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THIS DAY IN VANCOUVER: Sept 15th

September 15, 2011 | by  |  This Day In Vancouver

1971:

The stage is set for the creation of one of the world’s largest non-governmental organizations when, in hopes of raising worldwide awareness about a remote U.S. nuclear bomb test, 12 members of the Don’t Make a Wave Committee set sail from Vancouver, aboard the fishing vessel Phyllis Cormack, which has been christened with a new name for the voyage: The Greenpeace.

Close to 75 people crowd the dock for the sendoff, reports the Vancouver Sun, “but not to celebrate. They came in good faith, to wish the 12 members of the Greenpeace crew a safe and successful journey.”

The crew, including Don’t Make a Wave cofounder Jim Bohlen, Georgia Straight columnist Bob Cummings, and Dr. Lyle Thurston of North Vancouver are realistic about their mission, (with some making out their Last Will and Testament), stating their intention to sail inside the 12-mile prohibited zone around the island.

“What we do when we get there,” Bohlen states, “is up to Nixon.’”

“Why?” asks Cummings, in a piece written on board the vessel. “Why the thousands of dollars squeezed from pockets where they were otherwise needed to make the Greenpeace possible?[...] And why the willingness, even eagerness, of the crew to endure six weeks of cold, damp, overcrowded discomfort, seasickness, and the possibility of arrest in order to be present at an exercise in criminal negligence that we know could erupt into a radioactive cataclysm? The immediate answer is that the Greenpeace is not designed to slay the AEC Goliath, desirable as that would be, but simply to trip him up long enough for the mass of people, including the Philistines, to realize the terrible dimensions of the threat his games pose to all of us.”

Internal strife will dominate The Greenpeace’s voyage to Amchitka, and ultimately, the boat will be turned back by the U.S. Coast Guard before it reaches its destination. However, public awareness raised by the Greenpeace’s voyage will, five months later, signal the end of the Amchitka nuclear test program. The following year, the Don’t Make A Wave Committee will officially change its name to Greenpeace, and go on to become one of the largest NGOs in the world.

“”As it turned out, all my angst was unnecessary,” Committee member Bob Hunter will later write, of the trip’s perceived failure, in his book Greenpeace to Amchitka. “Time has proven my post-trip despair to be utterly mistaken. The trip was a success beyond anybody’s wildest dreams[...] Whatever history decides about the big picture, the legacy of the voyage itself is not just a bunch of guys in a fishing boat, but the Greenpeace the entire world has come to love and hate.”

 

IMAGE: The original crew of The Greenpeace, circa 1971. Image copyright: Greenpeace Foundation. Robert Keziere, photographer.

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