In the late 1960’s and early 70’s a collection of people began to actively witness the earth’s destruction as a form of protest. Twelve individuals made their way to the Arctic and watched as nuclear tests took place on Amchitka, an outlying island of Alaska, home to falcons, eagles and endangered sea otters. Their purpose was to see and listen, to the lust for power and to the earth’s response. To express their opposition to nuclear warfare through the simplicity of presence.
And so Greenpeace was born. And the first boat set sail the same year I was born, 1971, on September 15, six days before my arrival on the planet. I love that this movement, still active and vital today, was birthed out of the activities of presence and listening.
Key members of this team were Quakers and the original idea had come from Quaker activity. “The Quakers in 1958 tried to sail a ship to Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific protesting the atmospheric testings of H-bombs. The name of the ship was the Golden Rule.” The Quaker fellowship, the Society of Friends, has a particular focus upon listening. During meetings, members often sit in silence, taking long moments to feel sacred presence, and become comfortable with awareness. It is a daily, deep attuning to love at the heart of life. What can come about from this deep awareness?
For those early activists what arose was a desire to perceive injustice further afield, to hear the planet’s calls and listen to the voice of presence in the wind, the sea and animal life. To bear witness to cries of abuse around the globe. To be a source of hope and change through beholding injustice.
When we, as individuals attend to life, a place of vulnerability can emerge, an open-hearted space that will eventually ask something of us, whether that be direct action or an internal shift in perspective and behaviour. Listening, perceiving, attending is not passive, it is something powerful and still the basis of activism. The ability to be deeply present is a skill that can create open space for the life of the other, in its most raw and full sense of being alive.
To be able to perceive the cyclical energy of the forest, to witness shifting light and the dynamic glory of the sea, to understand a little of vast planetary interconnections takes a great deal of attending. And it’s this sort of perception that can challenge us to stop colluding with systemic injustice and shift the masks of protection we so easily embrace. It’s deep awareness that makes us soft and human again, so that we can live into the golden rule.
 Michael Brown and John May, The Greenpeace Story (Moorebank NSW: Bantam Books, 1991), 8.