One is a former Vietnam veteran and Transcendental Meditator; the other was a social justice and women's rights campaigner from Kenya who was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Yet both had an abiding passion and concern. They both feared the collapse of the world's ecosystems and the advent of global warming, and both found an answer to it: They planted trees. Millions of them. David Kidd planted twelve million trees throughout the United States as part of his American Free Tree program. Wangari Maathai planted forty million trees throughout Kenya with the Green Belt Movement, her grassroots environmental and civil rights movement that not only reforested whole swathes of her country but was instrumental in overturning the corrupt regime that ruled Kenya for twenty-five years.
Kidd and Maathai were both Arbor Day Foundation award winners and both understood that planting trees didn't have to be left to the experts. Anyone could do it. They also knew that something happens when you plant a tree: it stimulates a reverence for, and love of, the planet that can drive not only you, but everyone involved with your ideals, to work harder for their community, their county, their state, their country, and beyond that for the planet as a whole. You can visit each of their websites, linked with their names at the beginning of this entry, to support their work.
In Growing America, David Kidd reveals the secrets behind effective community organizing and how to transform the desolate and polluted corners, medians, and sidings of the US into green and productive land. In The Green Belt Movement, Wangari Maathai reveals the struggles and triumphs of her campaign to reforest Kenya and how you can start your own Green Belt Movement campaign. Both books save trees as well. They are published, like many Lantern Books, on at least fifty percent post-consumer waste, chlorine-free, recycled paper!
Wangari will never die. Kenyans invoke her name every day when they walk through Uhuru Park and Karura Forest—green spaces that she fiercely fought to protect. When women feel oppressed by patriarchy and chauvinism the spirit of Wangari strengthens them. When the world does get round to seriously addressing climate change, it will be because Wangari strengthened the voice for action. And so she will live on forever.
Cora Weiss worked for the organization that brought Wangari Maathai to the United States fifty-one years ago, an event that changed both of their lives. The following is an excerpt. You can read her full remembrance at the Green Belt Movement website's commiserations page.
I loved Wangari. I admired her brilliance, her dedication to making this a safer, saner, more peaceful, and healthier world. I loved her laughter, and her wardrobe! Wangari worked with women who had more in common than conflict. They needed to prevent erosion so they could grow crops and also needed to be heard at decision-making tables . . . Wangari was a role model for all young women and men alike who refuse to be victims of violence or other abuses of human rights and want a safer saner world. The world needs Wangaris in every country. Thank you, sister. Yours was a life beautifully and courageously lived.
The late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate meant a great deal to many people. In the next few days, I hope to give readers a taste of how much she impacted people's lives.
My dear Nobelist Wangari,
Your battles at Freedom Corner, at Karura Forest, at [the] Mau [Forest], at Mt. Kenya, and deep in remote villages fighting besides the women and youth of Kenya and Africa for freedom, for a green world, have helped shape my destiny, and are shaping the destiny of my daughter, who adores your deeds beyond imagination.
You have fought dictatorship all your life—from the family level to the national to the international. You have fought political oppression and environmental oppression. And your fight has touched and changed not only Kenya, but the entire world.
I am a Kenyan living in Haiti. About an hour ago I went into a shop in Port au Prince on my way from the office to my residence. The shop owner, who knows I am a Kenyan, had a strange greeting for me today. Instead of the usual niceties, he went straight on to say something that nearly threw me off balance. "I love Wangari Maathai." He hesitated, peering at me: "I love to plant trees . . . with my own hands. I do it because of my love for Wangari."
I did not ask him why he was saying that to me, today. Obviously, being your staunch follower, I launched into extolling your virtues and the change you have brought to Kenya, to the world. I had not the remotest idea that you were dead. Not until I got to my residence and into my private email!
I can't believe what I am reading. How could you die, Wangari, when the freedom you fought for so much in Kenya is now here? How could you die, when Mt. Kenya and Mau and the others are turning green again? How? No. You will never die, not in mine nor my daughter's mind!
I first came across Professor Maathai in 1998, when she was interviewed by Bill Moyers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, as part of the closing session of the Forum on Religion and Ecology's conferences on the different spiritual traditions and their relationship with the environment. In 2001, my partner Mia MacDonald and I were going to Kenya with a human development organization, and my colleague Gene Gollogly suggested that I ask Professor Maathai whether she had a manuscript that Lantern might publish.
When we arrived in Nairobi, we contacted Professor Maathai and she met us at the Stanley Hotel with a friend who turned out to be the head of the Green Party in Kenya. "Prof," as she liked to be called, was at once intimidating and very friendly, and had a manuscript in her hand. I offered to edit it for free and then, if she was interested, to print it and distribute it in the United States, and make it available for her to sell when she came to the U.S.
This book was The Green Belt Movement. In the interim, Mia and I urged her to consider writing her autobiography, since, we argued, people needed to know the outlines of an extraordinary life fighting for democratic space, environmental protection, and human rights. We told Prof that we knew she had no time, but that we would be willing to record her whenever she came to the United States (or we go to Kenya) and build up a manuscript that way. Touchingly, Prof expressed skepticism that anyone would be interested.
This planet is the only home we've got, and we need to protect it. We can't live without it and we're destroying it thoughtlessly. All of us want to make a difference, but we're often overwhelmed by the task ahead of us, or don't know how to begin. A living example of how one person can make a difference is Wangari Maathai. Thirty years ago, she began planting trees and changed the face of Kenya, becoming, in 2004, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The Green Belt Movement is a record of her achievements and a primer on setting up your own organization. It is also, however, a testament to her achievements as a woman of peace, seeding not only the means whereby we can literally keep our planet alive but also providing hope and possibility to the world's poorest.
It's not an obvious connection, but Wear Pact is offering to plant 20 trees through the Green Belt Movement, run by Lantern author Wangari Maathai, for every piece of underwear that you buy from their site. You can buy patterned or plain, and there are men's and women's styles. The underwear is "responsibly manufactured" in Turkey, and vegan. So, I just bought two pairs, and thought you might be interested in doing the same. What more is there to say?
Congratulations to Nobel Laureate, environmentalist, and Lantern author Wangari Maathai, sometimes known as Mama Miti or "Mother of the Trees," on becoming a grandmother for the first time. Wangari's daughter, Wanjira, and her husband Lars welcomed Ruth Wangari into the world on July 24th. Ruth weighed eight pounds, and mother and daughter are doing well.
During her visit to the United States to promote her book The Challenge for Africa, Lantern author and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai spent a few days in Calistoga, California, where Lantern had the good fortune to catch up with her. In this video, made in collaboration with The Green Belt Movement, Prof. Maathai talks about the Billion Tree Campaign campaign, which has so far planted over a billion trees, had two billion more pledged, and aims to plant seven billion in total by December 2009.
During her visit to the United States to promote her book The Challenge for Africa, Lantern author and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai spent a few days in Calistoga, California, where Lantern had the good fortune to catch up with her. In this video, made in collaboration with The Green Belt Movement, Prof. Maathai talks about the mottainai campaign, an attempt to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic bags throughout Kenya.
Lantern author Professor Wangari Maathai has a new book out. Entitled The Challenge for Africa, the book aims to provide a (welcome) contrast to the barrage of voices on Africa that come from white, non-African, men (Bono, Bob Geldof, Nicholas Kristof, Jeffrey Sachs, William Easterly, Paul Collier, et al.). In the book, Prof. looks at the legacies of colonialism, failed leadership post-Independence, and the culture of dependency caused by unfair trade rules, poorly targeted aid, and corruption from the top to the bottom and shows how they have held Africa back.
Characteristically, she advocates for a grassroots revival, and offers a clarion call for individuals of character and integrity to lead Africa to self-determination and self-confidence. It's a powerful and prophetic book, and it offers a (sadly) all-too-rare perspective: that of an African, who still lives in Africa, and knows and loves her continent enough to tell the unvarnished truth.
Things are at an impasse politically between President Mwai Kibaki and prime minister-designate Raila Odinga over the size and composition of the Kenyan cabinet. Ever since former UN secretary general Kofi Annan brokered a peace deal that brought to an end weeks of violence that followed the disputed December 2007 elections, citizens had hoped that the two leaders would work together to create a coalition government that would start governing and repair the considerable damage to peoples' lives and Kenya's reputation and economy. Unfortunately, Kenyan politics for decades has been marked by people doing their own business rather than the people's, and enriching themselves rather than their citizens.
In her autobiography Unbowed, Wangari Maathai mentions the several times that her life was threatened during the early 1990s when the government was out to get her for her outspoken support of democracy and against thuggishness.
In the wake of the contested 2007 elections, her life is once more being threatened. This time, the would-be assassins, who come from the Mungiki criminal gang have texted three messages to her cellphone promising that if she does not stop criticizing the government of her fellow Kikuyu, President Mwai Kibaki, she will be killed.
In Unbowed, Prof. Maathai thanks the international community and the pressure groups for spreading the word about threats against her life, since, she believes, it was international pressure and awareness that saved her from harm. While there's no evidence the government is behind the Mungiki threats, the situation is grave. Readers are invited to visit the Amnesty International site to express their support for Wangari and urge the authorities to stop Mungiki before it's too late.