This morning I’m sat at my desk at Greenpeace UK where I work as volunteer to the Outreach team. Yesterday, Russian authorities started charging the Arctic 30 with piracy, a charge that could carry up to 15 years in jail. On walls all around the building there are posters that read ‘Free the Arctic 30’. Barely 5 meters from me is the desk of one of the activists being detained. Stuck to his monitor is a sign that simply says ‘Free Frank’.
When the news broke that our activists were being charged I know I wasn’t the only one who felt suddenly sick. Our CEO, Kumi Naidoo, who led a similar action against Gazprom last year and came away with hypothermia, described the situation as the greatest challenge we’ve faced since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. Seeing the breaking news that our friends and colleagues have been charged with piracy, I couldn’t disagree with Kumi. There is something unreal about this. Something unprecedented.
Further down my screen however, there is a bitter-sweet human rights story. Herman Wallace, who has been kept in solitary confinement in the US for the best part of 41 years, has been freed. Herman has terminal cancer and will see out the rest of his life in hospital – but it won’t be in prison and it won’t be on his own. A few months ago I was working at Amnesty alongside the campaigners who worked tirelessly for this result. I can imagine the mixed feelings. The elation, the frustration, the sadness. I can almost hear the emotion in the text on my page as they write words that they never thought they would write: ‘Herman is free’.
Thinking of those campaigners, I feel hopeful again. I know that for all of the awful wrongs committed against the environment, against people, and against our future, there are individuals out there willing to work themselves to the bone to make a difference. Who will try and try and never give up. For all of the world’s horrors, there are people like our activists taking a stand – people willing to put themselves on the line. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with some of these people, the kind who will not take no for an answer and who value doing what is right and what is just above the value they place on themselves.
Last night, still reeling from the news about the piracy charges, I headed down to the monthly meeting of the South West London Greenpeace group that I’m currently helping coordinate. I felt down, I felt heavy hearted, but I was met by a chorus of indignant volunteers who had already heard the news and who had only become stronger in their resolve. Their combined spirit lifted me up – it gave me hope. This is what makes me feel strong rather than cowed. I know who we are, how powerful we are. I know how hard and how tirelessly we can fight – and I’m not isolating these feelings to people who work for Greenpeace – I mean it about all of the hundreds of thousands of people taking a stand or doing something to make the world a better place, like the campaigners at Amnesty, or the local groups volunteers at last night’s meeting. The world is full of amazing people with strength and courage, doing amazing things. And There Is Hope.