Only Bob Hunter could have pulled off this last death-defying international media coup. The 63-year-old daredevil environmentalist who died May 2 of prostate cancer touched off a planetary outpouring of tributes to his willingness to fight for life.
Several hundred people packed Hart House last Sunday, May 15, to hear speeches from family members, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, media magnate Moses Znaimer, long-time comrade captain Paul Watson, as well as letters from Prime Minister Paul Martin, Mayor David Miller and fellow enviro educator David Suzuki.
Hunter was known worldwide as the creative force behind Greenpeace, which now has three million members in 41 countries. His obits in the global media surpassed coverage granted any Canadian but former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, a darling of the international crowd because of the way he tweaked establishment noses.
The first time I saw Bob Hunter, he was merrily tidying rocks and boulders around the shoulders and neck of Brian Back. On Hunter's advice, Back was being buried upright, with only his head peeking up above the last yard of a newly built add-on to the Red Squirrel Road in Temagami. Construction crews were extending this lonely forest trail so loggers could get at the last old-growth pine forest in northeastern North America.
"I learned about this in Australia," Hunter said. I was there for my first eco action and arrest, the only other person in Hunter's age bracket among those blockading construction crews and police. "If any machines try to go forward, they'll crush his head and kill him," Hunter laughingly explained of his rock and human sculpture of Back, the leader of the Temagami Wilderness Society.
This was classic Hunter: the use of courage and a David and Goliath story line to detonate the mind bomb and illustrate the Power of One.
Hunter's way with archetypes tranformed him and his comrades into charismatic action heroes. In the same way, it turned whales, dolphins and seals into stately megafauna from the deeps who could embody nature's suffering and neglect. Perhaps only a boy raised in the 1950s by a mom deserted by her husband could have made this leap.
As I watch people swap Hunter stories on weblogs set up to honour him as their political father, I worry that he was also imprisoned by his archetypes. One of his favourites was that of the warrior, a prototype, alas, that's deep in the human soul. Borrowing from aboriginal myth, he tied this to the rainbow and created yet another magical metaphor that has touched a chord in billions. But Hunter was so much more rainbow than warrior. He was about being an eco-warrior the way yoga is about exercise and prayer is about speaking out loud. The actions were incidental props. Hunter the rainbowist knew about and preached quantum physics (everything is connected) and chaos theory (there is an order to the randomness of the universe) way back in the 1960s. And as all those colours could be linked across the rainbow spectrum, so could all creatures.
That's why he wrote in his 1979 book, Warriors Of The Rainbow, that "we must begin to inquire into the rights of rabbits and turnips, the rights of soil and swamp," and "come to terms with the politics of earth and sky, evolution and transformation, God and nature."
It took me a good 25 years to begin to catch up with Hunter. I was so out of it that when high school students across the country shut down their schools to protest the 1971 Amchitka nuclear test (the one Hunter protested by sailing a leaky trawler toward the test site) and sported Canadian flags at the head of their marches, I came to the conclusion that Canadian nationalism was a progressive political force, and thereby missed the point altogether. Ah, things were so uncomplicated in the old left.
Ever the hyper-rationalist, I held onto an over-politicized notion of eco-transformation until the mid-90s, when Hunter and I were among the few green militants to sign on for another round of the campaign to save the seals. Until people got the magic and sacredness of all life and stopped seeing the world as a resource, I finally realized, we weren't going anywhere.
Hunter and I shared the calling of activist-commentators, so we worked together throughout the successful Temagami struggle and the first efforts to win a hearing for green economics.
Our co-worker Gary Gallon, a friend of Hunter's from their Vancouver days, loved to joke about their old slogan: May a flower be your comrade. On hearing of Hunter's death, a fleet of whale rescuers off the coast of Scotland tossed wildflowers into the ocean in his memory. May those wildflowers be your comrades, Hunter.
Hunter always signed off his Citytv news reports with "Fight the power." I will cherish what I learned from him when I henceforth sign off, Take the power.