"We Deserve To Do More Than Just Survive": Marshall Islands Poet's Plea to the U.N. Climate Summit

September 26, 2014

We end today’s show with one of the most memorable speeches at the one-day United Nations climate summit this week. On Tuesday, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands read a poem to world leaders, written as a letter to her child. "Even though there are those hidden behind platinum titles who like to pretend that we don’t exist," she writes, "that the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Maldives and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and floods of Pakistan, Algeria, and Colombia and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves didn’t exist. Still there are those who see us hands reaching out."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And we end today’s show where it began. The largest climate march in history took place on Sunday, one of the largest political gatherings ever here. We’re going to end with one of the most memorable speeches at the U.N. climate summit that took place on Tuesday, with Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands reading her poem in the United Nations. It was a letter that she had written to her child.

KATHY JETNIL-KIJINER: dear matafele peinam,

you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles
you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha
you are thighs that are thunder, shrieks that are lightning
so excited for bananas, hugs and
our morning walks along the lagoon

dear matafele peinam,

i want to tell you about that lagoon
that lazy, lounging lagoon lounging against the sunrise

men say that one day

that lagoon will devour you

they say it will gnaw at the shoreline
chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees
gulp down rows of seawalls
and crunch through your island’s shattered bones

they say you, your daughter
and your granddaughter, too
will wander rootless
with only a passport to call home

dear matafele peinam,

don’t cry

mommy promises you

no one will come and devour you

no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas
no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals no blindfolded
bureaucracies gonna push
this mother ocean over
the edge

no one’s drowning, baby
no one’s moving
no one’s losing their homeland
no one’s becoming a climate change refugee

or should i say
no one else

to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea
and to the taro islanders of fiji
i take this moment
to apologize to you
we are drawing the line here

because we baby are going to fight
your mommy daddy
bubu jimma your country and your president too
we will all fight

and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles
who like to pretend that we don’t exist
who like to pretend that the marshall islands
typhoon haiyan in the philippines
floods of algeria, colombia, pakistan
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes and tidalwaves
didn’t exist

there are those
who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are canoes blocking coal ships
we are the radiance of solar villages
we are the fresh clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are teenagers blooming petitions
we are families biking, recycling, reusing
engineers building, dreaming, designing
artists painting, dancing, writing
and we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the streets
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

and they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
we deserve
to thrive

dear matafele peinam,

you are eyes heavy
with drowsy weight
so just close those eyes
and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands. For the whole poem, go to

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