Celebrate heroes – yesterday, today & tomorrow

(Text of speech given at Dogwood’s Sing for an Oil Free Coast celebration attended by 200 people on May 11, 2007 at the B.C. legislature)

It’s amazing to be here today on a beautiful sunny day in Victoria celebrating among so many like minded people who care about the planet.

We are here to celebrate because this week is the anniversary of several important dates in history:

One score & 10 years ago brave men and women, came together put their lives on the line to protect BC’s north coast.

30 years ago today Greenpeace activists Rod Marining, Bill Gannan, Rex Wyler and a host of others, working with First Nations heroes from Hartley Bay, took action to remind our political leaders that British Columbians will not accept tanker in northern waters.

They took action to illustrate that our precious coast line, our salmon, our coastal communities, our fishing economy shouldn’t be put at risk so a few people in Alberta, Toronto, New York or Houston can get rich.

You are all here today to send that message again!

May 10 is also the anniversary of another very significant day. A day that changed the world.

One score minus seven years ago yesterday was the 13th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as the first black President of South Africa.

Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 is an important anniversary for many reasons. Foremost because he is a hero, an elder, someone who reminds us what is best about ourselves. And we need more heroes.

The anniversary is important to me personally because I spent years of my life working to end apartheid; to force free and fair elections and create economic and racial justice in South Africa.

Celebrating the end of apartheid is important because it taught me two important lessons.

So today we celebrate those lessons:

First, that there are some moral imperatives that demand action. Thousands of people worked hard because we couldn’t imagine living on a planet that allowed Apartheid.

Secondly, we celebrate because the end of Apartheid illustrates for us how fast historic change can happen. Just one score years ago, I was working in southern Africa. This was just before Mandela was released and no one, repeat no one, predicted that would happen.

But it did.

My experience in southern Africa taught me that there are moments in time when great leaps forward occur.

I believe we are now living in one of those times.

We need to celebrate these anniversaries because we need reminders — examples — of moments in history when we collectively stood up, faced seeming insurmountable odds, and won.

There are many of these but we forget about them, we don’t celebrate them enough.

Some of you may be wondering why I have been using the archaic four score and seven years ago type references. It is because it reminds me of Abraham Lincoln and the abolition of slavery.

Lincoln is another elder, another hero, who had the courage to stand up and fight and do the right thing. And this week is the anniversary of several important events in the abolitionist movement.

May 10 was the 207th anniversary of a law that criminalized working on slave ships in the U.S.

And May 15 is the 187th anniversary of a U.S. law that legislated that slave trading was piracy.

Some of you may be wondering what does slavery have to do with the abolition of greenhouse gasses or banning tankers?

The abolitionist’s success, confronting the moral imperative of slavery can teach us things.

Their successes can provide perspective as we face the biggest crisis in human history addressing global warming.

We should remind ourselves that 200 years ago, the pro-slavery forces – the economic and political elites of the 19th century – asserted change would have devastating economic consequences.

They claimed that change would destroy the economy, putting thousand out of work.

They said “they too were concerned, but that changes must be carefully considered – phased in gradually”.

They said special exemptions must be made to ensure existing industries don’t shoulder an unfair burden.

They sought to delay implementation and to exempt certain industries.

Don’t these arguments sound familiar?

Don’t they remind you of the excuses that key Tory decision makers like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of the Environment John Baird and our own local MP, Minister of Natural Resources Canada Garry Lunn, are using for inaction on climate change?

The abolitionist movement can teach us things. It can remind us now how the people – led by a few heroes – couldn’t be ignored. Their success two hundred years ago can illustrate for us a grassroots movement for change. A movement driven by churches, intellectuals, activists and concerned citizens. A movement that through rallies, petitions, boycotts, and sermons showed us how to force politicians to change.

We need to remember that although the history books write about the Nelson Mandelas, the William Wilburforces and the Abraham Lincolns, that is not the full story.

It is the people that change history. People like you.

Back in the 1970s it was the was people of B.C., First Nations and fisherman, young and old, that rose up and demanded that our precious north coast be protected from oil tankers.

And 35 years ago the Government listened!

In 1972 the moratorium protecting Hecate Straight, Dixon Entrance, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Douglas Channel was instituted by Pierre Trudeau.

And eight Prime Ministers subsequently recognized our resolve, and respected the moratorium prohibiting tankers in these waters.

That is until Stephen Harper and his Minister of NRCAN Garry Lunn came to power.

Almost immediately they allowed tankers to violate the 35-year old tanker ban and import fossil fuels up the 150 kilometre fjord into Kitimat where it is loaded onto railcars for its journey to the tar sands in Alberta.

Beginning right here today, on these steps, is another of those moments in time when great leaps forward occur.

I know deep in my being that the next two years will be the tipping point for a new climate justice movement.

We are just getting started, our movement is just building. In next two years we will get stronger.

We are going to force our political leaders to stop giving billions of dollars in subsidies to oil and gas companies;

We are going to force our political leaders to rein in out-of-control tar sands development;

We are going to force our political leaders to stop six tanker/pipeline projects that threaten B.C.’s north coast and transition our energy supply to renewables.

This may sound ambitious, but look at what you have already accomplished. It was the people, folks like you, that pushed global warming to the top of the agenda. And politicians are scrambling to catch up.

And it will be people like us that will keep it there.

When I say we did it I’m not talking about people you don’t know. I’m not talking about someone else. It was you, your friends, and your colleagues.

Believe folks! We are on a wave. We can not no longer be ignored. We are the people that are going to do whatever is necessary. Whatever is necessary to to make sure that oil tankers are not allowed on B.C.’s coast.

We are the people that will not allow an Exxon Valdez like spill to pollute our precious waters.

We are the people are going to hold Stephen Harper & Garry Lunn responsible for allowing oil tankers to violate the moratorium.

And this is just one of the issues we will win.

I don’t have all the answers, no one does. But one thing I do know is when you leave here today and go home and are by yourself, remember you are not alone. Remind yourself that you a part of something huge and growing. You are an integral part of a new unstoppable movement facing the biggest challenge we have ever faced — transforming, within a generation, how we live on this planet.

Protecting B.C.’s fragile north coast from tankers is a key part of that effort.

There is no time to waste. So get active, go sign a Dogwood Initiative petition against tankers, join a local group, call your MP or MLA’s office and voice opposition to tankers in B.C. waters. Whatever you do, make a difference each and every day.

I believe that we can do it. That each and every one of you has a role to play. I know it will not be easy. Sacrifices will have to be made. But in my heart of hearts I know we are up to the task.

Thank you.

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