So I’m in the pub last night, as one tends to be of an evening in the UK, and mention that I once lived in Lewes, down near Brighton, for 3 years. I’m among a gaggle of Greenpeacers meeting here in Richmond, across the street from a house where Ron Wood once lived and in view of the place where the Magna Carta was signed, and am asked how that squares with my having worked with Greenpeace since the late Pleistocene Era.
This affords me the opportunity to tell the young whippersnappers a story, which I share with you here, of how Greenpeace International came to be headquartered for a time in a snoozy village on the south coast of the UK.
It all began with a lawsuit.
In 1978, Greenpeace v Greenpeace pitted the founding office of Greenpeace in Vancouver against the upstart San Francisco operation. San Francisco had figured out a thing called “fundraising” and was pulling in money to build its operation. Vancouver was broke, having spent every dime they had on worthy if expensive campaigns to stop nuclear weapons tests and save whales, and figured that since they’d invented the idea and come up with the name, they were due some of that income. San Francisco disagreed.
Enter David McTaggart. David was a part of the Greenpeace world because he had sailed into the Pacific atoll of Moruroa to stop a nuclear weapons test. But in an organisation brimming over with hippies (and please note, I never use that term as a pejorative), he was a businessman. His motive for challenging the French government in a tiny boat was less about a dream of world peace than a pissing contest of righteous anger he felt at any government cordoning off a swath of international waters and unilaterally declaring it off limits to a free man of the sea like himself.
So McTaggart saw the lawsuit as an opportunity. He declared himself referee, sat the parties down at the table, and came out with an agreement that the Canadian office could have Canada, the US office could have the US, the name “Greenpeace” would be owned by an independent third party called Greenpeace International (which, yes, he’d be happy to head up), both offices would be licensed to use the name and in return pledge a certain amount of income to the headquarters. Out of those funds Canada’s debt would be settled.
And so, in 1979, Greenpeace International was born as a Dutch Foundation. I’m a little fuzzy on why it was initially set up in Holland — though I know David was pursuing the French through the international court in the Hague, there was a fledgling national Greenpeace operation starting there, and he probably had the donated services of a lawyer who knew how to write articles of association for a Dutch Stichting. It may also be that the story of a Dutch romance had something to do with it.
What I do know is that David hired a young dutchman, Art van Remundt, to head up the operation, and Art was keen to set up the office in Switzerland. Because, well, isn’t that where big, important international headquarters of things like the United Nations are?
So Art loaded up a van with filing cabinets and a desk and headed for Geneva. When he got to the border he was asked why he was coming to Switzerland. He answered that he was moving there and setting up an office of Greenpeace International Very good, says the border guard, may I see the official papers giving you permission to do so?
To which Art allegedly replied with a bland look and the single word “Papers?”
This was not the correct answer, in the view of the Swiss border guard, and Art was sent packing. McTaggart, furious, declared the whole thing “too complicated” and unilaterally decided that the headquarters would be in the UK, near a wee house named Rose Cottage that he had just bought in Rodmell.
Greenpeace International occupied first one floor, then two, and ultimately the entire building on the High Street in Lewes until 1989, when it moved back to Amsterdam to escape the persecution of Maggie Thatcher. When journalists asked about the location, press officers would point to the economy of not being in London, the ease of access to Gatwick airport, the protection against infiltration afforded by a village where everyone knows you. But the bare fact is that McTaggart, somewhat Tiberius-like, decide the empire was to be built around him and in the place he preferred to live. And that he managed to convince the entire organisation that this was sensible and logical. Persuasion was one of his skills.
Which leads me to a bit of an insight about the early days of the organisation, borne of discussions here in Richmond. We’re talking with Chris Rose about Values-Based campaigning, and the Cultural Dynamics typology model which divides any population into three groups, roughly described as Pioneers (who are motivated by the need for self-fulfillment), Prospectors (who are motivated by the need for material goods and esteem), and Settlers (who are motivated by the need for safety).
Source: Chris Rose, Campaign Strategy Ltd
Most of us in Greenpeace today test out as Pioneers, and our communications tends to speak to that group. Yet when we look at the ills we are trying to cure, and the people we need to convince, those prospectors are key. They’re the majority in most of the countries we want to change, and it’s their consumption habits that have us all thinking we should be rummaging around for a spare planet that we hope someone might have left lying around in a closet somewhere. We’re here today to train in how to repitch our messaging to persuade others through the frame of their own value sets, rather than trying to pull them kicking and screaming into ours: How to speak the language of settlers to settlers, and the language of prospectors to prospectors. (Want to find out which one you are? Take this test.)
McTaggart was a prospector. Amid the hippy messengers of world peace and media mind bombs he would call campaigners in to his office and ask them to explain to him “in simple terms, cause I’m not a bright guy” what the problem was they wanted to go after and how they figured to solve it. Those sessions, it occurs to me, were a primitive form of audience testing — with McTaggart ever championing the concept that “you need to make it clear enough for a guy in the street to get it in two seconds.”
That’s of course just plain common communications sense, but it was also in that office that messaging tended to get stripped of the values that most of us by nature would have spoken to — the “airy fairy stuff” as he’d call it — of consciousness-raising and implied, if not stated, belief in the spiritual evolution of humanity, the worthy mysticisim of people who with a straight face would ask “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” We had to craft arguments against nuclear waste dumping in the North Sea on the practical hooks: you can’t get it back, it could radiate the fish we eat, the UK should be ashamed as the “Dirty Man of Europe” for polluting a global commons with its waste. These were arguments that would resound with the security concerns of settlers, the esteem values of prospectors — and these were the messages which won us campaigns and made us grow.
That “guy in the street” he had us all talking to was him — the prospector, not the pioneer, not the hippy. He wouldn’t have had a clue about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or the opinion polling which forms the base of research we’re using, and were he here today I suspect he’d be making a rude gesture and telling us to quit wanking on about this stuff and “get on with it” — by which he’d mean campaigning. But his impatience would be routed in the fact that he would learn nothing here he didn’t already know. Somewhere in that Machiavellian brain, when he was putting the kabash on the mystics and championing the mechanics, he knew this stuff by instinct — and what made him a great communicator and a great persuader was knowing how to sense his audience, how to find what motivated them, and seduce them into doing the thing that was in their best interest, which just happened to coincide with what he wanted.