My first two recaps on the Paris Climate demos looked at the art build space and various creative resistance projects that took place leading up to D12 – the December 12th day of civil disobedience. This post looks at D12 and the art that was carried in that action. D12 – from the start – was meant to showcase that the agreement decided upon at COP 21 would inevitably fall way short in confronting climate crisis and that people’s movement would be the one to assert the last word.
D12 had been planned for months but everything changed following the terrorist attacks in November. The French government banned demonstrations of two or more people and some NGO’s feared about the safety of demonstrators and the negative publicity that might arise by large-scale demos. The late November march that was expected to draw 400,000 people was cancelled – a decision that is receiving its share of criticism. D12 was not cancelled, but its original plans were altered – an action that sounded epic: a mass civil disobedience action whereby potentially 25,000-plus people would form a mass blockade around the COP21 conference center on the outskirts of Paris. This plan conjured up visions of the Nov. 30 action in Seattle in 1999 that blocked the WTO meeting. These plans were changed for significant reasons. For one, far less people were expected to take part in the action than prior, and more significantly, the neighborhood near the COP 21 conference center has a large Muslim population that was under intense scrutiny and police repression following the actions of a handful of extremists. Organizers of D12 decided that bringing more police presence into their community for D12 would be irresponsible and I commend them for their decision.
What transpired instead was a mass non-violent demonstration at a central Paris location – the central boulevard near the Arc de Triomphe. For most of us – myself included – we learned about the location of the D12 demo the day before the action. We also learned that the likelihood of arrest had been greatly reduced. I can only speculate on why this was: organizers being upfront with the police on the plans for the demo, the Paris police not wanting to deal with their jails being full of activists from around the world, the French government not wanting the bad publicity, or some combination of all three. Whatever the case, D12 shifted from a day of civil disobedience to a demo of 15,000 people that felt more like a celebration of the climate justice movement, than a tense standoff between activists and a police state. To me, it felt similar to the People’s Climate March in NYC in Sept, 2014. A day where activists strengthened their ranks and further galvanized their commitment to the movement. It also felt like one large photo opportunity – which is both positive and negative. It is positive for movements are engaged in the battle over public opinion and large demos create much needed media. This matters for it provides the opportunity for a movement to broadcast its message to the world in its own words. It is negative because climate chaos is a life-and-death issue and a demo that is safe and sanitized does not shut down business-as-usual. It does not use the tactic of escalation the way that direct action or a strike does. Perhaps – and hopefully – plans for May 2016 – a global action against the fossil fuel/extraction industry will up the ante. And in reality the demo in Paris was never meant to be “a last word.” It was the last word of a 10-day COP 21 conference. And it was one continuous step in the climate justice movement and a way to reassert zero confidence in world leaders and the economic system that has destabilized the planet and those who live on it.
As a day of action I was inspired by how jubilant the crowd was. I was inspired by the energy and how committed the younger generation appears to be to climate justice. I was less inspired by the diversity of the participants at D12 – if I compare it to the People’s Climate March. The organizers in New York for the PCM brought together an incredibly diverse coalition of people and front line communities were at the forefront of the demo. This seemed much less so in Paris, despite a small and powerful block of indigenous activists – largely from the Indigenous Environment Network (who also did a powerful action on the Seine River earlier in the week.) I may be generalizing or off base – since my time spent in Paris was short – but I left with the sense that climate justice organizers in the U.S. – despite the major obstacles that they face organizing in the U.S. with such mounting odds (the corporate culture, the oil and gas lobby, the U.S. Congress..) are much further along than they think – when one considers the coalitions that are being built. In the U.S. connecting climate justice to other movements – especially the Immigrant Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement – is taking root. In Paris, especially in D12, I did not see this as pronounced. I expected to see a major emphasis on immigrant rights, considering the refugee crisis in Europe, but this did not seem to be the case, at least from what I witnessed in my short time in Paris.
What I did see was a crowd of 15,000 people demonstrate near the Arc de Triomphe and then march – much to the ire of the Paris police – to the Eiffel Tower. I saw art everywhere. I saw the two beautiful 100 meter banners held by hundreds of people. I saw the power of the red line metaphor. I saw the Tools for Action inflatable sculptures become the life of the demo/party. I heard the music of marching bands. And I heard slogans chanted that inspire the soul. “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”
Here are some of the photos that I took. My post closes with the photo of the day – a photo by Mona Caron taken from high up on the Eiffel Tower of the beautiful banner that reads “It’s up to us to keep it in the ground.” I and many others at Jardin d’ Alice helped paint this banner under the arts organizing leadership of David Solnit and the message on that banner is important. D12 was simply one day. Today and the days that follow are the ones to organize, agitate, and build alternatives so that the words on that banner – and the many other powerful slogans carried in D12 – come to fruition.