“Have you been on the boats?”
That’s generally the first question anyone gets asked when they say they work for Greenpeace. My usual response is “not as much as I’d like.”
Next week, I’ll not only be aboard a boat, but taking part in the maiden voyage of the Rainbow Warrior III.
This will be the third incarnation of the Rainbow Warrior that has been a part of my life. I began with Greenpeace in 1982, as a part time disarmament activist, a part time door-to-door canvasser, a part time receptionist, action coördinator, planner, media officer, and boat driver. And that was on top of my day job. We could barely afford to pay anyone, so we all had to cover a lot of bases.
I never set foot on the deck of the first “R-Dub” as we called her. Twice I watched her sail away from a dock — one in Boston, one in San Francisco — where I’d just arrived, and I began to think that I just wasn’t fated to join her. But when she was sunk by two limpet mines in Auckland harbor in 1985, my life became entwined with hers. For the next three years, I was part of an amazing team –David McTaggart, Duncan Currie, and Steve Sawyer — who made it our business to chase down the story of who had sunk her (French secret service agents), why (a vain attempt to stop our protest against nuclear weapons tests), and on whose orders (it went all the way to the top). We then had the satisfaction of helping with the court case in which we won a multi-million dollar settlement to build the Warrior anew. It was there that I learned the term “sweat equity” — our lawyer, Lloyd Cutler, convinced the arbitration court put a value on all the volunteer labor that had gone into refurbishing and refitting and improvising on that old hull.
We bought a sister ship to the first, stuck a sailing rig on her, and went right back to Moruroa to take action against French nuclear weapons testing. Hey, you can’t sink a rainbow.
I did manage to get aboard the RW II, joining in India for a voyage against ship-breaking and toxic waste dumping, and a transit across the Bay of Bengal. I saw flying fish at dawn, and learned that after a long time at sea, you discover that land has a smell, and it’s something like ketchup.
And so I join the crew of the third warrior. This is a ship that I hardly could have imagined in 1982 — a science fiction acceleration into the future. And she’ll be crewed by some folks who weren’t even born when I joined the organisation: the New Hands on Deck. They’re young, global, highly skilled activists who are reaching out to new audiences via social media and web. Part of my job will be telling their stories through a web video project.
But I also take seriously the job of telling them stories of those who have gone before them. The Rainbow Warrior that they’ll be sailing may be made of new steel and canvass, but her soul is ancient, and she carries stories that they’ll need to keep alive.
This evening I paused from the frenzy of getting my sea-bag together to take a profoundly hippy pause, and cast the I-Ching. If you don’t know the I-Ching, it’s an ancient chinese book of wisdom that, depending on your position on the mystic-mechanic spectrum, could be said to be used to align you with the forces of the universe in predicting the future, or to put you in touch with your Jungian archetypes in identifying your attitudes toward the present. It was a primary part of decision making in the early days of Greenpeace.
The question I posed was what will tomorrow bring for the Rainbow Warrior III? And the answer that the book yielded was Hexagram 62, Thunder on the Mountain, Preponderance of the Small. Now that I’d call auspicious. The Rainbow Warrior has been funded by more than 100,000 individual donors, she sails in the name of 17 million Greenpeace subscribers for an organisation that accepts no government or corporate donations, but relies on the preponderance of small donations for everything we do. It’s the hexagram of individuals rising up — of 350.org and Occupy Wall Street, of the 99%, of the energy revolution. It’s the people’s hexagram.
Within the hexagram’s text a visual image is described: “The Flying Bird Brings the Message.” Yes, my social-media-obsessed friends, I too see twitter in that. But I also see the image of a dove painted upon the bow of the Rainbow Warrior — and the olive branch in her mouth which promises survival.
Wish her fair winds — may she rise to her mission and make all of us proud.