The Juarés Plaza in Montreuil, a small city to the east of Paris, is thronged with people, dancing, chanting and carrying bulky chairs above their heads. The procession winds out of the square to the applause of the audience. If I’d had time to count, it would have been 196 chair—all “requisitioned” from area banks—to represent the 196 countries at the COP21 negotiations. The action called attention to tax havens, “a black hole of global finance,” according to the organizers, and linked tax evasion to the failure to deliver on climate finance commitments.
This was one of a host of creative actions and interventions this weekend in Montreuil, where the Citizen’s Climate Summit and the World Village of Alternatives convened this weekend. The events brought together thousands of people from around the world to discuss climate solutions from the ground up.
False solutions called out at COP21
While COP21 takes place in a plywood conference center behind long security lines, the Citizen’s Climate Summit, organized by Climate Coalition 21, invited attendees with music, food and art. COP21 has its own “Solutions21” space open to the public, yet activists have criticized it for catering to corporate interests, such as the French bank BNP Paribas, which finances oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear development.
On a recent afternoon, private sector representatives in suits populated the Solutions21 pavilion. When a coalition of activists spoke out about the impacts of fracking and other technologies promoted at Solutions21, plainclothes police officers forcibly removed them the space. A video from The New Internationalist documenting the action is approaching 5 million views.
Artists with the group Brandalism have taken on this green-washing of COP21 by installing their own “advertisements,” mocking COP21’s corporate sponsors.
Bottom-up solutions shared in Montreuil
The Citizen’s Climate Summit and the Village of Alternatives are another branch of organizers’ responses to the corporate influence at COP21, and the French authorities’ protest ban.
The Coalition Climat 21, made up of 130 organizations including unions, human rights NGOs and anti-globalization groups, organized the Citizen’s Climate Summit. The Coalition was formed in 2014 to organize for the Paris COP. The Citizen’s Summit included panel discussions, film screenings and workshops over Saturday and Sunday.
Alternatiba organized the Village of Alternatives, modeled off previous events elsewhere in Europe and at COP talks. The Village was divided by themes of peasant and sustainable agriculture, reuse and recycling, eco-construction, local economies, fair trade, environmental education, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Farmers sold organic products, local artists spoke out through rap, theater, and reggae, and organizations shared information about their work with attendees.
At the Citizen’s Climate Summit, dozens of workshops covered issues from direct action land defense against an airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the fight against fracking in the U.S. and Latin America, and the impact of climate change of women. Intersectional and systemic analysis was emphasized, and participants came from diverse movements and backgrounds.
Speakers also pointed out that many activists from the Global South were denied their visa requests to come to France for the COP after the Nov. 13 attacks.
In a session organized by La Via Campesina, the global peasant movement, on climate migrants, Eberto Díaz of FENSUAGRO, a Colombian agricultural union, stressed the political roots of immigration. Díaz stated, “Our countries in Latin America are not poor, they have been impoverished, which forces migration.” Later in the panel, an undocumented Senegalese man explained how droughts and the imposition of rice plantations in place of subsistence agriculture forced him to migrate to France.
Despite the protest ban and militarization of the conference, events this weekend in Montreuil showed a glimpse of what a COP that truly represented youth, the Global South, indigenous people and women might look like.
Sent from Paris. Martha Pskowski is an independent journalist reporting on the Climate Change talks, COP21, in Paris for the Americas Program. She is a regular contributor to the Americas Program at www.americas.org
Photos by Martha Pskowski
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Just yesterday I read for the first time Christopher Hitchens’s book about the Clintons, and I realized what people mean when they say that we have a one-party system in the U.S. Has the time come for a truly alternative approach to society’s problems? I don’t know. But I am glad that people younger and stronger than myself are looking in that direction.
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