You turn to us for voices you won't hear anywhere else.

Sign up for Democracy Now!'s Daily Digest to get our latest headlines and stories delivered to your inbox every day.

Marshall Islands Poet to the U.N. Climate Summit: “Tell Them We are Nothing Without Our Islands”

StoryDecember 02, 2015
Watch Full Show
Media Options

The Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA), an organization that uses art to inspire social change, brought a delegation of poets from around the world to Paris to highlight the impacts of climate change and inspire climate action. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet and climate activist from the Marshall Islands, led the group. She shared a poem at a protest at COP21 called “Tell Them,” calling for fossil fuel divestment.

Related Story

StoryNov 04, 2021Meet the Climate Lawyer Who Helped Write 2015 Paris Agreement & Superglued Herself at Shell’s U.K. HQ
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet and climate activist from the Marshall Islands. Just before the show, she shared a poem. She was standing in front of a fake Eiffel Tower that’s been erected here that is built from the chairs, the small wooden chairs, of the time that the Eiffel Tower was built. She recited this poem at the protest calling for fossil fuel divestment.

KATHY JETNIL-KIJINER: I am definitely a supporter of the divestment movement. I teach at the College of the Marshall Islands, the first college in the Micronesia to divest. So, even though we are a small college, even though we don’t even have as much funds as some of these bigger institutions, we took the step to divest. And the reason was because it depends on our survival. We will do everything we can to save our islands. And so, yeah, so I’ll be sharing a poem about the beauty of our islands and what we want the world to know, which is that we shouldn’t have to leave and that we shouldn’t have to move from our islands because of the flooding. So this is a poem I wrote, and it’s called “Tell Them.”

I prepared the package
for my friends in the States
first the dangling earrings woven
into half moons black pearls glinting
like an eye in a storm of tight spirals
second the baskets
sturdy, also woven
brown cowry shells shiny
intricate mandalas
shaped by calloused fingers
Inside the basket
I write a message:

Wear these earrings
to parties
to your classes and meetings
to the corner store, the grocery store
and while riding the bus
Store jewelry, incense, copper coins
and curling letters like this one
in this basket
and when others ask you
where you got this
you tell them

they’re from the Marshall Islands

show them where it is on a map
tell them we are a proud people
toasted dark brown as the carved ribs
of a tree stump
tell them we are descendants
of the finest navigators in the world
tell them our islands were dropped
from a basket
carried by a giant
tell them we are the hollow hulls
of canoes as fast as the wind
slicing through the pacific sea
we are wood shavings
and drying pandanus leaves
and sticky bwiros at kemems
tell them we are sweet harmonies
of mothers aunties sisters
songs late into night
tell them we are whispered prayers
tell them we are little girls with braids
cartwheeling beneath the rain
we are shards of broken beer bottles
burrowed beneath fine white sand
we are children flinging
like rubber bands
across a road clogged with chugging cars
tell them
we only have one road

and after all this
you tell them about the water
how we have seen it rising
flooding across our cemeteries
gushing over our sea walls
and crashing against our homes
tell them what it’s like
to see the entire ocean level with the land
tell them
we are afraid
tell them we don’t know
of the politics
or the science
but tell them we see
what’s in our own backyard
tell them some of us
are old fishermen who believe that God
made us a promise
tell them some of us
are a little bit more skeptical
but most importantly you tell them
that we don’t want to leave
we’ve never wanted to leave
and that we
are nothing without our islands.

Thank you. And this is why I support the divestment campaign to support our islands, so that we don’t have to leave from our islands, so that we can do whatever we can to save our islands. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet and climate activist from the Marshall Islands, reciting her poem in front of an Eiffel Tower reproduction made from the bistro chairs of the time that Eiffel Tower was built.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

Meet the Climate Lawyer Who Helped Write 2015 Paris Agreement & Superglued Herself at Shell’s U.K. HQ

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation