Sunday, December 27, 2015


On “#D12” (Saturday 12/12/’15, the “overflow” day that became the last day of COP21) I headed down to the “Red Lines” rally near the Arc de Triomphe. According to and the various voices in the Coalition Climat this was meant to be a big day of civil disobedience to “have the last word” about the negotiations. So once the rally was sanctioned by the police and they cordoned off the road so we were out of sight of traffic in an approved “protester zone”, my heart sank as it appeared we had been out-maneuvered. A frustrated, fellow-minded friend described the scene as a “liberal clusterfuck” and I decided to follow him around in the hope that together we might manage to find something to salvage. I was slightly happier once we pushed past the police lines (which I think broke the “action agreement” we’d all previously agreed to) and started marching towards the Eiffel Tower.

Once we got close to the tower the inspirational Climate Angels took a “stand” by sitting down on a bridge and starting a sit-in. The police demanded the Angels move, yet they stayed and more and more people sat down. The plan was to sit there for as long as possible, but some of the NGO organizers took to the People’s Mic and tried to persuade people to abandon the sit-in and go a the pointless celebration under the Eiffel tower itself. An awkward struggle then ensued, with people on the mic sending alternating messages about whether to stay at the sit-in or whether to give up and go. Although people seemed reluctant to leave the bridge the manipulation was finally successful when someone claimed the “local French organizers” were asking us to leave the bridge, and it was sad to see an interesting action tactic get undermined by what appears to have been deception.

As people wandered down to the feel-good party I followed the Angels around the side of the tower where we were blocked by dozens of plainclothes police with their threats of violence. Being a smaller group we retreated, eventually finding another way under the Eiffel tower. I felt disappointed by how many people seemed to be celebrating the pathetic “agreement” the negotiators had failed us with (“worse than Copenhagen”). But then I heard about an unsanctioned climate justice march near the Belleville metro station and my heart lifted a little.

After racing across Paris I managed to emerge from the Metro just as the march was leaving. Around 500 people had taken to the streets and the atmosphere around this march felt more exciting—with the shop owners often cheering from their shops. These were the real grassroots local French organizers, and they were asserting the right to gather freely and march in the face of police oppression, since the French state had removed our rights with the phoney State of Emergency (the political agenda of crushing climate activism became clear when they allowed all the other mass-gatherings of people—sports, shopping, concerts—to continue).

The police didn’t take kindly to this march, yet when they tried to trap us by blocking the road in front of and behind us, we managed to find an escape through the grounds of a hospital, making our way to the canal. We made a run for a footbridge, and around 100 people made it over before the police arrived with pepper spray. I’d made it to the top of the bridge and turned around to watch as two people who were already paralyzed with agony were repeatedly pepper sprayed for about 15 more seconds—the brutality and dehumanization of the police was disgusting. I got my camera out and “click click click”:

As the police backed away I went down the bridge to help these two people—one of whom was obviously a journalist. After administering some water and helping them to the top of the bridge the police started to run up the steps towards us with a mean look in their eyes. Not wanting the same painful fate I fled, dodging some police on the other side and sprinting along the canal until I heard their pursuit fade away. I stopped to catch my breath, wash my eyes, and saw the police had surrounded around 150 people on the opposite bank. At that moment my buddy called me and so I started to tell her about my near-miss and the protesters being trapped. It was while I was on the phone that half a dozen police ran up to me and surprised me, forcing me down onto the ground and taking my phone and bag. They searched my possessions and questioned me, asking why I had run away from them. “Because the police were mercilessly pepper-spraying journalists and I didn’t want to experience needless pain,” I responded, and proceeded to ask them if they knew that the deal the governments had just signed at COP21 would lead to our extinction if people like us didn’t do anything about it. “I know,” said the policeman who was holding me captive. When I asked him why he’d grabbed me and why they were stopping us from getting this message out, he weakly dismissed my question saying “It’s just another night on the job.”

After twenty minutes or so the police picked up my bag and told me to follow. I passed several hundred cops, to whom I waved cheekily with a big grin on my face. The police gave me my bag back as they shoved me into the “kettle” of the other 150 trapped people, who gave me an applause as I joined them. The police told us we could choose to leave and be ID’d, and that the rest of us would be arrested. No one left, instead chanting “We all go together”, and after another couple of minutes the police came back and announced that they weren’t actually gonna arrest anyone and would let us go in groups of ten. It felt good to be holding the hands of my friend (from the start of the day) as we were led up the street.

In terms of how effective D12 was, I’m not actually sure that any of it did very much. Yes, the NGOs now have a new set of pretty pictures with which they can “build the movement” (I really hope some grassroots groups got to benefit from them too), and yes, the shopkeepers in the Belleville area may have gained a little hope. Yet what does the tactic of marching do? I’m not convinced it does much. Although there seems to be benefits gained when grassroots group collaborate, learn to work together, form alliances, and enact a “successful” project together, the D12 march didn’t appear to be organized by grassroots groups so I’m not convinced there was much benefit at all.

Perhaps it’s useful for activists to have a feel-good party when there’s nothing to feel good about. Perhaps it’s psychologically helpful to get out some rage and express our desire to not live in a police-state, even though we had no plan to make their oppression cost them (in the mind of the general public) and I never saw any media coverage about the Belleville march. Perhaps the D12 march and all the optimistic “we did it” lies (by the Heads of State, dutiful corporate media and NGOs) will help activists to avoid the kind of post-Copenhagen depression we saw in 2009, yet I’m also worried that the “we gained something (small)” messages that NGOs have been pushing is a dangerous form of delusion.

So what is effective? I believe there are many things, in many circumstances. Stay with me over the months ahead as I delve into some of the actions and communities in which I find hope, and find out with me what is working, why it’s working, and how we can make them spread...

The Spaces of Paris

After the “excitement” of the events at Place de la Republique on 29th November, COP21 began and I enjoyed the privilege of another two weeks in Paris. I owe a big shout-out to the 4 wonderful Parisians who collectively housed me during this time, and to Sylvie for making those connections for me. Thank you!

Here’s a few of the things that I spent my time doing.

The place I went to the most was Jardin D’Alice, or “Garden of Alice” (as in, Alice in Wonderland). This beautiful space is an artist’s squat that became the primary place where art was made during the COP. In the first week I mainly helped with the shields that the Indigenous Environmental Network were creating that said “Defend Protect Renew” (I didn’t get a pic but that’s the design). I also contributed to a bunch of other banners, including the 105 metre “It’s up to us to keep it in the ground” red line (below), as well as inflatables, arrows and several other creations.

Although making art was a big draw for me, the main reason I felt myself pulled back there was for the people. Each of the ten days I entered this space I discovered more and more fantastic, inspiring people. I met people from all over the world, each bringing their ideas and creativity. The space was rejuvenating and I felt at home there. I also attended several meetings there, largely of youth action planning meetings, and enjoyed many free/by donation vegan meals—big shoutout to the cooks who kept us fed!

I only went to “Le Bourget” once. This is where the COP negotiations were being held, and although I wasn’t allowed into the negotiations area there was an area where the public was welcome. I mostly felt drained in this space, where the (false) Solutions COP corporations companies had greenwashing stands (including a “EU China Trade Company” that didn’t mention climate in any of their text) and the NGOs seemed to be competing to show how wonderful they are (some of them are pretty cool). I joined a quiet protest (loud chanting wasn’t allowed), a die-in, and I put a canceled sign up and tweeted (pic) “I'm at the #COP21 right now and it looks like @SolutionsCOP21 is canceled?” The coolest thing I experienced there (and this was one of the coolest things I’ve seen all year) was a Peruvian indigenous woman who was telling a group of us about the work she’d been doing—how she’s using the celebration of the female orgasm as a tool to empower women and combat the sexist machismo culture that is rampant in Peru! I also received the colourful shawl from her that I’m wearing in this pic:

One night walking home I was mugged. Unexpected. But not wholly bad. Two guys grabbed my wallet, and as one took the money out the other tried to de-escalate, explaining that they would only take the money (€20 was all I had) and “weren’t normally this violent”. I used the opportunity to talk with them about how shit capitalist society is and the need to reject the system. After a police car drove by they asked me to walk with them, and although I accepted the cigarette they offered me as we walked I politely declined the crack pipe and took the opportunity to turn around and continue home.

Another night I got to see Thom Yorke, Patti Smith, Flea, Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and other artists and activists from around the world. It was good music and a good show. The next night I saw Aku Matu, an indigenous artist who touched me deeply with her powerful and vulnerable lyrics, and the night then turned into an incredible anarchist rave, followed by a bunch of us wandering the streets into the small hours of the morning, singing and dancing to French music accompanied by an accordion.

At Le Louvre art gallery there was an action to pressure the gallery to stop taking money from fossil fuel companies. There was a heavy police presence and they had set up a fence to search people as they got close. Somehow they detected that I might not be your average tourist and didn’t let me enter. So when those who had managed to get in put up their umbrellas that spelled out “Fossil Free Culture” I raised my umbrella in solidarity outside the fence. Instantly a dozen police surrounded me and physically forced my umbrella arm down, even as I tried to explain to them “but the (wintry) sun is so bright and my poor pale skin couldn’t take it. Please, the sun, it hurts, it hurts, I need shade.” They didn’t seem amused, yet wouldn’t tell me why I was surrounded and whether or not I was under arrest (for putting up an umbrella!). After letting me go they started harassing someone else so I started to film them. This forced accountability seemed to make them uncomfortable, so after stealing the person’s tiny penknife and letting that person go they again surrounded me and force-searched me in a pathetic attempt to intimidate me. They didn’t find my penknife. Losers.

The final event I went to in Paris was the Climate Games awards ceremony, where we watched and cheered for our favourite creative and fun videos of direct actions people had done over the previous two weeks. Their website has built up a fantastic database of creative direct actions, which I encourage people to use when they’re looking for ideas for their own actions. The night turned into another dance party, where the band Filastine played and we danced the night away.

Thank you, Paris, for the space to create, make connections and dance.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Childhood Home is now on the Frontlines against Fracking

I grew up in a sleepy town called Frodsham. This town of 10,000 people lies within the county of Cheshire, a beautiful rural county with rolling fields, biodiverse hedgerows, rich forests and a lot of joyful childhood memories. It’s also a pretty conservative place, with a lot of old wealth and posh people.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me to discover that Cheshire is now on the frontlines against fracking in the UK.

The day after I returned to Britain I saw in the local paper that there was going to be a protest in Upton, ten miles from my parent’s home, and so within 48 hours of being back in this country I found myself cycling out to join the protesters. Like many days in these dreary isles the sky was grey, dampening the area with a resilient drizzle. “Great,” I thought, “I’ll be shivering and soaked in no time.”

Rolling up to the “busy” (for a suburb) road intersection where the protest was gathering I saw a 12-foot (4 metres) model fracking rig with tinsel on the top and was quickly greeted with tea and biscuits. Far from being cold, the constant input of hot liquid kept me going for the next few hours as I chatted with the protesters.

These weren’t the kind of seasoned protesters I’d seen in Paris at COP21 just a week before. Most of the people I talked to said they hadn’t been an “activist” even one year ago, and had previously accepted that the government would watch out for them and do the right thing throughout their life. But then they started reading up on fracking. And they got upset very quickly. With the enormous threats to housing prices, farmland, and the rivers and canals in the area, the average, local people started to get upset. The outcome of a recent poll showed that 85% of Upton residents were against fracking, and the new Labour MP bucked the national trend (that was scared into voting Tory) by getting elected on a strong anti-fracking platform—the Greens stepped back and didn’t even run against him!

It’s pretty clear the frackers don’t have any social license in Upton. We stood with our signs and cups of tea for a couple of hours, hailed by a constant honking of support from passing vehicles. Finally, we picked up the signs and “marched” along the road to the Upton Community Protection Camp. I say “marched”, although there were none of the normal activist chants and rallying cries. At one point someone mentioned some anti-fracking carols, yet people seemed more interested in chatting with their neighbours.

As we walked up to the camp I saw an impressive structure of wooden palettes and scaffolding, adorned with an array of signs. After being welcomed at the “guardhouse” an abundance of minced pies and tea appeared as we entered the “Solidari-Tea Hut”. Again, most of the residents were locals and talked with a fiery determination that the fracking simply would never happen. “We’ll make it so expensive for them that it’ll be impossible for them to drill,” said Phil, one of the long-term residents of the camp.

In terms of defences several of the residents comfortably walked around wearing a harness with climbing equipment hanging from it, prepared on a moment’s notice to climb one of the many tripods, tree-houses and other structures that would make their removal from the land a tricky and prolonged process. They’d even built themselves a moat—not big enough to stop many people from jumping across, but deep enough to stop most trucks in their tracks. The moat had a floating ducky and sharks. Finally, the camp has released images of an entrance to tunnels, although the tight security culture prevented me from seeing inside.

The camp has done well to gain support from many of the local residents of Upton. Although they seem to be able to get articles into the local paper, the Chester Chronicle, their ability to make their own media seems to be lacking, and even after four days I’ve not managed to find a single image online from the protest (the protest expected people from the camp to join them, yet they never materialized). To their credit their facebook page is active with photos and memes added several times a week. From what I have observed at the Unist'ot'en, producing video is a critical part of getting the broader public on side for land defence projects such as this, yet no one could assure me that they had any plans to do so.

Although some at the camp claimed they had plenty of coverage nationally, many of the protesters on the street didn’t think they (both the protesters and camp) were doing a good job and were worried they lacked national support. It seems to me that without such support the camp could be evicted without a national outcry. And given David Cameron has just removed the ability for local councils to determine their own fracking fate, it most certainly is a national issue. Fortunately, the intrusive company IGas has seen its share prices tumbling for months to a third of their value since June 2015, so maybe they’ll collapse into bankruptcy before they order the bailiff to attack.

Of course, this fight is only the beginning. David Cameron’s corporate masters want to poke holes all over my beloved Cheshire, which would likely result in the deaths of much of her livestock, farmland, rolling green hills and beautiful rivers and forests. A solid win against fracking in Upton would be major victory in beating back the violence of fracking across the nation, so my hope is that the success of Upton Community Protection Camp would scare off other potential frackers, and inspire many other communities to become land defenders to protect of their fragile, magnificent lands.

See more photos of the camp here:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

With two days left, Canada is still part of the problem in Paris

PARIS — Although it’s been reported in the Canadian media that China and India are blocking progress at COP21, the biggest obstacle appears to be the unwillingness of the developed countries to talk about historical responsibility and reparations. Earlier this week, Canada was a co-winner of the Fossil of the Day award, as climate activists expressed their dismay at this stance. Canadians are some of the worst climate polluters, per capita, in the world, and our current (and projected future) pollution through plundering the tar sands, means that we’re not getting any better.

Canada industrialized early, and it has been emitting carbon pollution for well over a hundred years, giving it a significant “head start” over India, China, and other less developed nations. Yet the Canadian negotiators don’t want to acknowledge this, much less pay our debts.

Admittedly, it’s not just Canadian negotiators who are trying to hide this great injustice. The U.S., along with many of the other countries that industrialized (and polluted) early have had a multi-year agenda to remove acknowledgement (and responsibility) of this injustice from the COP negotiations. They have largely been successful in doing so.

The negotiators at COP are not on an equal footing. Many of the negotiators from the Global South are trying to avoid climate devastation in their countries and climate genocide of their peoples. On the other hand, the negotiators of developed nations are generally trying to keep a fossil-fueled power system in place, rather than consider other necessary options. Last week Canadian youth joined others from around the world to highlight this imbalance.

Photo credit: Sierra Student Coalition

Since pre-industrial times, the burning of fossil fuels has raised the global temperature by 1C. Even with this “modest” increase, we are seeing a rise in climate chaos around the world, with climate destruction like the floods currently devastating Chennai, India. We’re also seeing an increase in climate-spurred wars. The current war in Syria is set in a context of severe drought worsened by climate change: in one agriculture-dependant area of the country, 75 per cent of farmers experienced total crop failure in 2007-2008. About 1.5 million people fled the starving countryside and crowded into the cities — imagine the populations of Brampton and Mississauga moving into Toronto, or everyone in Ottawa-Gatineau squeezing into Montreal. Subject to war and instability, this kind of desperation provides a breeding ground for climate-driven terrorism. The violence of climate change takes many forms.

In order to avoid a dangerous climate breakdown, countries agreed in 2009 that we must avoid a 2C global rise in global temperatures. Even this is a significant planetary risk (and will result in the deaths of many millions of people) — the Canadian youth delegation, along with many scientists and the countries most affected by climate violence, are calling for “1.5 to stay alive.”

But the political systems of the countries of the world are failing miserably at achieving this, putting emission reduction offers on the table that would result in temperature increases in the 2.7C to 3.5C range. Realistically, we can expect these political systems to fail to deliver on their promises, putting us back into the “unlivable for human life” 4C to 6C range.

With such high stakes, you might expect the Canadian negotiators to be working hard to give us a healthy climate future. Sadly, our Canadian negotiators are not working to protect the health of Canadians and people around the world. Instead, they’re trying to ensure that big polluters, such as the tar sands extractors, can continue to pollute and cause ever more societal instability and fragility. Instead of trying to create a rapid transition to a fairer, richer Canada, they’re negotiating which decade we’ll go extinct.

Although Trudeau has promised “real change,” it’s clear that we need far more change than he has delivered thus far. The real change required by science must include a freezing of the tar sands and a rapid, nationwide transition to renewables. Real change must include negotiating a path at COP21 towards a healthy future for all, with ambitious targets, binding commitments and payment of our climate debts. Real change must include actual change, yet so far Trudeau seems to be peddling words, not deeds.

Keeping climate change below 1.5C means no more pipelines, and a freeze on tar sands expansion. Trudeau needs to make a choice between the oil industry and the planet, but thus far he seems to think he can be a climate hero while also continuing to build tar sands infrastructure.

It’s time to pick a side.

This was originally posted on Ricochet.

Tear Gas Taste and Pepper Spray Pain

I arrived in France on Nov 23rd and spent the first week visiting with some friends in Meaux, the home of Brie. It’s was a pretty chill week, adapting to jet lag (which I made soooo much worse by partying until 5am in Reykjavik), brushing up on French, and enjoying the company of my friends.

On Sunday Nov 29th I moved to my next ‘home’ in downtown Paris. I dropped off my stuff and shot out the door to join the now-illegal march at Place de la Republique. The march was illegal because the French state had used the “opportunity” of the murderous attacks on 13th Nov to institute a ban on political public gatherings of more than two people! Along with this ban came a host of fascist-like police powers, which the police quickly abused by terrorizing the innocent Muslim community with thousands of home invasions, as well as attacking dozens of climate activists.

Instead of a 400,000-person climate march, NGO’s had retreated from this state repression (a tactical mistake) and canceled the ‘official’ march, instead trying to give people alternative outlets on the 29th. I missed the “human chain”, and only saw the “march for me shoes”—a sad reminder of state oppression—as they were packed away. Over the next couple of hours I wandered round the public square, talked with a few people, made a sign (“Menace Climatique > Menace Police + Terrorisme”) and joined the short-lived, smaller “marches” that local organizers spurred into existence. These grew and grew, and shortly after 2pm the march was big enough for us to leave the square. We headed down Avenue de la Republique.

We didn’t make it far. A wall of police waited for us, armed to the teeth and itching to start pepper spraying us. I was close to the front (you can see how close in the picture above) and held up my sign to the police, so that they knew why I—and I suspect others—were marching. A few swells of courage and chanting from the protesters, and the police unleashed. It was in those moments that I first felt the pain of pepper spray, although I have not yet been sprayed directly.

After most of the crowd had retreated, a few of us remained. Some lay down, and a girl sang. I kneeled in front of the police with my sign, petrified that I’d receive a blow from behind at any moment, yet it never came. Once a hundred photos had been taken by dozens of the press, I stood back up and walked back into the public square.

It was a scene of chaos. Groups of people were around the square, and at the far end I saw dense clouds of tear gas. I hurried over, wanting to document what I was witnessing. As small groups of young people threw what little they had at heavily armoured police lines, police were attacking with overwhelming force. They shot cluster-bomb fireworks into the air, which split into half a dozen tear-gas-spewing canisters, turning huge areas of the public square into toxic zones of pain. People from many walks of life were caught in the debilitating gas—not just the protesters close to the police, but also tourists, children, and protesters who were trying to avoid police presence entirely.

Over the next couple of hours the police closed in (trampling on the flowers and candles that had been left for those killed on the 13th), eventually kettling (trapping) several hundred of us against a building, where they held us for three hours. I tried speaking with some of the protesters around me, but my limited French caused connection problems, and although they were nice, I felt pretty alone. In those moment I was very glad to have support of a friend who was outside the police lines, chatting away with me on my phone. There was also a bike trailer with a speaker, so we put some music on and had a rave in the street. Dancing helped to keep our spirits up.

Eventually the police came for us. Batons in hand, they roughly grabbed us a few at a time and ripped us apart from our fellow protesters with whom we’d linked arms. Sometimes they failed to get any of us, sometimes they succeeded. A couple of times (that I witnessed) they came in with their batons swinging, and it would surprise me if no bones were broken that day. It was harrowing to see the glee with which the police attacked us, having already dehumanized us and justified their tyranny as “just doing my job”.

Eventually I too was taken. A single police officer led me out, though he instantly softened when I said I was Canadian. He wasn’t looking to arrest me, but many arrests did happen that day—likely French climate activist that they’d had their sights on for some time (quite why the police seem to overly target climate activists is another matter). He gave me the choice of getting on the police bus (a tempting offer, to stand in solidarity with those who were being arrested), but I chose the other option: to walk away and head home to sleep—a privilege I am lucky to have.

Photo credit: Stu Basden