These women remind us that the tools we need to mobilize change in our world are not defined by governments or economic conditions, but rather lie in the unfathomable and unbreakable realm of the human spirit. By exploring their inspiring movements, brought to life by revolutionary visions and fearless actions, our minds are elevated to a new level of consciousness that demands that we actively stand up against structures of violence.
With that in mind let us explore the legacy of political and environmental activist Wangari Maathai whose grassroots movement not only challenged old notions of peace but has completely revitalized the very air we breath.
It was the late 1970‘s and Kenyan native Wangari Maathai was confronted by a serious problem. What once was a land abundant in natural resources was no longer providing the everyday necessities needed to live. Women in her village were the first victims of this environmental degradation because they were the ones who had to walk for hours looking for water, who had to fetch fire wood when it was scarce and who had to provide food for their families.
Their inheritance, the land passed down to them by their ancestors, had been raped by corrupt governments that were overseeing the privatization and deforestation of land. Perhaps even more detrimental was the mismanagement and disempowerment of the Kenyan people.
It was from this deprivation that the Green Belt Movement arose. Founded on Earth day in 1977, Wangari started an initiative that would focus on sustainable development by rebuilding the forest, practicing lifestyles inductive to environmental conservation, and empowering the people through civil education. To begin, they approached the women who were suffering from the deterioration of resources and helped them make a connection between their daily problems and environmental problems.
Then, Wangari empowered the women by showing them that the solutions to their problems were not outside their reach. All they needed to do to improve their living conditions was plant trees. Wangari was instrumental in this process. Not only did she develop the most effective way of planting trees; collecting seeds and than propagating the trees in the area for more seedlings, but she also developed a small cash incentive; for every tree they planted that survived, the movement would compensate the individual with four US cents. Before long, communities were exercising self-sufficient ways of living, planting various types of trees according to their unique needs.
As the initiative continued, Wanagari realized that the Green Belt Movement was only addressing the symptoms to the real issues. To get to the root of the problems, Wanagri began to expand her focus to include a political curriculum. The Green Belt Movement saw the importance of getting people involved in an active civil society that held both the government and the people responsible for preserving and sustaining their natural resources and their basic human rights. Some of the accolades achieved by Wangari’s grassroots movement include the preservation of the largest public park in Kenya – Uhuru Park.
They also saved one of Kenya’s major forests- Karuru forest by mobilizing the nation to protest against unlawful privatization and deforestation.
To further show the perseverance of this movement, they militantly fought for democracy by protesting for the release of political prisoners for eleven months under the Moi government.
Wangari Maathai is a globally influential women because she exemplifies the power of the individual as well as the greater power of an active civil society. This radical women’s message is clear; “ it is the people who must save the environment, it is the people who must make their leaders change (and) you cannot enslave a mind that knows itself, that values itself, that understands itself.”
The integrity and wisdom of her principles lives on as the Green Belt movement has helped encourage many to protect their ancestral inheritance through protecting their environmental rights. It is only in knowing who we are and understanding our capabilities, can we begin to steer government policies in a direction that enriche the entire forest rather than a single tree.
*RIP to this inspiring and incredible woman. her courage, vision and strength of character served to catalyze a movement that will only grow and reverberate throughout the world, resounding loudest as it echoes amongst the trees and foliage she loved so deeply.