Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The difference between dreams and nightmares - Goldman Prize 2

By now, you've read about the winners of the Goldman Prize. You've also seen the full page ad taken out by Chevron, claiming the Foundation was duped (that is my word, Chevron says the foundation was "misled" by two "con men.") You may even have heard the Foundation's response, explaining the process it uses to select the prize winners. "...[including a]... nomination process that includes research by environmental experts from 50 organizations and five months of fact-checking by foundation staff." Richard Goldman, founder of the foundation and the prize, pulled no punches in explaining Chevron's perspective:
"As for Chevron's contention that it's been scapegoated in the process, Goldman said, "If you had a bunch of stockholders out there, what would you say?"
What you didn't read in the paper or hear on the radio was one of this year's winners, Ignace Schops of Belgium, reminding us that "Martin Luther King Jr did not motivate people by having a nightmare. He had a dream." Similarly, Rosa-Hilda Ramos, of Puerto Rico, might have unleashed the next big thing in San Francisco activism by sharing her story of "invading" the Puerto Rican legislature with thousands of schoolchildren dressed as butterflies.

What you also heard (if you were at the event) was the spirited applause and heartfelt appreciation from audience members as the winners took the stage and spoke of the community-centered nature of their work. In Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, and English each of the winners noted that they were honored to receive the award on behalf of their campesinos/as, colleagues, allies, families, neighbors, etc. Not one of them took sole credit for their accomplishments. They made no pretense of doing the the work by themselves. For some of them their humility in the spotlight was a treasured reminder that people do good for good's sake, not for honors or awards.

And they do so at considerable individual risk - several spoke of direct threats or actions taken against them and their family members. The work gets done with community, for community. Direct threats get made against individuals.

Mr. Goldman noted that we are all threatened by mis-directed policies and wrong-headed leaders. He spoke candidly of the forces working against the goals of the foundation and all others who care about the environment. He called for both individual and government action to turn the tide of climate change and noted his belief that we each must change our behaviors and we must change our governments and policies.

It would be easy to focus only on the controversies and conflicts that underlie this work - you can watch videos that describe the efforts of each of the winners. These reveal story after story of local communities fighting against international companies and the deflating local effects of international trade agreements or nationalized energy policies. But the videos (new and old)- and the event's inclusion of updates on past winners and their continued efforts and successes - also reveal the community nature of environmental advocacy, the multi-generational aspects of environmental concerns,* and the hardiness of the planet itself.

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