old kid would hand over her hard earned pig­gy bank to an idea like Green­peace. And it comes down to youth, it comes down to the opti­mism of believ­ing you can change the world and the cre­ativ­i­ty to con­vince oth­ers to fol­low you in that.

If you look back at Green­peace cam­paigns to stop nuclear waste dump­ing in the ocean or save Antarc­ti­ca from oil drilling, or stop nuclear weapons test­ing or save the whales — those all were impos­si­ble tasks when we took them on. And that’s some­thing Bob said once about the nature of pro­found change:

It looks impos­si­ble when you start, and looks inevitable after you’ve fin­ished.

None of those things were inevitable. They hap­pened because a bunch of crazy hip­pies set out to change the world, and just didn’t know any bet­ter. They didn’t lis­ten to the voic­es that said you’re stu­pid, you’ll look sil­ly, you’re gonna get hurt. Every one of those actions was enabled by an indi­vid­u­al choice, and Green­peace is an engine and ampli­fier of those choic­es.

And that’s what Green­peace and hip­pies were all about: that crazy notion that every one of us indi­vid­u­al­ly has the pow­er to change the world. When you think about that, it’s more than a lit­tle crazy. It’s real­ly nuts.

And if you, dear hip­pies, are going to make a dif­fer­ence in this orga­ni­za­tion, you’re going have to embrace that mad­ness. You’re just gonna have to hon­or your hip­py roots, find your inner mys­tic, and believe in the mag­ic of mak­ing impos­si­ble things hap­pen.

Now Bob used to say that Green­peace was dri­ven by two forces: the mys­tics and the mechan­ics. And the mechan­ics were the hard nosed prag­ma­tists. They want pro­ce­dures, they want mea­sure­ables, they want pre­dictabil­i­ty. And I sup­pose if there’s been a major shift in the orga­ni­za­tion over the years it’s been in the bal­ance between those two forces. Today, we ARE a multi­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion with a 42 mil­lion dol­lar bud­get and we need those things that the mechan­ics bring. We need that order and account­abil­i­ty: they’re essen­tial to keep­ing the orga­ni­za­tion alive.

But the mys­ti­cism, that spir­i­tu­al belief that we’re all here because we believe that this is the right thing to do — that’s what gives the orga­ni­za­tion a REASON for liv­ing. That’s what makes us dif­fer­ent from some­thing born in the mar­ket­ing depart­ment of a PR firm — or work­ing in a bank.

Now I sup­pose if I’ve seen a change in the organ­i­sa­tion over the years, it’s been a rise in the mechan­ics and an ero­sion of the mys­tics. Not many peo­ple walk around talk­ing about this glob­al insti­tu­tion being the ful­fil­ment of a Cree proph­esy that a group of war­riors would arrive on a rain­bow when the Earth is sick.

But like all myth, there’s a ker­nal of essen­tial truth in that sto­ry, and it’s about pur­pose, and com­mitt­ment, and des­tiny — and the things that make us feel that we are com­pelled, by forces big­ger than all of us, to do some­thing because it’s right. It’s impor­tant to keep that alive, to know that this is a part of what brought us to where we are today, and I hope it will be part of what car­ries us into the future.

If there’s a com­mon thread between the hip­pies, Green­peace, and that 10 year old girl, it’s that we all believe the impos­si­ble can be achieved, and we all believe that our indi­vid­u­al choic­es can help.

So, wel­come Hip­pies. If I have a piece of advice it’s this: no mat­ter what your job don’t ever let Green­peace become pre­dictable or safe. One of our great strengths is how we’ve changed, how we’ve grown over the years to use sci­ence and pol­i­tics, to dia­logue with busi­ness, to fig­ure out new ways to use new com­mu­ni­ca­tions tools for new cam­paigns. Part of what makes us strong is that we find new ways to invent con­fronta­tion, we find new ways to make indi­vid­u­al choice make a dif­fer­ence, we find new ways to turn tech­nol­o­gy into a force for the good.

Don’t let the organ­i­sa­tion lose the spir­it and the opti­mism that she was born with. Crank it up a notch, work it a lit­tle hard­er, make it a lit­tle riskier, be a part of the actions we’re doing and get oth­er peo­ple to be a part of those actions. Make those indi­vid­u­al choic­es that we ask oth­ers to make every day. Get on an action, get on a boat if you can: there’s no place more mag­i­cal or pow­er­ful, and it will change your life, if it hasn’t already. And even if you can’t get out in the field or out in a boat, you can take the online actions we ask our sup­port­ers to take. You can get involved, you can make a dif­fer­ence.

We make things hap­pen that change his­to­ry, and every­one who gives their time to the orga­ni­za­tion is part of that: from the donor who gives enough to buy a spark­plug to the activist who risks their life to dri­ve a tiny boat in front of a har­poon, to all of us in between.

And most impor­tant­ly, hold on to your hip­py heart, and the part of you that believes in the sanc­ti­ty of attempt­ing the impos­si­ble.

Because that sto­ry I told you about the girl hand­ing over her pig­gy bank is not unique. Many, many can­vassers I’ve spo­ken to over the years tell exact­ly the same sto­ry.

And that means that right now, some­where out there, some­body is hand­ing over their pig­gy bank, and expect­ing results.

Work well.


21 thoughts on “Greetings, Hippies: my Greenpeace induction speech.”

  1. What group would be so self­ish and greedy that they would take the con­tents of a 10 year old child’s pig­gy bank?

    No cause deserves those coins.

    1. @EcoSenseNow is Patrick Moore. The rea­son you left Green­peace was to become a high­ly paid shill, trad­ing on your for­mer val­ues. You went from say­ing a flow­er is your broth­er to a clearcut is a tem­po­rary mead­ow as soon as the log­ging indus­try agreed to pay your expens­es. And do you still claim to be a sci­en­tist with a straight face when you chal­lenge a 99% con­sen­sus on cli­mate change with­out a sin­gle peer-reviewed piece of evi­dence?

  2. That brought tears to my eyes Bri­an. Won­der­ful­ly writ­ten hon­est and true.

    As one of the next gen­er­a­tion I agree with the com­ment from GC ~ regard­less of the chang­ing times and the names we call our­selves and the cus­toms of the day we are bond­ed and made by our love. Writ­ing from aboard the Arc­tic Sun­rise with lots of it, Boo.

  3. Thanks, Bri­an, for putting this online. I had the priv­i­lege of hear­ing it out loud a cou­ple of weeks ago and want­ed to share it with my team.

    I’m still smil­ing, not least because you didn’t explic­i­ty exclude me when call­ing us “kids”.

    age forty six and three quar­ters

  4. beau­ti­ful read, bri­an. thank you. brings back a lot and i’m sure the inductees will by prop­er­ly inspired!

    and my mag­i­cal, hip­pie moment to share.…ista (king island, b.c. — nux­alk ter­ri­to­ry) — we had shut down log­ging oper­a­tions on this remote island for 21 days. one evening dur­ing our cir­cle meet­ing around the fire an orca and her babe came right up to us by the shore and swam back and forth. it was in the mid­dle of some strife dur­ing the meet­ing about next steps in the cam­paign — ten­sion was mount­ing. the orcas had been gone from this place since log­ging began, they returned when it ceased. they knew we were there and came to us — the nux­alk chief said she was say­ing thank you. it was one of the most pro­found moments of my life. there were so many with the organisation…it’s just kin­da like that, eh? 🙂
    ps: and tra­cy is right.…you DO have an accent.

  5. Bri­an, I love this piece. Every­time that I have to remem­ber why am I doing the things I do, I take 15 min­utes and read it again. Thanks for that.
    Oh, I’m always tak­ing a look at your blog so I decid­ed to link it on mine, ok? =)

  6. Great piece Bri­an. Am pass­ing it on to my new web­bie who start­ed today. Oh and you DO have an accent my dear, it’s called Amer­i­can.


  7. Thanks Bri­an…,
    …for keep­ing Love alive. It wasn’t hip­pies you know, it was Love, …your Love that was the under­ly­ing the­me. Thanks for being the best orga­ni­za­tion on the plan­et, …and you Bri­an, …the best man for the job. Wish­ing you Love and Light always my war­rior of the rain­bow heroes, …GC, …your aging, …still a hip­pie friend

  8. DOH! Got me, Steve. 

    I long sus­pect­ed they were one and the same, actu­al­ly.

    Theres a drag­on with match­es thats loose on the town
    Takes a whole pail of water just to cool him down.”

  9. Bri­an — you have inad­ver­tent­ly let the cat out of the bag : Green­peace is actu­al­ly run by a group of Dead­heads, for whom there always were and always will be TWO Robert Hunters to inspire us.

    Rip­ple in still water,
    When there is no peb­ble tossed,
    Nor wind to blow.”

  10. This is a won­der­ful piece Bri­an — speak­ing very much to the heart of what Green­peace is and means. The spir­it of Green­peace cer­tain­ly lives on and will con­tin­ue because the earth needs Green­peace. And your artic­u­la­tion of this is inspir­ing.

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