1992: A memo to Greenpeace from David McTaggart

I was remind­ed by a friend of this email, writ­ten by David McTag­gart in 1992 and sent wide­ly through­out Green­peace at the time. The inter­nal squab­ble it was intend­ed to address is long a thing of the past, but the sum­ma­tion he gives of the organisation’s ear­ly strat­e­gy and devel­op­ment and found­ing prin­ci­ples has some unique val­ue. It’s some­thing that struck a chord with many peo­ple, and I’ve been asked peri­od­i­cal­ly to dig it out for inter­nal use for almost two decades now.

I believe this is the first time it’s been let out in its entire­ty in pub­lic – the laun­dry here is old enough now that it won’t mind an air­ing, and I’m glad to say there’s noth­ing here that would be read as heresy in the Green­peace of today – in fact, we may be more aligned at this moment with some of David’s think­ing than we have been at many times in the years since he wrote this.

David was Greenpeace’s chair­man from 1979 until 1991, the year before this was writ­ten. More than any­one, he was respon­si­ble for keep­ing the organ­i­sa­tion togeth­er in the late 70s and through­out the 80s, and he cre­at­ed an inter­na­tion­al struc­ture which, with some bumps, served us well back then, and com­po­nents of which are still present in our gov­er­nance struc­ture today.

2011 will mark the 20th year since David retired from active chair­man­ship of Green­peace. He was a mer­cu­ri­al, charis­mat­ic, unpre­dictable, charm­ing and infu­ri­at­ing guy — I worked with him for ten years and few days went by that he didn’t try the patience of every­one around him. But re-read­ing this remind­ed me of what a priv­i­lege it was to be a part of his sto­ry arc, the things he set in motion, and the vision that he set forth for Green­peace.

To: Green­peace Offices (List), All­ships (List),
To: Exec­u­tive Direc­tors (List), Cam­paign Direc­tors (List),
To: Trustees (List), Atmos­phere Cam­paign (List), Whales (List),
To: Nukes (List), MEDTOTAL (List), Tox­i­cs Project Coor­di­na­tors (List),
To: Can­vass (List), Green­peace Board (List)
From: David McTag­gart
Date: TUE 18-AUG-92 20:59:15 GMT


Dear all,

I’d like to offer my best wish­es and sup­port to all of you dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time of changes. In my cur­rent role as Hon­orary Chair­man of the Inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion, I’d like to take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to offer some obser­va­tions about the orig­i­nal ideas about where we want­ed to go and how we want­ed to get there. Per­haps the­se ideas will help you to focus your thoughts as you face the dif­fi­cult deci­sions which will con­front you at this cross­roads.

I am no longer direct­ly involved in shap­ing the future of the orga­ni­za­tion. I will con­tin­ue in the back­ground, qui­et­ly help­ing reach speci­fic cam­paign goals with my polit­i­cal con­tacts, but I have no inten­tion of get­ting direct­ly involved again: I am now six­ty years old, and I think my twen­ty years with Green­peace added thir­ty years to my age. Enough.

But I can’t stop car­ing deeply about Green­peace and where it is going, and I’ve been watch­ing from the side­li­nes for a long time with increas­ing con­cern.

Right­ly or wrong­ly, the orga­ni­za­tion has strayed from the orig­i­nal con­cepts which I and a hand­ful of oth­ers once hoped would guide us. Per­haps the orig­i­nal ideas were wrong. That’s for you and the future to decide. But for the ben­e­fit of those who were not around (and some who were), I’d like to sum­ma­rize a few of the most impor­tant ideas which I thought should guide our growth:

1. To work inter­na­tion­al­ly;

2. To have fast deci­sion-mak­ing and strong lead­er­ship: From the Nation­al Boards to the Inter­na­tion­al Board to the Exec­u­tive;

3. To con­cen­trate our best efforts on two and may­be three major inter­na­tion­al prob­lems, and to com­ple­ment the­se with a sin­gle nation­al cam­paign to build local sup­port;

4. To work on one or pos­si­bly two soft issues;

5. To be finan­cial­ly sta­ble on an inter­na­tion­al basis, with mon­ey put away for emer­gen­cies;

6. To stay out of par­ty pol­i­tics;

7. To remain non-vio­lent.

That sounds pret­ty sim­ple, I know, and we can all prob­a­bly agree on the gen­er­al ideas rep­re­sent­ed above. All the same…

1) Work­ing Inter­na­tion­al­ly

Some 15 years ago, there were a lot of envi­ron­men­tal groups sur­fac­ing with­in the bound­aries of many coun­tries, but none were work­ing inter­na­tion­al­ly.

The goal in build­ing Green­peace was to build it inter­na­tion­al­ly – to not allow it to fall into the trap of the many groups which tried to forge so called “Inter­na­tion­al” organ­i­sa­tions with­out pay­ing atten­tion to cen­tral­ized deci­sion mak­ing. Yes, I know: we don’t like the words “cen­tral­ized deci­sion mak­ing.” But the multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments whose poli­cies we are try­ing to change fear those words in the con­text of mass move­ments and oppo­si­tion.

I won’t name it, but one orga­ni­za­tion that tried and failed had no inter­na­tion­al struc­ture to turn to for con­flict res­o­lu­tion and lead­er­ship. They were under­fund­ed in poor coun­tries and sit­ting on mon­ey in rich coun­tries, who argued that they should not have to share it since they had raised it.

While they still have a few strong offices that do good work nation­al­ly, they spun out of effec­tive exis­tence years ago on the inter­na­tion­al scene.

We did it right. We first built our mem­ber­ship in Europe and North Amer­i­ca, with the object of see­ing if we could get a fac­tion­al­ized group across two con­ti­nents to sit down togeth­er and win a cou­ple issues. We built a com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work which allowed us to exchange infor­ma­tion and ideas across bor­ders in a mat­ter of hours rather than weeks. We agreed to expand slow­ly, out from the cen­tre, and to forge a sin­gle image all over the world: One unit­ed orga­ni­za­tion work­ing on the same issues and sit­ting down togeth­er to work out our pri­or­i­ties, our goals, and, most impor­tant­ly, our dif­fer­ences.

I for one nev­er had any delu­sions that there would not be dif­fer­ences. This was and still is our biggest chal­lenge: for­get­ting cen­turies of nation­al­ism, fences, his­to­ries, reli­gions, philoso­phies, com­pe­ti­tion, mis­un­der­stand­ing, and hatred, and learn­ing to work togeth­er.

We made a major mis­take ear­ly on in 1979, giv­ing every coun­try a veto vote. It was a very fast lesson in the lim­its of con­sen­sus deci­sion-mak­ing and how it sti­fles action and slows you down. We agreed to get rid of it. We set up Coun­cil, declared we would make deci­sions by 3/4s major­i­ty, set up a major­i­ty vote for the Board. We argued, we dis­agreed, we vot­ed. But once a deci­sion was made, we all accept­ed it and worked togeth­er. That was the key.

When we want­ed to open an office in Ger­many, it was fought again­st tooth and nail by our Nether­lands office, our UK office, and our French office. If we had been oper­at­ing by con­sen­sus back then, one of our largest and most effec­tive offices prob­a­bly would not even have been start­ed. The strug­gle to open offices in the Nordic Bloc, the Med, Lat­in Amer­i­ca, and the Sovi­et Union are fur­ther exam­ples of the same thing more recent­ly.

2) Fast Deci­sion, Strong Lead­er­ship

To be inter­na­tion­al we agreed there was a need for a sim­ple lead­er­ship struc­ture that com­bined fast deci­sion mak­ing with wide account­abil­i­ty to the whole orga­ni­za­tion: lead­er­ship that sup­port­ed the Green­peace world with­out favouritism. We need­ed strong nation­al boards to appoint a strong inter­na­tion­al board to appoint a strong Exec­u­tive. We agreed that by fun­nel­ing account­abil­i­ty in that way, we avoid­ed the impos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion of an inter­na­tion­al Exec­u­tive answer­ing to more than a dozen boss­es.

The lead­ers of the orga­ni­za­tion were sup­posed to keep us focussed and effec­tive. They were sup­posed to keep us away from dilut­ing our issues and mes­sage with items that oth­er groups were work­ing on. They were sup­posed to be capa­ble of del­e­gat­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties. They were sup­posed to have the author­i­ty to give a cam­paign­er a man­date to do a job and keep them away from the paper-push­ing and meet­ings, meet­ings, meet­ings, that are symp­to­matic of hav­ing to please too many peo­ple. They were sup­posed to be able to work with sci­en­tists, politi­cians, and action peo­ple alike. And they had to be able to take some heat, because this was not intend­ed to be a con­sen­sus organ­i­sa­tion.

Any group of homo­ge­neous, like-mind­ed peo­ple who can all agree on every­thing is liv­ing in twinkie land. That’s for the Moonies and the Sci­en­tol­o­gists and the Flat Earth Soci­ety and all the oth­er groups that are doomed to the fringe, where they can talk to them­selves and the peo­ple who agree with them and nobody else. Con­sen­sus is not the way to build a mas­sive inter­na­tion­al move­ment. It needs the bit­ter, cold-blood­ed nat­u­ral selec­tion of argu­ment and debate, not molasses, com­pro­mise, and dilu­tion.

3) Inter­na­tion­al & Nation­al Cam­paigns

Con­cen­trat­ing on two or three issues was more than a way to focus lim­it­ed resources. It was also an attempt to build a record of suc­cess by declar­ing a goal, press­ing it hard, declar­ing the vic­to­ry and mov­ing up to the next rung.

No cam­paign should be begun with­out clear goals. No cam­paign should be begun unless there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that it can be won. No cam­paign should be begun unless you intend to fin­ish it off.

Nat­u­ral­ly, we were set up to be pre­pared for major inter­na­tion­al crises.

Our ear­ly for­mu­la was sim­ple and still sound: Basic research to find the weak points, qui­et approach to gov­ern­ment and indus­try out­lin­ing our con­cerns and pos­si­ble respons­es if those con­cerns are not met. A sin­cere attempt to win with­out going to war. If no respon­se, WHAM: hit them with every­thing we have: Mail Outs, mem­bers, actions, media, let­ters, votes, boy­cotts, ads, arti­cles, all in a coor­di­nat­ed way: if it wasn’t hard enough to hurt them, bet­ter not to both­er.

Look at Green­peace today. Imag­ine if we could con­cen­trate today’s staff and fund­ing and cam­paign tools the way we once did, when the entire orga­ni­za­tion had a stake in how a sin­gle cam­paign was going. All it takes is agree­ing the goals with­out spend­ing thou­sands of hours in meet­ings, then giv­ing some­body the author­i­ty to make fast deci­sions toward reach­ing those goals and stay­ing out of their way. It ain’t com­pli­cat­ed.

Iron­i­cal­ly, we are bet­ter equipped now to con­cen­trate our inter­na­tion­al efforts then we ever have been. We have our largest grass-roots mem­ber­ship ever (for a while, any­way), bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions, bet­ter access to infor­ma­tion, and a big­ger name. Yet we find our­selves com­part­men­tal­ized and com­pet­ing with­in the orga­ni­za­tion. We shouldn’t be meet­ing over cam­paign fund­ing and region­al­ism and vot­ing struc­tures and rep­re­sen­ta­tion and struc­tures and struc­tures and struc­tures and all that crap. We should be putting our ener­gy into tac­tics, tar­gets, strate­gies.

4) Soft Issues

We must have at least one soft issue to draw the public’s aware­ness, to take the edge off our “whack-em” image, and to show the pos­i­tive side of what we are fight­ing for. Any­body who has ever tried to sell Green­peace to the pub­lic knows that dreams are bet­ter than night­mares at win­ning peo­ple over. The cam­paigns to save the whales and to pre­serve Antarc­ti­ca are good exam­ples of win­ning peo­ple in to the fold and then slow­ly lead­ing them into one or two oth­er heavy issues. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple who may have been ambiva­lent about nuclear pow­er joined Green­peace to save the whales. Who knows how many of them heard the mes­sage about nukes?

5) Finan­cial Sta­bil­i­ty

We set out to have a strong and broad-based finan­cial basis so we could work inter­na­tion­al­ly with­out fear of being con­trolled by high donors, large cor­po­ra­tions, foun­da­tion grants, etc, who could make us depen­dent on their fund­ing and then step in to shape our course. We also set out to have enough mon­ey put away that we could make it through a cat­a­clysmic loss in income – either as a result of an unpop­u­lar action by our­selves, a ghast­ly mis­take, or the con­cert­ed attempt by a group of gov­ern­ments or indus­tries to shut us down.

Most of you who were around know that I tried to force this issue time and time again. How­ev­er, while many nation­al offices built up sig­nif­i­cant and healthy reserves, inter­na­tion­al was nev­er “allowed” such reserves. This points out a sev­ere struc­tural weak­ness in the way our finances are orga­nized, and one for which I take full respon­si­bil­i­ty. Nation­al offices should nev­er have been allowed to have full con­trol over the funds they raised. Again, it is my own fault, but it con­tra­dicts every­thing we were work­ing for to build an inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion which is depen­dent for its income on its nation­al offices.

Please do not mis­un­der­stand: I am not point­ing any fin­gers and for the most part the nation­al offices today are coop­er­at­ing inter­na­tion­al­ly admirably. But take this as a warn­ing for the future; unless Green­peace col­lec­tive­ly con­trols the funds raised in nation­al offices, you will always face the pos­si­bil­i­ty of rene­gade offices and the spec­tre of sub­tle eco­nom­ic black­mail by the rich and the few.

6) Par­ty Pol­i­tics

Our agree­ment to stay out of par­ty pol­i­tics was an attempt to main­tain a hard-line, out­side the com­pro­mis­es of the polit­i­cal world. It was also intend­ed to ensure our appeal to a wide range of peo­ple across tra­di­tion­al polit­i­cal lines. It should also have meant an agree­ment to stay out of human rights, polit­i­cal philoso­phies, eco­nom­ic the­o­ry, advo­ca­tion of anybody’s ball-of-wax Agen­da for a New World Utopia. There are plen­ty of oth­er groups doing excel­lent work on hunger, abor­tion, women’s rights, abo­rig­i­nal rights and all the rest. We are not out to save anybody’s ver­sion of democ­ra­cy or jus­tice or fair play: because our mem­ber­ship can agree to dis­agree on all of that if they want, as long as we keep the num­ber one goal in mind: We have to get our world into the 21st Cen­tu­ry in one piece. Fuck every­thing else. If you want to build an inter­na­tion­al move­ment, and you want it to be as strong as pos­si­ble, you have to accept every­body. You can’t stand at the door and exam­ine their vot­ing record and how they feel about men’s rights or women’s rights or father’s rights or mother’s rights or or Com­mu­nism or Democ­ra­cy or Repub­li­cans or Tories or Chris­tian Democ­rats or or AIDS or farms sub­si­dies or abor­tion or veg­e­tar­i­an­ism or Jesus Christ or Mohammed or Bud­dha and turn them away if they give you an answer you don’t like. Make no mis­take, there are thou­sands of impor­tant issues in the world today that require urgent atten­tion, but we can’t do it all. And if we try, we won’t get any of it done.

The orig­i­nal idea was to keep it sim­ple: to lim­it our­selves to a hand­ful of impor­tant envi­ron­men­tal goals with­out com­pro­mise or com­pli­ca­tions: to just get on with it.

7) Non-vio­lence

There is a gray area between vio­lence and non-vio­lence. Years ago, once we decid­ed a speci­fic cam­paign goal, the most intense debate usu­al­ly cen­tred on how far we could take our actions and still remain non-vio­lent. We need to reopen this dis­cus­sion, I believe, and inves­ti­gate ways of mak­ing our activist cam­paigns heav­ier. Don’t mis­un­der­stand, I am not sug­gest­ing we go vio­lent, but we need to look at new ways to spur action and con­cern.

In sum­ma­ry

As I said ear­lier, I decid­ed to step out of the pic­ture to let new minds and new ideas begin to shape the Green­peace that will see the begin­ning of the 21st cen­tu­ry. I still have some sug­ges­tions, though, and I’m hap­py to elab­o­rate if any­one is inter­est­ed in bring­ing the orga­ni­za­tion back closer to its roots.

To my think­ing, the key issue fac­ing Green­peace right now is focussing the enor­mous resources out there on a sim­pler, clear­er, slimmed down num­ber of cam­paigns, ones with goals that the pub­lic can read­i­ly grasp. If there is a “process” you need to be con­cen­trat­ing on, I would say it is find­ing the fastest and most effi­cient way of doing that.

I respect­ful­ly sub­mit the­se thoughts pri­mar­i­ly for the ben­e­fit of the new­er folks, the grass roots peo­ple who want to see some lead­er­ship and fast deci­sions, the activists who are look­ing to get a job done rather than argu­ments about how many admin­is­tra­tors it takes to do it, and the old-timers (the few remain­ing) who shared the excite­ment and sat­is­fac­tion of help­ing build this ship called Green­peace.

I wish you all the best,

David McTag­gart

6 thoughts on “1992: A memo to Greenpeace from David McTaggart”

  1. Carl Ris­ing-Moore here,

    I left Green­peace in 1975, so I nev­er read this before. Until an hour ago, I did not even know Dave was no longer with the liv­ing.

    First, it was great to read Dave’s words, it was a mes­sage from the oth­er side.

    The last time I saw Dave, was in 1978 or so. I was walk­ing down 4th Avenue in Kit­salano, a com­mu­ni­ty of Van­cou­ver B.C.. A black limo stopped, the win­dow came down and Dave said, get in Carl. So, as we cruised around, he asked me how was it that I had been able to con­nect with the Native Peo­ple of British Columbia, Canada and the US in their strug­gles to pro­tect their envi­ron­ment from ongo­ing dec­i­ma­tion. My reply was that “I lis­tened” and took lead­er­ship from the abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties that were threat­ened, Mears Island, Hat Creek Coal Min­ing and Gen­er­a­tion, Stein Val­ly, log­ging in buri­al grounds, Burnt Earth pol­i­cy in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, etc.

    I had learned ear­ly on that no one under­stood the nat­u­ral world bet­ter than the First Nations of the world, and if I was will­ing to lis­ten and take lead­er­ship from the First Nations I dis­cov­ered that they were very inter­est­ed in learn­ing from me about how we might col­lab­o­rate in solv­ing the­se issues. I worked behind the sce­nes and rarely received any media atten­tion.

    Dave was my friend and I had informed him when he came to the meet­ing in Van­cou­ver to decide the future of Green­peace about the CIA fund­ing by Ed Daly of Air Amer­i­ca and my attempts to get Bob Hunter to admit this mis­take and go pub­lic and apol­o­gize. Per­haps this was the rea­son that Dave tried to steer clear of pol­i­tics and polit­i­cal par­ties.

    Bob refused to coop­er­ate and the next year that fund­ing was repeat­ed again to protest Rus­sian whal­ing oper­a­tions in the Paci­fic. I know this because I saw the check passed between Ed Daly and the new Pres­i­dent of Green­peace, Pat Moore. When Dave Gar­rick, Ron Pre­sious and sev­er­al oth­er orig­i­nal Green­peace mem­bers decid­ed to protest the Tri­dent Sub­marine base in Ban­gor Wash­ing­ton State, just across the bor­der from British Columbia, Dave Gar­rick received a phone call from Pat Moore and he informed us that no Green­peace ban­ners were allowed in the protest of the most dan­ger­ous weapons sys­tem ever cre­at­ed, the Tri­dent Sub­marine.

    After that peri­od, I nev­er saw any Green­peace protests again­st US mil­i­tarism. I was very pleased to see that Green­peace activists were protest­ing US mis­sile bas­ing in Prague, but for the most part, since the Don’t Make a Wave Com­mit­tee and Dave’s extreme­ly brave and inspi­ra­tional effort again­st the French nuclear test­ing in the Paci­fic, Green­peace has become silent on the issue of nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion.

    That con­cerns me now and it con­cerned me then and that is why I left Green­peace to work on grass roots issues to include U. min­ing, nuclear pow­er gen­er­a­tion and of course US mil­i­tarism, espe­cial­ly since the USSR col­lapsed and the US now has over 1,000 bases world­wide in over 130 coun­tries that con­trol the Mid­dle East oil, sur­round Rus­sia and Chi­na with new bases are being built as I write the­se words.

    Dave saw the issue of nuclear weapons test­ing a very impor­tant issue to protest. I believe that if he was alive today, espe­cial­ly since the col­lapse of the USSR, he would be adding his voice again­st the con­cept of a unipo­lar world led by the “Sole Super Pow­er”.

    Dave expressed con­cern to me when I told him about the CIA fund­ing and I believe that he could under­stand that Green­peace would have a dif­fi­cult time being the voice of diplo­ma­cy between the nuclear weapons armed coun­tries of the world if we were accept­ing fund­ing from the US gov­ern­ment in a such a bla­tant pro­pa­gan­da war.

    I now belong to a group by the name of Vet­er­ans for Peace and our man­date is to end all wars. We are a grass roots orga­ni­za­tion, yet our voice is strong, because pri­or mem­bers of the armed forces are the ones who know best about the tragedy of war.

    Dave was con­cerned that we the humans and the nat­u­ral world sur­vive into the 21st Cen­tu­ry, well, we made it, but I hope that Green­peace can return to it’s roots and become the diplo­mats of the nat­u­ral world and the coun­tries that could press a but­ton and end all life on Earth as we know it.

    I live in the Philip­pines now and there is now a Green­peace office here as well. So, I will vis­it that office in the future and express my views as an aging “old timer” as Dave put it.

    May Dave rest in peace, along with my good friend Bob Hunter and Ben Met­calf, the world still needs the voic­es from the past and from the grave.

    As far as Pat Moore is con­cerned, I am shocked at his sup­port of Nuclear Pow­er, GMO, and every­thing that the mul­ti nation­al cor­po­ra­tions will pay him to say. He has become a sci­en­tist for sale to the high­est bid­der. When I exposed the CIA con­nec­tion of Green­peace, his respon­se was that I was the CIA.

    I don’t know how much the exec­u­tive body of Green­peace makes the­se days, how­ev­er, if the fig­ure exceeds a low­er mid­dle class salary, it is too high. The roots of Green­peace had no mon­ey, but we had pas­sion, and if Green­peace has become top heavy with high­ly paid staff, I am con­cerned for it’s sur­vival.

  2. Thanks for cir­cu­lat­ing this again Bri­an — I remem­ber it very well. It is most appro­pri­ate now — “The orig­i­nal idea was to keep it sim­ple: to lim­it our­selves to a hand­ful of impor­tant envi­ron­men­tal goals with­out com­pro­mise or com­pli­ca­tions: to just get on with it.” So true — and we do need to just keep it sim­ple — Paul

  3. Thanks, Bri­an. Thanks, thanks, thanks! for recov­ering­ing that doc­u­ment from David and shar­ing it with so many peo­ple again. Many years have passed, the mem­o­ries, per­son­al­i­ty, lead­er­ship from David still inspires me, as this doc­u­ment did at the time, and does now.
    Thanks you again. It is as fresh and pow­er­ful as it ever was. And it stills directs how I plan and car­ry out the cam­paigns where I am involved, in the new organ­i­sa­tions where I am. He was right. He was a vision­ary. I always won­der if Green­peace ter­at­ed him well enough. He would not care, any­way. What the hell!.
    Big hug,

  4. Thanks Bri­an, for shar­ing this. It is as strong and pow­er­full as when I read it the first time, back in 1992. No longer with GP, it still rings true to me, also with respect to many an organ­i­sa­tion in the ‘out­side world’.

    Lots of love,


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