Probably I would chose to be locked in a police cell with them, facing perhaps six months in prison and with the possibility that what we just did might not play very well with the public in general and the environmental community in particular.
I once spent a short period of time with Lord Peter Melchett in just such a position. He bore up pretty well, and if he hadn't already been Director of Greenpeace UK at that time I'd have given him the job.
The role of volunteer in Greenpeace is a complex one. It encompasses everyone from the occasional attender of stalls to stalwart organisers of many decades experience. Some of us know very little of the world of campaigning whilst some of us think we know more than the professionals at Canonbury Villas. A few of us actually do. Many have been on more actions than some of the Actions team and others are more qualified to campaign than some of the Campaigners. That Greenpeace has been able to command the services of this 'territorial army' of volunteers, prepared to give up their time, energy, skills and even liberty, is something that helps make Greenpeace a great organisation.
Keeping this going is the challenge.
But volunteers have another role to play in the organisation. Greenpeace staff are dedicated people, doing a job they love for an organisation they are committed to. Most of us aren't like that. Many professionals in NGOs have never worked outside the field. For them the idea of doing a job you hate for a company you despise is an alien concept, but that is reality for most of the people we are trying to influence. If you're not someone who goes to work to pay for the car that takes you to work, it's hard for you to understand that life. Volunteers provide that link, that insight and that grounding in everyday reality.
But then the job of Executive Director is also a complex one. The Director isn't just the top of the organisational tree, he or she is also our link to the outside world, the one who walks point for an international organisation that plays in the big league. They are responsible for the safety of activists playing some very dangerous games with very serious players, and they carry the can for an organisation prepared to take risks. But most of all he or she is the leader of the world's most effective organisation campaigning on the world's most pressing problems.
Most volunteers will never meet the ED, and many would struggle to name them. In an organisation like Greenpeace many layers of management lie in between. But their roles are interlinked. When out on the streets trying to attract a bored public it is important that the name Greenpeace catches their attention. Big, internationally successful campaigns make this easy. Big, international failures make it difficult.
And Greenpeace is an international organisation, at ever level. Last summer I travelled with the British contingent to The Human Chain in Germany. 8000 Greenpeace supporters, ten percent from outside Germany, protesting against open cast brown coal. What's more our London coach was almost as international as the main gathering. Eight nationalities was the count I think. Not counting Geordie.
Greenpeace supporter. A European Greenpeace supporter. This was Greenpeace in its comfort zone, mobilsing on home turf in one of the greenest counties in the world.
Meanwhile, in the Global South, the people who will actually decide what sort of future the world will have are were largely ignorant of what we were doing. The future of Africa, Asian and South America is the future of the world. That they will bear the brunt of the climate chaos the affluent West has unleashed is certain. Whether they follow our path of unsustainable development is not, but that will be their choice and not ours.
So the big problem the new ED is how do we merge these two worlds. How does a continent that has colonised the world on the back of cheap hydrocarbons, tell the rest of the planet to keep it in the ground? We cannot loose a single one of our core supporters. Even in Germany there not enough of them. But when we talk about solving the global ecological crisis, we must also be taking about the global majority world.
But as Greenpeace has grown as an organisation, the problems have grown even faster. When looking at the big issues in the world; climate change, the loss of biodiversity, a voracious industrial capitalism, etc, we find that Greenpeace cannot work alone. How does an organisation that won't let a volunteer put a sticker on a tin of tuna without fully training them, work with organisations that are considerably looser than ourselves, whether that be anti-fracking Nanas in Lancashire or landless farmers in Brazil? How does this square with 'the Greenpeace way'?
So, imagining we locked in a cell and awaiting our fate, I would like the aspiring ED to answer these four questions:
- What do they think Greenpeace gains from its reserve army of volunteers?
- What will they do to continue to ensure their ongoing support?
- How does a centralised and disciplined organisation work with other, less formal groups, to solve the really big problems of the world?
- How does a global organisation that has traditionally been run by the sort of people whose fridges are full of tofu, recruit volunteers from the people of the world for whom even having a fridge is an unrealisable aspiration?