Being Peaceful Change
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Peaceful change starts within us and grows incrementally from where we are. Our social and physical location will influence the problems we see and the solutions we can imagine. We must “think globally and act locally” as did Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai (1940–2011).
Maathai devoted herself to environmental and democratic reform in her native Kenya.
As a young academic biologist at the University of Nairobi in the 1970s . . . Maathai grew concerned about the environmental devastation created in Nairobi by widespread deforestation. She recognized that a massive replanting program could both save the land and provide a source of income for Nairobi’s poor. So in 1977 she founded a small local organization that paid Nairobi women to plant trees. The organization soon grew into a nationwide and then pan-African one known as the Greenbelt Movement. Since its inception, the movement has planted upwards of forty million trees in Africa and provided sources of income for nearly one million women.
The genius of Maathai’s vision was its holistic awareness of the linkage between environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. . . . 
In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wangari Maathai said,
[The Green Belt Movement] participants discover that they must be part of the solutions. They realize their hidden potential and are empowered to overcome inertia and take action. They come to recognize that they are the primary custodians and beneficiaries of the environment that sustains them.
Entire communities also come to understand that while it is necessary to hold their governments accountable, it is equally important that in their own relationships with each other, they exemplify the leadership values they wish to see in their own leaders, namely justice, integrity and trust.
Although initially the Green Belt Movement’s tree planting activities did not address issues of democracy and peace, it soon became clear that responsible governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space. Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilized to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement. . . .
Through the Green Belt Movement, thousands of ordinary citizens were mobilized and empowered to take action and effect change. . . . They learned to overcome fear and a sense of helplessness and moved to defend democratic rights.
In time, the tree also became a symbol for peace and conflict resolution. . . .
It is 30 years since we started this work. Activities that devastate the environment and societies continue unabated. Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own—indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.
In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.
That time is now. 
 Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell, Blessed Peacemakers: 365 Extraordinary People Who Changed the World (Cascade Books: 2013), 91.
 Wangari Maathai, Nobel Lecture, Oslo, Norway (December 10, 2004). Transcript available at https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2004/maathai/26050-wangari-maathai-nobel-lecture-2004/