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You'd walk by it without a thought, the nondescript warehouse that serves as Greenpeace Canada's best-kept secret.
The Batcave of activism on Busy Street, a laneway really, in the Queen-Logan area is, according to the org's exec director, Bruce Cox, "ground zero for creative confrontation."
Last Thursday, March 14, some of the principal heavyweights behind Greenpeace's iconically public direct actions threw its doors open to key supporters, allowing them to access this rather significant garage for the first time ever.
It was a way of saying thank you. In fiscal 2011, contributions from donors topped $9.5 million in Canada, and there wasn't a tax receipt in sight. The org prefers to safeguard its independence by not playing the charitable donation game.
The only outsiders to have previously penetrated this site, acquired in 2008, have been police and officers from CSIS - on at least five separate occasions during the first 12 months alone, not to mention instances of police infiltration in the years since.
It's here that activists keep the direct action mechanism on constant standby, whether that means painting signs and banners, keeping first aid kits fully stocked, radios and GPS units charged, or simply training in order to keep rope-climbing muscles primed and nimble.
Some of the diehards are here tonight, like those arrested on Parliament Hill in December 2009, when Greenpeacers slipped past RCMP and security, climbed scaffolds and unfurled anti-climate change banners across the West and Centre Blocks. They remained on site all morning, some dangling from harnesses above bemused onlookers, until every last one was in handcuffs.
At civil disobedience central, you can see the stockpiles of ropes, banners and costumes used in the field. Near the entrance sits the organization's red Zodiac watercraft, and at rest against the rafters hovers the white-on-green Zeppelinesque Greenpeace balloon seen floating above protests.
Throughout the space, which seems as much a shrine to action as a campaign HQ, placards speak to a range of issues: tar sands, nuclear power and weapons proliferation, justice for First Nations and so on. They hang from walls or sit half-finished on their easels. A sewing machine sign reads, "Screenprinting is not a crime."
"We have a social justice perspective," Cox reminds the assembled, referring to the group's arguably quixotic (and to detractors seditious) activities. "We aren't Ducks Unlimited."
What you get listening to members speak is that Greenpeace's role in Canadian society has assumed a different, considerably graver meaning in the Harper era. It seems the group now sees itself as much more than muckrakers for conscientious environmentalism and is positioning itself as a heavier ideological counterweight to the Conservatives.
Cox remarks that it's not enough to set carbon reduction standards. Change, he said, must be "grounded in justice and in equity. Otherwise, it won't stand the test of time."
With the state taking an aggressive stance against its eco detractors - a January 2012 RCMP report referred to "a growing radicalized environmentalist faction" - activists seem aware that their work will mean much more as the skies darken, both politically and climatologically.
The org's Christy Ferguson, spokesperson for that 2009 climbing mission, sketches out a global civilization rocketing past the climate point of no return. The Arctic sea ice is halved, she says. By 2030 it could be gone altogether. "Instead of acting to end the crisis," she says, oil companies are revving to squeeze more profits out of it.
In response, Greenpeace has had a presence on the front lines of almost every issue central to climate change, though it's kept its status as a research and inspirational locus rather than an organizing machine.
At an Idle No More rally in Edmonton on January 11, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a climate and energy campaigner with the group, spoke to the need for climate activism to embrace traditional First Nations principles.
"We must choose to fight for a way of life that is sustainable for all," she said. "It is our responsibility to protect the homelands."
From Ferguson one gets the unspoken sense that from now on it's all direct action all the time, the severity of current events dictating the tactics.
"[It's] going to be a long fight," she says. "We can't wait for politicians or corporations to lead the way on this."