It’s amazingly easy to be a green activist in South America, totally different from the tedious legal battles and constraints in Europe and USA. You can get on TV and radio anytime, and paint huge murals almost anywhere you want. These vast freedoms made my 14 years in Peru and Bolivia truly unique.
I lived with the rural poor, that 80% of the population who impact the forest in their daily lives. In contrast to most Indian tribes these “mestizos” don’t love nature, though they’re the invaders of the Amazon forest. Harboring a deep subconscious biophobia, they slash and burn impulsively. I was constantly appalled to see them hacking gorgeous flowering vines or torching breathtaking landscapes for no apparent reason.
That’s where green artists come in. Conscious art is incredibly influencial, even more powerful than guns or monetary grants there. When we formed eco teams, we got more volunteers than we can handle. Amazon youths love having something to do.
My house soon became a nature center of its own. We painted butterfly banners, stapled together educational coloring books, pecked out Bolivia’s first popular website in 1998, recorded for radio and filmed TV documentaries with nothing more than a household camcorder, an urgent message, and the many beautiful faces of the region.
Media access is very informal in the Andean countries. Whenever I spotted a radio tower in my path I’d usually step into the office to remind them of the need to inform the public of the harm of forest burning. They’d usually whisk me into a little room with a microphone and I’d go live.
Television was even more eager to air our message. We made VHS documentaries and offered them to local transmitters. These rural stations were always delighted to get something regional and relevant. No station ever declined our films, and they’d usually be aired the same evening at prime time. One station even asked us for 3 minute eco- spots to cover over irrelevant commercials that came with foreign soaps via their parabolic dish.
When I asked the mayor of a sleepy tourist town in Bolivia if I could cover the ugly political graffiti on the town’s walls with whitewash and eco-murals he gave us free reign with our brushes. We splashed floral sweeps across crowded market walls while nobody seemed to care or even notice. Giant roadside murals bloomed overnight proclaiming Bolivia’s world status in biodiversity. That word “biodiversidad” went from being an unknown to a household word in a matter of weeks. Massive rapid education.
When we passed a clinic we’d ask them for old old x-rays, cutting them into durable stencils that could land a rainbow-hued butterfly on a wall in 30 seconds, with letters below saying “Bolivia es Biodiversidad”. Whenever I found charcoal spilled on the road by vendors, I would fill the outer pocket of my backpack. While waiting in rural towns for trucks, the preferred transport of the poor, I’d doodle with charcoal on the pavement, handing pieces to bystanders, and finally waving from an open truck bed to a gaggle of exuberant artists on a vast swath of roadway covered with birds, frogs, monkeys, alligators, and the first faint heartbeats of a giant new culture revering nature.
An artistic revolution is needed in the Amazon and world greens must lead it. I was asked by TVU, one of Bolivia’s premier television stations, to do a program for kids every Saturday on ecology. The post is still open, I couldn’t.
Think about it. Who’s going to do it if passionate greens don’t? there’s little political will to protect nature in Amazon countries because politicians aren’t protectors of nature. Yet, absurdly, we leave the forests to them! Would you leave your life savings in the hands of neighborhood gangs? There is natural leadership and there is artificial leadership. Natural leadership is born of passion, it’s a leadership of love. One Brazilian minister, in a moment of candor, said donating money to forest protection thru the government “only increases the bureaucracy”
Cultures are born of ardor, not dollars. We are reminded that in Galileo’s time it was the other side, the establishment, the holy inquisition, which had the money (in tons of gold and silver coming from the new world), and THAT side, though awash with money, lost. Passion creates the future. If you’re passionate about a healthy sustainable rainforest, you were born to create the future and you will feel ecstatic doing it.
When Argentina’s top rock band, Rata Blanca, came to Bolivia, including footage of Greenpeace in action in one of their rock videos, I asked them at the press conference if we could hang our banners in back of the hall during the concert. They said no, they wanted them on stage. This is the stuff of peaceful revolutions.
Without this element, we won’t save the Amazon. Art carries the day. When Bolivia’s president visited the eco teams, all news cameras zoomed in on the artwork. Multiply this by 100 or 1000, and you have earth-changing events.
Latin Americans tend to live heart-based lives, while Northerners are more mind-based. Locals join you in the Amazon because of the enthusiasm, the carino you exude, not because they have strong opinions on ecology. Carino (carEENyo) means affection or human kindness and it’s king there. I often used humor, mime, or slapstick, but don’t lecture. They won’t be listening. The attention span among this 80% of the population is about 3 seconds, less for abstract concepts like global warming. Take your team to the river and swim. Mother Amazon yields a million perfect surfaces for artwork. Run thru the swarms of butterflies and trace hearts around every little seedling sprouting from the mud. Film it, put it to music, take your DVD to local TV. If we artists don’t all do this there will soon be no rainforest. Let’s bring 100 green artists to the Amazon before it’s too late.
by Daniel Dalai, Earthgardens founder
Daniel created local Currency of his own at age 12, carving steel dies and striking 1 gram silver, copper and gold "points" which he awarded to his high school classmates. While living in England, he founded Oxford Environmental Action in 1972 and has been working ever since to protect animals and forests which he calls sacred. An early ecologist, in 1968 he deplored the cutting of the forests in the newspaper he edited for his university in Oregon. Frustrated with the hegemony of main-stream media, he published a newspaper for the alternative communities "Islands of Enlightenment" in 1987 stating that true security comes from human affection, and the security of arms is false security. Within two weeks his house was raided by police: you may contact Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
and all his papers, manuscripts, and collection of ancient coins and Central Asian antiquities lost. Penniless, he found his way to South America to avoid years of legal battles he considers unworthy of human life and started the Sembradores in Bolivia. Presently he heads the EcoTeams in Central America and the Benevolent Way movement., ( this website features his photos and paintings.)
you may contact Daniel at email@example.com.
Rare early photo of the library in Daniel's childhood home. (shields painted by Daniel (age 12) for his father's door. There were no TVs, newspapers or radios in the house, just hundreds of books, allowing Daniel to develop without the social programming common in the 50s and 60s.