Ham&High Podcast: Greenpeace UK programme director Pat Venditti on the power of direct action
- Credit: Greenpeace UK
Franki Berry speaks to Greenpeace UK programme director Pat Venditti for the Ham&High Podcast about the climate emergency and the power of direct action.
With the tragic killing of George Floyd bringing thousands onto the streets and a toppled statue leading to tangible change in our cities, direct action has returned from a lockdown lull with a bang.
Greenpeace has long been one of the world’s most prominent proponents of such activism and UK programme director Pat Venditti has been in the midst of it.
In June, 2019, he was among dozens of Greenpeace activists who gatecrashed the chancellor of the exchequer’s annual Mansion House Speech.
“This was in the context of us trying to elevate the climate emergency as something that really needed to be tackled much more seriously and much more dramatically than the government and business had done up to that point,” Pat tells the Ham&High Podcast.
“It was a few months after the Extinction Rebellion protests in London where the whole notion of ‘climate emergency’ had really been raised and in the context of the student strikes also, and Greta, and this whole vibe that we need to do more on the climate emergency.”
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He jokes the action was “basically like storming the Bastille”.
“There are not a lot of ways to get in. It’s very secure but we did manage to find a way in and marched into the room where Hammond was giving his speech - the chancellor at the time. I think, at the end of the day, we had about 50 women in red dresses with climate emergency sashes and managed to disrupt the event and I managed to hand our manifesto to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England at the time. Hammond didn’t take it sadly. He rejected it.” The protest attracted additional media attention when a video emerged of Mark Field MP, a minister in the Foreign Office at the time, grabbing one of the women protesters by the throat.
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He was later found to have breached the ministerial code. Mr Field did not stand again in December’s general election.
“It’s not something we ever like to see but we’re always training our activists, and ourselves, not to react to that kind of aggression,” says Pat. “It’s important to maintain that non-violence.”
Greenpeace’s actions have long been shown to be effective, from stopping whalers to entering nuclear test sites, and he says the Black Lives Matter protests have been empowering, “with hopefully some more significant changes happening from now - let’s hope”.
Pat grew up in St Catharines, Canada, near Niagara Falls, but he has been in the UK for 15 years, having made north London his home. His children go to school in Muswell Hill and, with them, he will often be found on the Heath, learning about UK’s wildlife - and in particular its stinging nettles.
With Greenpeace, based in Canonbury, his work will of course need to adapt to a Covid world. “Before the virus really we were looking at - how do we shift really rapidly away from oil and gas because we know the industry is so linked to climate change, obviously - responsible for climate change.
“How do we get big companies like B and Shell, who were obviously based here in the UK, to shift to 100% renewables? That was a big part of what we were doing and now what we’re seeing is - how do we view that in a lens where actually the oil prices tanked out where people are maybe going to drive less, where we have an opportunity to rethink how we as a society operate? Try to gain some of the benefits that we’ve seen from living a life that isn’t so dependent on fossil fuels.”
Greenpeace has also had ships going to the Antarctic to help protect the oceans. “And then looking at plastic pollution and really trying to stop this scourge of plastic pollution from continuing to pollute the oceans and rivers in our neighbourhoods.”
But for many of us our perception of the world has been altered by the virus.
“I think this has been a terrible thing, the virus - that’s the first thing to say - but I think it has opened people’s eyes up to: ‘What kind of society do we want to have on the other side of this crisis?’
“And I think people have seen they value their family more, they value having more time, they value being able to walk down the street and not have an asthma attack from all the pollution from cars.
“So I think we’re seeing in opinion research, and just how people are talking, that we can see a different world is possible.”
For the full audio interview, and others in our podcast series, go to https://podfollow.com/hamhigh/.