Memorial Day is a day when we remember those who sacrificed. Usually this means people who died in battle in order to preserve freedom and individual rights against those who would seek to quash them. And that’s as it should be. American values are forged on the anvil of freedom of expression and tolerance; “Liberty or death”, as Patrick Henry proclaimed.
Memorial Day; or as it was originally known, Decoration Day, was started after the Civil War to honour soldiers who died in military service. People would visit grave sites of soldiers and decorate them and contemplate what their sacrifice meant to them personally.
But what of those who didn’t die in battle? There are certainly those who engaged in peaceful exploits and paid the ultimate price that deserve to be remembered. Reverend Martin Luther King, for example. Mohandas Gandhi, perhaps. Do they not deserve to be recognized as lending voice to our existence on a day when we remember why we exist?
This particular Memorial Day I wanted to offer recognition to some ordinary people who were killed defending something they believed in; the South American rain forests. Earlier this week, environmentalist Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria were murdered by gunmen hired by logging companies who were illegally cutting down protected rain forest lands. And it hasn’t stopped there. Another Activist was gunned down this past week.
On Saturday, police confirmed that yet another rural activist was killed: Adelino Ramos, a land reform leader in the Amazon state of Rondonia, which borders Bolivia. Like the Silvas, he also denounced those who illegally cut the rain forest.
He was shot by a gunman or gunmen Friday morning. Fifteen years ago, he survived one of the deadliest land conflicts in Brazil, when police killed 10 of the so-called landless activists in an encampment on land they had occupied.
Three more names tacked onto an ever-growing list of more than 1,150 rural activists who have been slain in land conflicts across Brazil in the past 20 years, murders mostly carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence those who protest illegal cutting in the forest.
Why should you care about this? The Amazon rain forest is the last carbon sink left in the world. Those trees filter and cleanse the atmosphere of this planet; the very air you are breathing right now. Additionally, the rain forest is one of the last oases that provide diverse a bio-diversity of plants and animals with potential pharmaceutical properties that could be beneficial to fighting diseases.
Now activists are being regularly gunned down for cheap lumber and land for cattle grazing or soybean production not to mention the harvesting from locals for their survival. These activists are dying so that we can continue breathing.
Peaceful warriors need to be remembered as well for it is one thing to make the ultimate sacrifice for an ideal, yet it is quite another to make it for our very existence.
- Third Environmental Activist Murdered This Week (huffingtonpost.com)
- Like many before, Amazon activists silenced by gun (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Dot Earth: Another Forest Defender Falls in the Amazon (dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com)