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Greenpeace Establishes Great Lakes Beachhead

Greenpeace Establishes Great Lakes Beachhead image
Parent Issue
Month
July
Year
1988
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

DETROIT - Greenpeace, the international environmental group which is kno wn for its direct action campaigns to save whales, stop nuclear testing, and preserve Antarctica, is currently touring the Great Lakes in its floating labora tory, the Beluga. During its tour, Greenpeace will analyze samples of waste discharged into the Lakes. The group hopes the Bcluga's voyage will highlight the unique, ecological importance of the Great Lakes and thc need to restore and protect them. The Great Lakes, Ihc world's largest source of freshwatcr (they supply drinking water to 24 million pcople), is also the center of North American industrialism. According to Greenpeace, the Great Lakes Basin is home to a long list of environmental threats, including: 49 nuclear reactors (13% of the world's total); 50% of Canada's and 20% of the U.S. 's industrial activity; 25,000 leaking landfills; 1 ,300 to 1 ,400 scwagc treatment plants; one half of North America's 150 steel plants; one half of North America's pulp and paper milis, and the world's largest garbage incincrator. The Detroit incincrator, which is almost complctcd, will lack important pollution control deviecs whilc producing huge quantitics of toxic ash. On June 16, two members of Greenpeace climbed the side of Detroit 's Renaissance Center. Thcy hung a banner which read "Stop Detroit Incinerator." On June 17, an AGENDA reporter and photograher, along with other media representalives, boarded the Beluga. Reporters watched Greenpeace taking samples of the Rouge Rivcr and and listened to Greenpeace members discuss their untradi√ľonal protest tactics. GREENPEACE TACTICS After Greenpeace mcmbers scaled the outside of the Renaissance Center in protest of Detroit's trash incinerator, Detroit's Channel 2 (CBS) News ran a commcntary on the incident. Greenpeace should "grow up," it said. If Greenpeace wanted to bring public attention to problems, the commentator continued, it should "protest the old fashioned way." Bcwildcred by this statement, Ralf Franklin, a membeT of Detroit's Evergreen Alliance which has organized to fight the incinerator, remembered the labor organi zing violenceof the thirties and joked that maybe what the commentator meant by "the old fashioned way" was shooting people. It is apparent that Greenpeace's showy style of protest doesn't always receive applause. So why do it? Jeff Howard, 29, a researcher with Greenpeace's Great Lakes campaign, outlined two reasons for the group's "shock tactics," which along with climbing Detroit's tallest building include: interfering with whalers in high speed inflatable boats, scaling smokestacks and plugging chemical discharge pipes. One reason is to convey information. Howard criticized the media and the city for not providing information about the hazards of incineration. "The media considers the incinerator a dead issue (and) it's as though the whole city mechanism is aslcep." Howard added, "There is toxic pollution all over the Great Lakes that companies and the public are ignoring. Toxic pollution has become business as usual." Another reason why drastic action is needed, said Howard, is that" ... every form of protest has been exhausted. We've triedcourt cases, letters, twisting arms, making speeches ... but the city authorities have not ackno wledged that this (the incinerator) is going to kill people." Howard said Greenpeace bases their tactics on "... a Quaker form of bearing witness, aphilosophy which says 'if you see a wrong taking place, you become responsible for addressing it' ... which I think is essential in our society today. Everyone tums their head, but instead everyone has to make themselves responsible." Greenpeace describes their form of protest as non-violent direct action. Howard said "first you analyze the psychology of a toxic pollution situation. Then you determine where there is a chink in the armor, and you drive a wedge into it." Howard said the idea is to focus on a tangible manifestation of the problem (e.g. a discharge pipe), instead of an abstr action, so the problem becomes more "real" and thus harder to ignore. Howard said civil disobedience is a larger term which encompasses non-violent direct action, and that in most cases the two are synonomous. "In both cases you go wherc the problem is and you put your b√≥dy on the line. You use your body as a focal point, as a paint brush ... whcther it's on a picket line or a smoke stack." Channel 2 News may condcmn Greenpeace's tactics for focusing public attention on problems, but one wonders if Channel 2 would have run a story if Greenpeace had handed another petition to Mayor Coleman Young, or had asked to meet with him again and had been denied, again. "...you go where the problem is and you put your body on the Une. You use your body as a focal point, as a paint brush-whether it's on a picket line or a smoke stack." - Jeff Howard, Greenpeace researcher

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