Essex Greenpeace
The Socialist Unity Network

Essex Greenpeace planning day

Greenpeace protesters

Jim Jepps

Last Saturday in Southend saw the second annual Essex Greenpeace planning day.

These planning days mark a new departure for Greenpeace, who are shifting from a highly centralised organisation - where the supporter's role has been to give financial aid to the adventures of the courageous elite who take part in high profile actions - towards an organisation where the members play a real leading role.

This process will, of course, be imperfect but the dividends are already paying off. Local groups are now far more involved in local campaigns and the role of the 'rank and file members' is no longer confined to fund raising support to the more exciting activities on the high seas, or in high places.



Through the day there were a variety of workshops where activists discussed ideas and planned the way forward. I'll not go into intricate detail on what was discussed but the most obvious thing was that not only were there some stunningly brilliant ideas thrown up but that it was possible to combine a focused attitude towards making activity happen and have fun with it at the same time.

There were two sessions on GM for instance. One about the wider campaigns taking place, the new period of legislation that will allow GM to be more widely planted, and a second session that focused on Sainsbury's and the fact that they give GM feed to their dairy herd - thereby feeding GM milk to an unknowing public. Both sessions produced real results, the first produced wide ranging and positive strategies and the second knuckling down to planning specific actions.

There were also sessions on wind farms (which focused on informing participants on new developments in governmental policy and exploring how to push the government's positive, but slow, moves towards sustainable energy sources), Esso and the upcoming US presidential elections (which took the form of a firm and professional opportunity for members to influence national GP policy - which I suspect had a deeper impact than many would have initially thought possible).

I'm particularly looking forward to the issuing of 'dis-loyalty cards' that can both help give profile and importance to the impact of multi-nationals on the environment and tie people more closely to a bigger picture world view.


Lessons for the left

For the left one of the most interesting sessions was on recruitment and retention. I'd wondered whether this session would deteriorate into moaning and whining, but to my delight not only were people willing to face the problems that all organised troublemakers have, they also set about exploring the issues and looking for ways to improve.

This was undoubtedly helped by the sure and relaxed guidance of Richard who started the session. The natural talent of many of the activists there on the day was truly impressive, and strangely, rather than attacking each other or trying to build their own little kingdoms they would recognise each other's talents, trying to build each other up. Far from naming and shaming they would name people to congratulate them openly, disingenuously and warmly. I would defy anyone, no matter how experienced, to come out of a day like that without having gained something.


The day in itself had a number of practical functions that have certainly moved things forward.


  • Bringing the groups together so that the word 'network' actually has content.
  • Allowing members access to the central body, which in practise amounts to a move towards democratisation of the organisation.
  • Accessing the invention and talents of the group members, rather than confining decision making to a small 'professional' group who can become cut off and, frankly, a bit arrogant sometimes.
  • Involving the members in the process making it their organisation.


I don't know if the left would be capable of having such a fraternal and productive set of local workshops - I suspect it could. We have the talent. We have the deeply committed individuals, and we have the need to bring ourselves together in a more organised and effective fashion.

This move towards communication and participation would be a real asset to the left and protest movements in general - I noticed that the Stop the War coalition has a similar proposal, it will be interesting see how that pans out for instance.

If we value the members and participants of our movement they will reward us with enthusiasm, commitment, and unleash that talent that socialists know lurk within each and everyone of us. We ignore that lesson at our peril, but although this may be a small and modest example of how we can all learn from each other I certainly think its an example worth considering.



March 2004


Greenpeace UK

Why Green is Red
an article from the International Socialism Journal #88 by Paul McGarr

Contact Essex Greenpeace at
or 01702 340099