Greenpeace at 50 : An Interview With Tara

How long have you been working in Greenpeace?

As a campaign intern for Greenpeace International’s Southeast Asia project, I started in 1999. We prepared and organized “the Toxic Free Asia Ship Tour” in early 2000 to establish our formal presence in the region, and then successfully registered Greenpeace as a non-profit organization in Thailand with the help of a small team on the ground. Since 2014, I’ve worked for GPSEA in various capacities, including toxics campaigner, climate and energy campaigner, campaign manager, campaign director, and country director.

What led you to work in Greenpeace?

It’s a “rebel with a cause” I think. It’s crystal clear to me. I grew up in an area where I saw the misery of individuals who were forced to live in awful conditions in border refugee camps as a result of the conflict. It sparked my curiosity and motivated me to make the world, or at the very least the world around me, a better place.

At the time of the first Earth Summit in Stockholm in 1972, I began my life-long advocacy in high school. I’ve been involved in a number of social and environmental movements before settling down with Greenpeace, where I feel at home.

What is your most memorable campaign experience in Greenpeace?

I’ve participated in various Greenpeace campaigns in Thailand and other countries in the region, but the toxic cleanup in Bhopal, India in 2002 stands out as the most memorable.

Bhopal, commonly known as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in history. It happened in the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, on the night of December 2/3, 1984. Hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other toxins released by the facility.

I was part of a fourteen-country international Greenpeace group tasked with cleaning up dangerous toxic waste at the former Union Carbide facility in Bhopal. To impede the clean-up, Indian police forcefully arrested 56 volunteers, including survivors of the 1984 gas catastrophe and Greenpeace campaigners. I was detained for the first time while working for Greenpeace.

People in Bhopal have been battling with the phrase “we all live in Bhopal” for 36 years, implying that in a world where corporations operate with impunity, the chemical disaster that occurred in Bhopal might, and in fact is, occur in our own towns. The moral of the story is to “never give up”.

What was the organization like when you started and how have you seen it evolve since then?

We had to start from the beginning. Despite the fact that we made a major splash with Rainbow Warrior’s ship tour. However, in terms of how Greenpeace operates, Thailand is a relative newcomer. When I originally informed my friends that I was going to work as a campaigner, they weren’t sure what I was talking about. Campaigns used to be the domain of the marginalized and underprivileged. It has become so popular that practically anyone involved in public life – from government officials to corporations – can be found employing the same tactics, which they even proudly refer to as “campaigns.”

Initially my role was to conduct research into a number of environmental issues in Thailand in order to determine the appropriate campaign project. I also assisted in the development of a better understanding of how to use Greenpeace’s campaigning style at the local level. I went to Greenpeace National/Regional to learn about the Greenpeace campaign and culture, how campaigning produces change, and how to carry out campaign projects through nonviolent direct action and other types of direct communication.

What I have seen since then is that together we grow the leading organisation which is trusted, effective, and relevant to the people and communities it serves.

Where do you see Greenpeace in the next 50 years?

The Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship sails in the Bali sea after her visit to the island. The ship is heading to Jakarta as a part of the Southeast Asia Ship Tour 2018.

It’s difficult to imagine Greenpeace’s future in the next 50 years because no one could have predicted where the organization would be today when it was founded. Some argue that Greenpeace will cease to exist since our jobs have been completed, everyone is working as a change agent, and the world is already a better place.

Greenpeace has always been about people, not the superstructure or strict process we try to construct, as per my counter-proposal. A new generation of activists will take Greenpeace through challenge and change as long as we do not become victims of our own success. Greenpeace will resurface and evolve.