Practice meets protest at the Wellcome Museum
28 February, 2016: DANCE call on the Wellcome trust to divest from fossil fuels.
On the closing day of the Wellcome Trust’s exhibition on ‘Tibet’s Secret Temple’ members of DANCE, supported by members from BP or not BP, visited the Museum for an unannounced protest in London. In reference to the theme of the exhibition – ‘Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism’ – the protesters recalled the Buddha’s heartfelt wish for wellbeing and an end to suffering, and called on the Trust to divest it’s investment portfolio from fossil fuels.
Dr Julia Wallond, GP and member of DANCE, explained why the protest was relevant: “We feel that the Wellcome Trust’s support of the fossil fuel industry is contrary to its mission to improve health and wellbeing. The Trust has more than £370 million invested in BP, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, who are actively exploring new fossil fuel reserves and lobbying against governmental climate change regulation at a time when the majority of known reserves must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming. We are joining nearly 1,000 healthcare professionals from around the world who last year called upon the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuel companies”.
Yogaratna, a Buddhist practitioner from the Triratna tradition, gave a flavour of the action as it unfolded: “We walked slowly through the dimly-lit collection of esoteric Tibetan Buddhist artefacts, in single file, chanting om mani padme hum. Our strange behaviour attracted quite a lot of attention and we handed out many leaflets as we went along! We reached the Wellcome Collection foyer outside, unfurled a banner, and then took a few moments of silence, before chanting a text which rejoiced in the excellent work the Wellcome Trust does, but clearly pointing out that extracting fossil fuels is exacerbating climate change, and calling on the Trust to end its investments in fossil fuel corporations, now. We then stood in silence for a while, repeated the chant, stood in silence, and bowed to signify the end of the action, before beginning to speak with spectators and anyone wanting to talk and ask questions.”
As well have sharing conversations with spectators and visitors, the protesters also had the opportunity to meet with the curator of the exhibition and speak about their reasons for being there, drawing on the potential of dharma practice to support engagement in genuine open conversation which also has the power to be transformative (to all parties).
Yogaratna reflected further after the action on his involvement in activism as a form of practice as a Buddhist:
“In the end, for me, activism is about authenticity and happiness. As a Buddhist, I’d feel very uncomfortable if I was in a situation where something I regarded as dodgy was going on, but I didn’t try to engage with it. Speaking out nowadays, when the political-corporate establishment wants ethics to be an optional private pastime for consumers, feels like a very Buddhist thing to do. To me it feels very natural to be concerned about politics, economics, racial injustice and climate change – because they involve so much suffering. To fuse Buddhist practice with activism and peaceful protest makes me feel more alive, authentic, and happy. “
Read Yogaratna’s personal reflection on the practice of protest here.
Read more about the Guardian’s “Keep it in the Ground” campaign which has campaigned for the Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation to divest.
Add your voice to those asking for divestment by contacting the Wellcome Trust directly.