AGAINST THE CURRENT
To Vote or
Not to Vote
That is the
By Captain Paul Watson
I'm not much for politics.
I don't like being told that I have a chance to change the system
every four years with my vote. I'm tired of being told that it
doesn't matter whom you vote for, just so long as you vote. The
truth is that our vanishing wildlife, our diminished oceans,
our disappearing forests will not be saved by some politician.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead
once said that change only comes through the actions of passionate
and committed individuals. Never depend upon government or institutions
to solve any social problem ? they never have and they never
will. The oceans are not being protected by the navies of the
world. Governments will not stop the slaughter of the whales,
the seals, the sharks, the turtles, or the increasing pollution
of the seas.
That work is being done by unsung
heroes and grassroots groups who know better than to wait for
action that will never come.
In Hawaii, dive shop owner Ken
Nichols is rescuing turtles injured by monofilament fish line.
In Washington State, Makah Elder Alberta Thompson is standing
up for the whale despite persecution from her own tribal council.
In California, diver Kurt Lieber is removing lost lobster traps,
and surfer Peter Wallerstein is rescuing sea lions from entanglement
in monofilament net. Because of biologist David Wingate, the
storm petrel of Bermuda is not extinct.
Indeed, active conservation efforts
are ongoing worldwide. Over the last three months, in Brazil,
Alexandre Castro has been rescuing birds from an oil spill. Across
the ocean on the beaches of Normandy, Sascha Regmann has been
carefully cleaning crude oil from birds, exposing himself to
toxic chemicals by doing so. In the Sea of Marmara, Kurdish conservationist
Erkan Sevdiren has been picking up birds poisoned by a recent
spill of fuel oil.
The list is growing. PhDs like
Paul Spong, Roger Payne, Sylvia Earle, David Lavigne, David Suzuki,
Jim Darling, and others are speaking louder and stronger. Artists
like Christian Reese Lassen, George Sumner, and Bob Talbot, and
filmmakers like Peter Brown, Jeff Pantukhoff, and others are
reaching more and more people who are beginning to understand
that nature is the ultimate expression of artistic merit.
Celebrities like Pierce Brosnan,
Martin Sheen, Steven Seagal, and many others are putting their
status to use in protecting our marine environment. Directors
like Dick Donner, Lauren Shuler-Donner, and John Badham are making
films that actually change people's consciousness toward our
All over this planet, thousands
of divers, surfers, whale-watchers, naturalists, conservationists,
and unpaid environmentalists are walking the walk, and not just
talking the talk. They are saving lives, protecting habitat,
and taking on the industrial and corporate Goliaths.
I am writing this on board my
ship anchored in the Bahia de Ballenas outside of San Ignacio
Lagoon in Baja, Mexico. Yesterday, on March 3, the Mexican government
announced that the planned Mitsubishi salt processing plant here
would not go ahead. This was a victory brought about by Mexican
grass-roots organizations backed up by individuals and non-governmental
groups around the world.
Today, as I sat in a small inflatable
and a hundred whales surfaced and frolicked around and under
us, I had no problem understanding what motivates some individuals
to act, even give their lives, for the preservation of nature
If not for Diane Fossey, the
mountain gorillas of Rwanda would be extinct. If not for Karen
Silkwood, the corruption of the nuclear industry would not have
been exposed. If not for Joy and George Adamson, the lions of
East Africa would not be as protected as they now are. If not
for Chico Mendes, the global awareness of the rape of the rainforests
would not be as great as it is.
All of these heroes were murdered
for their passionate lives of compassion. They did not run for
office, but they all made more significant contributions toward
a better world than any politician has. Julia Butterfly Hill
sat in a redwood for two years. David Chain was slain by a redwood
dropped on him by a logger. This is serious commitment. We're
not talking weekend warriors here.
Individuals all. Margaret Mead
was right: that's where change originates.
And we all have the capacity
within us to make a difference, to make this a better world where
whales will be free to swim the seas unharmed, where sharks will
be allowed to swim unmolested, where turtles need not have their
flippers amputated because of fishline, where the fish will return
in fantastic numbers again, and where once again we will be able
to see a panoramic pod of dolphins stretching to the horizon.
What can you do? Plenty. The
power at your fingertips can be obtained by simply mustering
the confidence and the will to make a difference.
Back in 1979, after I had hunted
down, rammed, and sunk the pirate whaler Sierra , I was speaking
with one of my crewmembers on the dock in Lexioes, Portugal.
His name was Alex, and he was nineteen years old, a passionate
vegetarian and animal lover. Alex was especially upset about
the treatment of laboratory animals, and he wanted me to do something
``Alex," I said, ``I have
my hands full fighting whalers at the moment. Why don't you do
something about it?"
``What can I do about it?"
``Anything you wish. Just remember
you don't need a college degree or permission from your parents
to change the world."
When Alex returned to the United
States, he took a janitorial job cleaning in a primate research
facility in Silver Springs, Maryland. He took pictures and he
exposed shocking acts of cruelty and unsanitary conditions. His
evidence led to the arrest of the research director and incredible
publicity exposing research on animals. Alex Pacheco founded
his own organization named the People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals. The largest animal rights organization in the world
was founded by a kid who realized that he could make a difference.
People write and call me all
the time to task what I am going to do about this problem or
that problem. My answer is not a damn thing; I'm busy dealing
with enough problems. Instead I turn the tables and ask them
what they intend to do about it. The strength of an ecosystem
lies in diversity. The strength of a social movement also depends
upon the diversity of ideas and strategies within it. This is
not to say that people should all go out and ram whaling ships,
spike trees, burn bulldozers, or strangle Exxon executives.
To make a difference, we need
only channel our own unique skills, talents, and abilities toward
making this a better world. The approach may be judicial, artistic,
educational, legislative, or direct action. The approach may
be radical or it may be conservative; what matters is involvement
and intent. Do what you do, not just for your own interests,
but also for the common good of the planet tomorrow. Don't ask,
``What's in it for me?" Ask, ``How can I make this a healthier,
saner, more happy world tomorrow?"
I know that the joy that I have
received from protecting life in the oceans has exceeded anything
that I could have found in religion or art. I can't think of
anything more noble than having spent my life conserving nature
and protecting lives. To know that a species will survive because
you acted is a satisfaction indescribable unless experienced.
It even beats voting..
This article appeared in the
Spring 2000 issue of Ocean Realm magazine and appears
here by permission.
P.O. Box 2616, Friday Harbor,
WA 98250 (USA) Tel: 360-370-5650 Fax: 360-370-5651
Copyright © 2004 Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society. All rights reserved.