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November 2004
Editor’s Note: Wangari, We’re Listening!
By Catherine Clyne

Last month the Nobel Prize committee upset all expectations and announced their decision to award this year’s peace prize to Kenya’s Dr. Wangari Maathai, tree-planter, environmentalist, women’s rights activist, and minister in Parliament [see “The Tree Ambassador,” the Satya Interview in June/July 2004].

“ I didn’t know anyone was listening” a teary-eyed unbelieving Maathai said to long-time Satya contributor Mia MacDonald, who was in the car with Wangari when she got the call from Oslo.

Along with the world’s most prestigious peace prize being awarded for the first time to an African woman—who has been beaten and jailed for her work—there are a few other things to take note of this holiday season. Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”—the star-studded anthem spearheaded by Bob Geldof 20 years ago to relieve the abominable famine of Ethiopia—has been resurrected and re-recorded by celebrities of this generation for Christmas 2004. And of course there’s Bono and the visible work he does to relieve debt and curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. I’m wary to bestow so much hope on rock stars, but like them, I’m part of the Live Aid generation, where it’s possible for art and popular culture to raise awareness and try to relieve suffering in this world.

What if, instead of cars, Oprah gave everyone trees? Instead of shouting, “Everybody gets a car!” and handing out boxes containing a set of car keys to each audience member, what if Oprah were jumping up and down chanting, “Everybody plant a tree! Everybody plant a tree!” and dished out the seedlings for them to do so? Trees in Africa. Trees in Chicago’s south side. If just a tiny fraction of Americans were so inspired—what a green, green world we could be!

Let’s all make the connections this holiday season. Aside from gift-giving and the birth of Jesus, what do people most associate with Christmas? Trees. Which gives us pause: this is a moment for us to dare to dream along with Dr. Maathai. To celebrate, Maathai—who, with the Green Belt Movement, has planted 30 million trees—urges people to “plant a tree. Imagine the millions we can plant around the world.”

Indeed. In these dark post-election times, the recognition of Wangari’s efforts is something to be very inspired by. Just imagine. I urge everyone, rather than erect a dying fir tree in your home this Christmas, plant a tree; or donate to the Green Belt Movement and have a tree planted in Africa—or both.

Years ago, Peter Gabriel wrote a song inspired by the actions of slain South African activist Steve Biko, and the words still ring true: “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire. Once the flame begins to catch the wind will blow it higher.” Wangari’s our candle. It’s up to us to fan the flames.

Wangari, we hear you. And we’re all right there with you.

To donate to the Green Belt Movement and learn more, contact The Marion Institute at or (508) 748-0816, or visit



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