IN THE BEGINNING
DON’T MAKE A WAVE COMMITTEE
In 1969, in Vancouver, Canada, four people started meeting in a church basement to plan anti- nuclear protests. These people were Irving and Dorothy Stowe, and Jim and Marie Bohlen and they called themselves, The Don’t Make a Wave Committee. Their mission was simple and clear, to protest the detonation and testing of a nuclear bomb on Amchitka Island.
Amchitka Island, being one of the Arctic’s most valuable bird sanctuaries with over 100 species of migratory birds, walrusses, sea otters and sea lions, was declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1913.
The US Military had other plans for Amchitka though. They wanted to use this animal sanctuary to test nucleaur weapons. The public were worried that the nuclear bombs would cause further earthquakes and possibly a tsunami hence the ‘Don’t Make Wave Committee’ (DMAW). More volunteers were attracted to Greenpeace and the call to end nucleaur bombs. One evening, Irving Stowe ended the meeting with the V sign saying Peace, as was customary in the 60s. Bill Darnell responded with “Let’s make it a green peace” and this was where Greenpeace’s name was born.
GREENPEACE BENEFIT CONCERT
Irving Stowe organised a benefit concert to raise funds for a voyage to Amchitka island to bear witness to the nuclear testing. The benefit concert was called Greenpeace Benefit Concert and after Joni Mitchell was on board, the concert sold out. The Amchitka Concert with Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Phil Ochs was held at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. It rasied roughly $18,000 which was just enough to charter a boat to Amchitka.
THE FIRST VOYAGE
The Phyllis Cormack owned by John Cormack was rechristened Greenpeace. Greenpeace sailed for Amchitka Island to bear witness, on the 15th of September 1971.
Some may say that their mission was unsuccessful because they were turned back by the US Coast Guard, Confidence, and notorious bad weather known as ‘williwaws’ which were unpredictable winds that ripped through the Beiring Sea.
The nuclear test did happen and to this day, Amchitka island is polluted with radioactive elements and gasses that leached into groundwater, ponds and the Beiring Sea. There are shocking accounts of what happened on the island that day with dead seals washing up ashore with burst eardrums.
However, some may say that their voyage on an old fishing trawler, that had suck twice, was a success because it attracted sympathy. It even drew empathy from the crew of the US Coast Guard Ship, Confidence. Protests continued all along the Pacific Rim and and even in Japan, protestors held signs that said, “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Amchitka” Greenpeace tried to navigate to Amchitka island with other vessels and another, bigger bomb was detonated on the Island. After public outcry, the US military stopped testing there and the Greenpeace movement grew in leaps and bounds.
By 1977, there were 15 – 20 Greenpeace groups around the world and today there about 26 independent and regional or national offices around the world in 55 countries.
So, the moral of the story…
…is to never give up and that even an unsuccessful mission like Greenpeace’s first voyage gained a lot of support and many successes followed.