Campaigning for Climate Justice at COP21

 For the last fortnight the COP21 climate summit has taken place in Paris. Alongside the official event, campaigners for climate justice took to the streets in a Paris still under a ‘State of Emergency’ following the murders last month. Three rs21 members –  Sam O’Brien, John Walker and Colin Barker who were in Paris report on the events.
Giant inflatable cobblestones created by ‘Tools for Action’ on the demonstration in Paris. Photo: Tools for Action

Sam O’Brien reports on Saturday’s demonstration

At 11am on Saturday the robocops were out in force on the Avenue de la Grand Armee. This was the rallying point for a 10,000 strong red lines climate justice demonstration. The road was blocked at both ends with police vans. Everyone approaching the rallying point was searched. As thousands of people predominantly young began to gather wearing red ribbons, red hats, red trousers it wasnt clear how things would go but the signs were not good. Protest organisers had had their houses raided and been placed under house arrest in the weeks leading up to the talks. All demonstrations had initially been banned under the state of emergency

I saw a small group of men gather just to the side of us all wearing black. It turned out they were undercover police badly disguised as anarchist protesters. The gas canisters in their back pockets kind of gave them away.

The protest on the Grand Armee was determined, loud and joyful. An artist had designed huge silver and red inflatable blocks. These were bounced backwards and forwards across the whole length of the protest. Two long sheets of cloth were held over the heads of lines of demonstrators chanting “We are unstoppable. Another World is possible”.

We marched slowly to the bottom of the street away from the Arc de Triomphe coming to a halt as the front of the demo approached the police lines. There we stayed. It seemed that although we were allowed to assemble we would not be allowed to march. Maybe it would be a victory that such a large number of people had defied  the ban on protests.

Then something strange happened. The police allowed people to disperse moving to the side of their line of vans. This turned into a march along the streets towards the Eiffel Tower, the site of an officially sanctioned protest. The marchers then began to take to the road. Soon you had thousands of protesters chanting and marching along the streets of Paris bouncing the massive silver inflatable blocks along with them.

When we arrived at the Eiffel Tower there was a sit down protest in the street.

Most of the chanting was in English “What do we want? Climate Justice? When do we want it now?” “This is what democracy look like!”. Perhaps this reflected the strong international presence on the protest relative to the size of the mobilisation from Paris itself.

The French left it seems mobilised mostly under the banner of ATTAC or the CGT. Overall the union presence was small relative to the size of the protest. Maybe this was partly explained by the fact that the unions originally put their efforts into mobilising for the protest on 29th November which was then banned.

This protest was important not just because it was a mass exercise in democracy in defiance of the ban but principally because the COP agreement is a con as Jonathan Neale has written on his blog.​

The voices exposing the smug complacency of governments and corporations must be heard now more than ever.

Having cycled from London to Paris with 130 others, John Walker, reports on Friday and Saturday

Saturday evening and everyone is tired. For some people the last two days have been very busy. Others have taken this more leisurely.

I didn’t get up very early on Friday morning. For the first time since Saturday I didn’t have to get up early and cycle away, but even a nine-hour sleep didn’t fully refresh me. Still bleary-eyed after breakfast I joined others to cycle down to ZAC – the Zone d’Action pour Le Climat – the building being used by the coalition as the h.q. for the Climate Games and other actions around Paris. It wasn’t far to cycle – less than ten minutes – through the 10th arrondissement
Once there, we were invited to join in an action. A group were planning to take action at Volkswagon showroom as it happened. The purpose of the action was to demand that VW start to produce bikes. It involved a group of people entering to ask about buying a bike, some more who were going to bares their bums in the window (with the slogan “low emissions my ass” printed across them, one letter per cheek) and then two other groups to rush in. I was in one of these later groups.
Unfortunately, the VW manager thought quickly, or possibly had a contingency plans in operation. As soon as the action started he closed the security shutters and called the police. As soon as he announced this all the climate activists made for the exit and got out, just as the security shutter was coming down. Our group arrived there just at this point.
So after that, we cycled back to ZAC. This was a large building with a number of meeting rooms and halls. It was, however, less buzzy than I thought it would be, less sense of action going on. Most people awe wandering around looking at the various displays and so forth that had been set up.
In the afternoon there was a briefing about the red line action that was to be taken on Saturday. This would involve us lining up along the side of the Avenue de la Grande Armee between the Porte Maillot and the Arc de Triomphe, carrying red flowers and red umbrellas. These were distributed to all those at the briefing. The plan was that at a signal – a blast on a foghorn – we were to unfurl the red umbrellas, show the flowers, display anything else red and step into the road. At the second blast on the foghorn we were to hold a two-minute silence for the climate dead. A third blast on a foghorn would signal the end of the two minutes.
I felt very tired after the briefing, and there didn’t seem to be anything excitingly going on so I left.
In the morning I forwent participation in a Critical Mass cycle – paradoxically the very event that had attracted me to come to Paris in the first place – in order to oversleep again. Another nine-hour sleep left me a great deal better this time.
rs21 members had agreed to meet up at Argentine metro, halfway along the Avenue de la Grand Armee. However things didn’t quite work out as planned, except perhaps for the authorities.
For a start, the police, having agreed to permit the demonstration, then blocked off the Grande Armee at each end. So once demonstrators arrived we were able to spread out across the road. Secondly, there were so many people that rs21 members didn’t find one another straightaway. After handing out the rs21 leaflet on climate change for a few minutes I bumped into Pete Cannell, who was with a couple of other people from Edinburgh.
We chatted for a while and handed out leaflets as the demonstration grew in size. By midday, when the first foghorn was to sound, the demonstration had filled the Avenue and it was clear that most people did not know what was to happen except they were to show red. The foghorns sounded one after the other while the demonstrators continue chanting, singing and dancing.
Pete and I continued walking up towards the Arc de Triomphe, bumping into Nick and Tabitha walking in the same direction. After we reached the line of CRS between the demonstration and the Arc de Triomphe we turned around and came across Jonathan. Nancy, Bettina, Hazel and Stephen, all participating in holding one of the long red sheets. We chatted for a while then broke up. Bettina, Hazel, Stephen and I went looking for a place to have a cup of something to drink. We bumped into one of the cyclists, who came from Carlisle and who knew Hazel and Stephen. After coffee and tea the others went off to another action at the Eiffel Tower.
I hung around, looking on as the demonstrators slowly dispersed, handing out leaflets to those still dancing to music and just chatting to friends.
I watched as the CRS slowly cleared the Avenue. This was done in a totally non-aggressive way. The line of police at the Arc de Triomphe walked slowly down towards the Porte Mailllot, waiting until each section of road in front of them had been voluntarily vacated. The line of police was followed by a line of police vans stretching across the road, preventing anyone from popping behind the police line. Once they reached the Porte Maillot and all the demonstrators had left the road, they opened it up to traffic once again.
As you looked down the Avenue de la Grande Armee through the Porte Maillot you see the skyscrapers of the financial district. They were still there, unaffected by what had happened.

Colin Barker however had a different experience:

My experience of the latter part of John’s story was quite different. He missed, I think, the *victory* that the demonstrators on the Avenue de la Grande Armee won. The reason the big demo gradually “dispersed” in John’s story is that at the end of the Avenue away from the Arc de Triomphe the cops finally allowed everyone to MARCH THROUGH THE STREETS to the Eiffel Tower. Which we did, some thousands of us, with a terrific amount of festive noise, the inflated cobblestones bouncing along the line of march. The one downside for me was that the “lingua franca” of the demonstration was, of all things, English – that was the only language we heard in the section we were marching with. I saw no signs or symbols indicating the presence of any section of the Francophone left. (I realise I didn’t see the whole demonstration, so could well have missed something significant.) But anyway the French state blinked…


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