It’s about Doing the Right Thing

Presentation to the
Simms Millenium Park, Courtenay B.C.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
(Caps in text are the audience response.)

Good Afternoon. This is quite a crowd. Good to see so many of you here.

I’ll start with a question. Why have you come here this afternoon? What has motivated you? Is it because you want to win something? Here is why I’m asking.

Last year our local environmental group had an exhibit at the Fall Fair. In front of our exhibit was a map showing where the proposed Raven Coal Mine was located. I saw a man looking at the map, I approached him and, after a brief discussion about the mine, he said to me, “I really respect what you are doing. But this is not for me. For eight years I worked for Green Peace. But I burned out when I realized that despite all our work we were not going to win.

By sheer coincidence, a little later another man with a history of environmental work came up to our booth and said, “I’m not going to come out against the mine. It will do no good unless we can change the whole capitalistic system. We are never going to win.

I’ve thought a great deal about these two men. I hate the use of “winning” as a motivator. For one thing, this is not a game. Both the Enbridge Pipeline transporting tar sands bitumen across B.C. to huge ships travelling down our coast and the proposed coal mines planned for the Comox Valley are a clear and present danger to our community, to our province and indeed to Canada and to the world at large.

For another thing, when we lose, and we sometimes do lose, some folks just take their bat and ball and go home. They are not in for the long haul.

So what does motivate you? I believe it is a spiritual reality. I’m sure that if you look deeply into your soul you will find two things. First, awareness that you and what you love is being abused. This is often manifest in anger and perhaps outrage. Second, you discover welling up within you a desire to stop this injustice by standing up and doing the right thing.

Many people have gone ahead of us who have faced even greater challenges than we face. We can learn from them.

When Mahatma Gandhi decided to take on the almost 100 year old British colonial Raj, he didn’t get a small group together and say, “Okay Guys, How are we going to win this thing? He and his friends just decided to stand up to the abuse and do the right thing.

Then there was that day on the bus in Montgomery Alabama when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger and ended up in jail. She wasn’t thinking of winning anything. She just got tired of being pushed around and knew it was the right thing to do. So did Martin Luther King as he watched the events develop in Birmingham. Wounded men, women and children were scattered on the ground after they had been brutalized by Bull Connor’s police with their truncheons, attack dogs and water cannons.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in South African jails. He undoubtedly continued to hear of the deaths of many of his people killed by the regime for trying to stand up for their rights. But he sat in that cell, became a hero for his perseverance and, after years of international pressure, the regime tried to deal with him. They would let him out if he would be a good boy and stop protesting. “No Deal” he said. He refused to come out until he could be released on his own terms. He knew it was the right thing to do.

As we look to the future there is one thing we can win. We can win the minds and hearts of the people of this valley.

Every year I write these words of Teilhard de Chardin on the front page of my Daytimer. “The future belongs to those who can give a reason for hope.” I really believe that this is a mission for each one of us—to give others hope and the courage to resist injustice.

Take a look around you. Think about the people who are not here—your family members and friends, your church members, your school, your organizations and businesses. You can inspire these people. You can give them a sense of hope—if you are willing to go out and tell them your story—the story of the concern that is in your hearts.

Tell them about how the Harper’s Government’s Northern Gateway Pipeline will desecrate the Great Bear Rain Forest and how the inevitable oil spills from tankers coming down that narrow passage to the sea will inflict untold damage on the environment. Ask them to join you and get involved. And when they ask you why they should get involved, say to them, “Because… IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Tell them about how the Harper Government is stealing your rights as a citizen; how it is ramming through omnibus bills that remove environmental laws that have taken thirty years to develop; how it constantly promoting the toxic tar sands; how it is handing over our resources in bargain-basement deals to foreign countries; how it is silencing its own scientists and having their cabinet ministers attacking environmental and other non-profit groups that dare to speak out against them. Ask them to join with you and speak out against these injustices. And when they ask you why they should get involved, say to them, “Because… IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Tell them how the Harper government is abusing our aboriginal brothers and sisters. In 2012 the Harper government was one of the very last UN countries to sign on to the United Nations Declaration of The Rights of Indigenous People. That signature was the ultimate in hypocritical political gestures. Among other things the Harper Government pledged to recognize aboriginal rights to traditional lands and to self-government. But, at the very moment it was signing the document it was working with large corporations to drive a pipeline across traditional lands and to do it without adequate consultation. Ask your friends and acquaintances to join with you in protecting the rights of aboriginal peoples. And when they ask you why they should get involved, say to them, “Because… IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Tell them how the Christy Clark government has agreed with the Alberta Government to support the Northern Gateway Pipeline across northern B.C. Tell them how this government is intent on turning our valley and Island into Appalachia North. It has recently issued 18 new coal licenses in our valley to Chinese companies, all of them in close proximity to critical water sources. And make sure to tell them about the news reports in the press this week based on leaked documents that the government is literally “giving away the farm.” It is eviscerating the Agricultural Land Reserve and handing over to its oil and gas section the responsibility to make farm land available for fracking. Ask your friends and acquaintances to join you in protest. And when they ask you why they should get involved, say to them, “Because… IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Folks, in a couple of weeks I will turn 75. I’m getting a little long in the tooth and like many of you grey-haired folks out there I have a shaky health history. It is inevitable that people our age start thinking about how we wish to be remembered.

I hope that if someone erects a tombstone over me it will contain the words, “He did what he did BECAUSE IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Mike Bell
Comox , B.C.