Monday, December 14, 2015

#COP21 Paris Blog Part One of Three – Reflections on Now is Not the Time for Small Steps, Adventures from the Louvre to Notre Dame, Prop Making, a Call for Disobedience of a Protest Ban, as We Prepare for #D12

Street posters and art all over the streets of Paris.

Even George Bush did not ban protest after 9/11.  Yet that was the case in Paris, where all protests had been banned as part of a state of emergency, opening a striking set of contrasts between those calling for the world to cope with the climate crisis and those reeling from the terrorist bombings in this city.  More and more of us see these dueling crises as part of one glaring threat to shifting global ecology and its spiraling unintended consequences including environmental catastrophes followed by floods, tsunamis of water, migration crises and escalating tensions between people and their natural homes. There is no planet b, note climate activists.  While science fiction movies posit we can colonize other planets, most of us would rather stay here and make it work ourselves for our children’s children.
That’s why we came to Paris.
This is the story of some of my experiences here.

Sitting in jail a few weeks ago after our civil disobedience action for a new contract with my union, I was talking about Paris.  Another union member noted that several union labor activists were going and I should hook up with them. 

In between emails, Sean Sweeney, Director International Program for Labor, Climate and Environment, invited me to an event taking place in Paris, called Now is Not the Time for Small Steps.

“You are on a special guest list for the tomorrow's night's event with
Jeremy Corbyn and Naomi Klein, at Salle Olympe de Gouges,” declared his email.
After watching the first week of COP21 from New York media, cheering for activists who fought the state of emergency decree from the French government prohibiting public assembly, I arrived on Sunday.  The scenes of Paris looked like Seattle with tear gas and aggressive riot police clashing with those in Paris asking the world to take notice.  There seem to be a lot of terrorist attacks whenever we plan to get together for big movement escalating events.  Its happened in September 2001 with the IMF protests planned in DC.  And it was happening now. Activists had been on the streets all week.  Others had been preemptively arrested and held for the duration of the conference.

“The Manifestation is a right,” noted my host’s amiable son, when I arrived in Paris on Sunday, via Brooklyn by way of Dublin and finally across Paris to the Marais, looking out at the Pompidou where my friends were staying.

My neighbors from Brooklyn are hosting me for the week.  After greetings with the family and getting settled, Greg and I headed out to the Festival of Alternatives at Marie de Marteuil.  Full of images of energy bikes and organic farming, the festival was terrific.  

The first person we ran into was Andrew Boyd, our long time friend from movements past and future in NYC.  He was busy talking about the Climate Ribbon, a piece of visual art used to engage audiences about what they might lose as result of climate change.  Simple and interactive, hoards of people were drawn to it.

I wrote a message about the Brooklyn Tides ebbing to and from our waterfront.
Greg mentioned our kids and the world, the home’s we’ve created along the waterfront, which we worry  one day might flood.

So Greg and I made our way around the festival, taking in the images from parties and urban farms, organic wine and local agriculture seen throughout the festival.

Later that night, we joined old friends, went out for a late dinner and even stumbled into Reverend Donna Schaper from Judson Memorial Church, who was busy taking in interfaith events throughout the city.

“The cops were rough on Saturday,” she confessed.  I hear her preach every other Sunday, Donna is a wonderful writer.    Beneath a photo from COP21 of the Delacroix painting of the French Revolution that won the World Wildlife Federation poster contest, she wrote:

panda liberty

Here at COP21 there is a youthful spirit, a nearly Minnesota niceness, a palpable sense of hope. YES WE CAN, SI SE PUEDE is the spirit of every display. Whether the subject is a green bond for large cities or riding a bicycle so that you can charge your cell phone or blend your free smoothie, the spirit has that vibe, that playful spirit of early hope.
Our skateboarder is ready to ride.
Here you can see mushrooms growing out of logs injected with coffee grounds. Beautiful, edible oyster mushrooms. You can buy a nice meal in a glass dish, which is recycled. You can get a free recyclable cup to drink water out of a fountain. You can sign a climate ribbon (which had its first prom at Judson Memorial Church in New York City) and write on the ribbon what you will miss most when the temperatures rise too far to permit the earth’s amusement. You can enjoy headsets, which allow you to understand the Iranian who is talking about how he saved wetlands or the Sudanese woman who went from 28 women in an agricultural cooperative to 5000.
You can learn about resilience in one lecture after another. What is resilience? Here’s what the Equatorial Prize says:
1.     Diversity of species, culture and institutions.
2.     Connectivity in Rivers, flyways for birds, open sourcing markets as great as the old silk roads.
3.     Managing feedback loops. What happens next? Old fertilizer is a negative feedback loop. Compost is a positive one.
4.     Complex systems thinking, which knows that even the rich are just a part of the picture.
5.     Nesting governance, decisions made locally and then nested.
6.     Encouraging ongoing learning.
The resilience of the skateboarders will save us. The world’s leaders may not. Many of them are too invested in what I call the static quo.
I’m not going all the way to hope, as the conference has just started. But I am feeling resilient, which is different from hopeful. It is enjoyment of the periphery, where we are suspicious of any of the insiders who imagine they are the human center, which they are not.
Those inside who know resilience are surely our friends.

Monday night would be for COP21, the day would be for catching up with old friends.  We met outside the Rodin Museum on Rue de Varenne. We’d been there the night before and the place was crawling with police and reporters, blocking access to everyone except those who lived on the street.
The prime minister apparently lives there.  And everyone wanted comments about the drubbing the socialists took to the Republicans and the far right, the National Front of Le Penn. We’ve been here before.  The turn toward emergency measures, rejection of immigrants, and intolerance is nothing new.  But this doesn’t mean this tide is not terrifying.  Naomi Klein, who pointed out that even George Bush and Dick Cheney never attempted to ban protests, called the election results, “racist.”  There are more elections later in the month.  So, nothing was conclusive.

Monday night, Greg and I strolled over to catch the Naomi Klein talk I’d been invited to:

Now is Not the Time for Small Steps: Solutions to the Climate Crisis and the Role of Trade Unions. A Conversation with Naomi Klein
With UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate urges social movements to see themselves as agents of social transformation and a far-reaching democratization of economic life.
This message, recently reinforced by the documentary film of the same name (directed by Avi Lewis), is consistent with the stated goals of many unions.

But how can we take more leadership both as movement builders and as champions of the kind of policies demanded by both the scientific and social realities that we presently confront? And how can we better connect climate change to the rising struggle against austerity, inequality, wars and militarization?

Earlier in the day, Sean sent me a note explaining:

The event starts at 6 p.m. but we are asking people to arrive early. We
want union people and close allies to be seated at the front, so it will
make things a *lot easier* if you arrive by 5:30 p.m.  

700 people (full capacity) have registered, but another 550 are on a
waiting list. Our team of volunteers will start seating people at 5:15

Some major media will be there -- and I understand Jeremy will be
expressing support for Just Transition (along with energy democracy and
climate jobs) The BBC, The Guardian, Democracy Now and other media have
indicated they will be there.

And so we arrived. I have always had an ambivalent relationship with labor, especially after the movement repeatedly benefits from the efforts of anarchists in Seattle and Occupy, who help the movement gain traction for a moment, before Union leaders inevitably disavows the radicals who put wind back in their sails, if even for a moment.  The pattern repeats and repeats itself.

“Labor is full of zombies,” noted a man standing behind me at the talk. “But they are the only real chance, the real possibility we have for a change in class consciousness.  But they are full of fuddy duddies, with no alternate thinking to Blairism,” he pontificated.

Newly elected British labor leader Jeremy Corbyn struck a qualitatively different chord, linking labor and environmental issues in his address to the crowd, outlining the need for a qualitative expansion of ownership of the means of production of energy, with renewables and solar. This will create jobs and expand work. Yet, it begins with rethinking energy policy, with green jobs, expanding a conversation about what we can and cannot do. “Humankind is capable of amazing things, if we find solidarity with the earth, connect with each other, and expand our imagination.” 

What will the future look like if we connect all these pieces?  If we continue at our current pace of increasing temperatures up 7 degrees, we will certainly be looking at more wars and violence, flooding and hurricanes, draught and floods.  After the disasters, who helps, asked Corbin - the public sector, labor, social workers, fireman, etc. The time to cut the public public sector is not now.  The room roared in applause.

If we watch climate change, we will see fights, floods, war, droughts, leaving waves refugees.  Lets deal with these issues.  Don’t blame the victims.  Defend forests which provide carbon cover.  Chico Mendez fought to save forests and humanity itself.  I am inspired by his story. Lets learn from his fight for humanity.  What do we want the world to look like, he asked, a place with biodiversity and equality.  This is a place with equality, where people can breathe clean air and drink clean water, a world of peace and security.  Governments have a duty to preserve our common good.  More beyond blame to solutions.  Democratize energy ownership.  This will create more jobs and opportunities.
So how do we get this world?  Through a just transition to work.  Inequality is a wrong waist of our resources.  Be inclusive of the working class.  Democratize energy within our sustainable limits so our kids’ kids have a world to grown up and thrive in. 
He ended with a famous quote by Arundhati Roy
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Naomi Klein followed outlining what is at stake. What is the role of the trade union movement in the climate movement, she wonders.   Without seeing the final language, she argues the COP21 deal lead us to three of our degree Celsius rise in temperatures, not less than two degrees that we are hearing about. We need one point five to survive, not three of four.  We are already living in the era of dangerous warming. We are living it. The deal that will pass will steamroller over red lines, expanding the threat to the planet. 

On December 12, activists will be on the streets peacefully protesting, challenging the ban on protests. Libertie means more than football and markets.  It means a diversity of approaches. The right to protest is vital to all wins past and present.  As we join them, we must say yes to what our world can look like.  It can be more than a life of climate chaos, racism, and austerity.  We need to think big, stepping beyond our crisis of imagination.

We need to imagine a post carbon economy, she declared referring to  the, “Leap Manifesto”,  a document drafted by climate activists including herself, calling for Canada to divest from fossil fuels. 

The climate crisis hit in a time of neoliberal economics.  We saw the implications when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  After neglect, the levees could not hold, reflecting the crumbling infrastructure of disinvestment in cities.  The storm highlighted a “we cannot” sense of tolerated incompetence among those in government, more than willing to walk away from problems as people starve and suffer.  Shock doctrine followed; homes were torn down to make way for new redevelopment, displacing bodies and families who’d been there for generations.  This is how our system copes with storms and climate chaos, explained Klein.

Hence the slogan of the movement, system change, not climate change.  We need public sector workers in place, trained, and ready to deal with problems. Yet, for them to be there, we need to fight the ill logic of austerity.  So when we talk about coping with climate change, we also have to be countering narratives of austerity, and vice versa.  This means fighting the International Monetary Fund. Its means challenging the incoherent logic of scarcity.

The alternative is renewables.  Fight to see the connections, pleads Klein.  Invest in infrastructure. Expand the non-carbon economy.  These are social workers, nurses.  This is healthcare.  This is public sector workers.  This is a healthy workforce.  This is a post carbon future.  Here, we care for the earth and each other.  Leave it in the ground. Stop the extraction of oil. Cut corporate welfare.
Transition is inevitable; Justice is not, Klein acknowledges.  We are going to have to fight for this better world. We need energy justice.  The climate movement needs to beat back the carbon infrastructure.  Build a new economy, instead of protecting the old one.   Try something new.  Now is not the time for small steps.  Its time for bold steps to leap forward.

Everyone in the room, myself included, gave Klein a rousing applause. 

I have always  been weary of the rhetoric of “leaps” and “revolution.”  The Chinese Great Leap Forward of the 1950’s left millions dead.  In our eco social transition, I don’t want to miss a crop cycle.

In this revolution, I hope no one loses a head. 

Several of the speakers on the panel suggested there could be an easier way out of this dead end, using language around a just transition, not a great leap forward.  Several in attendance pointed to renewed efforts to fight austerity, support trade labor, and social movements.  Clara suggested we push oil out of cultural institutions.  Trade unions need to be a part of the just transition.  The public sector has to be a part of that just transition.  We need government to act. Austerity is a sham.  If the earth was a bank, we would have saved it by now.
The audience members cheered.

Labor has changed the world and it has to again, the next speaker insisted. How do we regain that vision, he wondered. We need to reclaim that vision that labor is about creating a just better world.
An organizer representing nurses in New York stood up to talk about the campaign to ban fracking  in New York.  Here, nurses went out and educated their workers about the health impacts of fracking, joining movements, and mobilizing a half a million people to join the people’s climate march. Afterall, part of the civil society movement is about expanding solidarity to the earth.  This is nature defending itself.  Activists followed this reframe all week long.

During the question and answer session, Klein and several others on the panel talked about the need for a new kind of thinking involving movement from expansion to a regeneration point of view. Moving from monoculture to support for biodiversity has to be an opportunity, not a threat.  And trade unions have to be a part of this thinking. The fight for a sustainable world has to be an opening for another way of being.

Is it possible to avoid catastrophe?  It is not easy to know.  No one can predict the future.  A  dialectic of utopian vs dystopian images of the future pervade conversations here.  Many see these as last days for humans; others imagine a different kind of relationship between humans and the earth.
Korbin, Klein, and company offer a compelling a counter narrative.

Reflecting on Paris, Reverend Donna Schaper from Judson Memorial Church, wrote about Klein’s theology:
“Klein listens well to what happened in Copenhagen.  The African nations walked out en mass.  They were chanting, “2% is mass suicide. We will not die quietly.”  She seems to actually care about the neighbors she doesn’t forget and doesn’t know.  She knows that the continents are neighbored.
“Beijing’s smog is California’s drought and people of color are closer to the hole on the sinking ship.” 
Whether she is arguing for municipalizing energy or rebuilding the story of humanity, she is arguing matters religious and politically, simultaneously, without mentioning God.  What if we keep God in it while leaving God out of it?  Or stick with the second part of the golden rule and leave the rest out of it?  The Golden Rule, by the way, says love God first and then neighbor as self.  I am going to go to seminary, again, with Naomi Klein

Tuesday – Fossil Fuel Out of Culture
The days in Paris are amazing, with late night conversations and stories  and discussions.  Tuesday, I would head out for prop making with my friends from Not An Alternative, Liberate Tate, and BP or Not BP.

So I walked through the rain to the meeting spot across town, where people were busy making umbrellas for the big action at the Louvre the next day.

“The police are putting up barriers every day,” noted Jason.

The morning was an encounter with generations of protest cultures.  There is a nervous energy of collaborating with new people or people who do not know who you are. 

Certain voices are defensive, some are more open. But we hang out, milling around the dark meeting space, a hundred of us looking for a way to contribute the best way we can, but not really knowing how.

Beka and Chris call for a short meeting around 1:30.  So we all circle up, introduce ourselves and start a conversation about ways to get fossil fuel money – oil sponsorship – out of cultural institutions.  Chris is from BP or Not BP.  He describes the way that the gallery at the Louvre is sponsored by Total, an oil company. Activists from around the world are in the room. Everyone introduces themselves and we talk about roles people can take.  The scenario is get close the Pyramid and open umbrellas that say, “Fossil Fuels out of Culture” in front of the Louvre and have the picture blasted out to the world.  It’s a simple action.  There are multiple roles we can all take, including tweeting out photos, scouting, choreography or actually carrying an umbrella.  I want to carry and umbrella.  But for some reason I raise my hand when they call for someone to go scout at the Louvre to scope out security and help find the best place for the action.  I immediately regret my decision.  I love the action plan and our message.  The bills we plan to drop in the museum remind: ‘Dear Louvre, When Total sponsors you, you sponsor Total.  Don’t sponsor climate chaos.’  When oil sponsors you, you sponsor it.

To pull off the action, we have to get the right shot.  If we can’t get inside one of the two lines of barricades, we are going to have to go outside to get the shot. 
But we have to get it. 

The police have been aggressive all week long.  So everyone is nervous. 
Roughly speaking, the 17 activists will meet at 9:30 am the next day, take the subway to  Tuileries Metro, come in through the garden, not the arch, and meet.
The team includes 21 umbrellas, 8 ushers to clear the space, 2 stage directors and  Chris to call for the umbrellas to open up to reveal our message.  But will we get in to get the pyramid?
One of the organizers is buzzing.

“Did you drink a lot of coffee today?” I ask her, after watching her running around the space to get ready to go for an hour after saying she was ready to go.  
“No, I’m always like this.”

Its raining.  Everyone is excited as a group of about five of us head out  to the Louvre to check it out. 
There is really no bad shot at the Louvre. But we’d like to get past the first line of barricades just outside the security check.

There's the promised land we hope to get to. 

Ideally, everyone will enter around 11 am for the noon action. Yet, there is no consensus about a plan.

No one really knows each other that well.

“How well do you know Jason?” the caffeinated activist asks me. I’m not sure what she is saying. 
Half way through our scouting session, we get word about an eviction from a local squat.  Several start tweeting out messages.  Its all very high energy.

Finishing scouting, I go stroll through the epic city, taking in the moody views.  Its about 5 PM.
At 7 PM, I’ll attend a session called, “Oil Out of Culture,”  at Les Laboratoires D’Aubervillliers with several of the activist groups who had been planning the action all morning.  Members of Liberate Tate, BP or Not BP, and Not an Alternative will be speaking.

Several of the folks who put on the Disobedient Objects show that I was part of, including Gavin Grindon, will be speaking. 

Mel Evans and Gavin described their campaign with Liberate Tate, occupying this museum on the Thames.  Through a series of guerrilla actions, this group made friends with security guards and turned the grand entrance into a living theater, for performance and questions about sponsorship, mission and purpose.  On one occasion, they stayed all night, setting up a compost loo in the museum. On another, they poured molasses on the floor so it looked like oil, imitating the PB oil spill. Highlighting the messy relationship between its sponsors and climate chaos.

Just exactly, how much money is the Tate getting from big oil, wonders Liberate Tate. The group has asked for a firm number. Liberate Tate is keenly aware that oil sponsorship of culture helps add a boost of badly needed good public relations for companies that have been polluting coastlines from Alaska to the Gulf Coast.

“If we can resist this, we can write a new future for ourselves,” noted Mel, the author of Artwash: Big Oil in the Arts.

Chris, from PB or Not BP, followed, describing the campaign to transform the British Museum  into a space for theater, questions, and actions that compel reactions, including a change in sponsorship for the museum, these activists hope.  Here art is used to re-imagine policy changes, bridging the divide between the museum’s sponsors and its obligation to the public.  Recalling the financial and ecological crisis, these activists hope for a different kind of public commons, in which cultural institutions feel like a truly public spaces for ideas and conversations.

Beka, from Not an Alternative, describes her group’s history over the last decade in Brooklyn.  The group has worked with multiple groups, including Picture the Homeless to highlight the high number of vacant buildings in juxtaposition to issue of homelessness in New York City.  There are more vacancies than homeless people the group reminds the world.  Yet the city refuses to accrue an accurate count.

The group has worked to highlight financing of funders such as the Koch brothers who deny climate change, working with scientists to urge museums cut ties to climate deniers.  They point out the many ethical questions which arise from a science museum supported by those who opposed to a scientific consensus that climate change is real.

Through their work, each of these groups supports a growing call for cultural institutions to divest from fossil fuels, while taking these institutions back from private interests. They see museums as public spaces, challenging efforts by oil companies to instumentalize museums as private spaces.
Referring to Douglas Crimp’s writings on the museum’s ruins, I ask the panel what they see the function of museums to be today.

“Museums tell us what it means to be human,” notes Beka. From the refugees to floods to rising tides, museums can and should help us come to grips with what it means to live in an era of climate change.

Museums are there to create a space to contemplate collective action. These activists hope to reclaim museums. 

Mel pointed out that museums are luminal spaces, blurry spaces, open to multiple ways of looking at the world. 

“We are unpacking  bundles of history, unraveling sponsors with ties to colonialism,” note Chris.  So how do we have agency and have an impact.  Museums are alive.  The Louvre would be the following day.  Or so we hoped.   

Wednesday – from the Louvre to Notre Dame
It was rainy when I left in the morning for the big action, making it to the space by 9:30 to meet the other activists.  The center was buzzing with energy.  The movement seemed to be pointing here for this brief moment, with people zipping in and out, taking calls, making plans.  

The plan was to meet under the arch at 11 am and trickle beyond the barricades by 11:30, one or two at a time.
After a few rehearsals, we all made out way to the subway.  I rode with my friend Chihiro, filmmaker from the Netherlands.  Police cars were lined up around the museum. Men holding guns, dressed in riot gear.

Police everywhere. 

No one was at the Louvre yet.  So I walked past the barricades, past one policeman.
For the next hour, I’d text the other scouts and photographers who gradually trickled in.  By noon, everyone was at the museum but the umbrella crew.  Photographers were everywhere. Media were everywhere.  Friends from New York to Germany and Paris were here.  But where were the umbrella crew?   The security was now lined up by the barricades, inspecting all bags.

“Yates was turned away,” noted Mark, a friend from New York. “They saw a divestment flyer in his bag and sent him away.”

There are tons of cops at the barricades.  

“Where are the umbrellas?” I ask Sumo, the other scout.

“Its hard to coordinate with a big group,” he follows.

Greg and Marc, who has just arrived from Germany walk up.
“Ben you terrible,” notes Marc.  Its true.  I do.

“Gotta go. I”ll  talk to you in a second,” I explain, adrenaline pouring out my ears.

“I just got a text from Chris saying lets go with Plan B,” notes Sumo.

“Tell everyone. Plan B.”

So, I wander through the crowd telling people.  A policeman with a huge gun walks up to me and I zip away, telling more people as we zip out of the barricade.  Many of the police follow us.
A group of angel’s have appeared at the barricades.  Its all getting weird.  The crowd moves to look at them. And I see one of the umbrellas just outside the barricade. 

“Ben, tell me media.  Make sure to tell the media,” declares Beka.

“I did,” looking back.

“Hold my coffee,” Beka follows, handing me her empty coffee cup as she walks ahead.. 

Huh? I think to myself, having a flashback to the first time I met Beka back in 2000 or 2001, all the Reclaim the Streets days and struggles, then the RNC stuff and Occupy.

I stop to talk with Lisa.

As we get back to the arch, we hear the crowd cheer.

“Ben, that was terrible intelligence,” notes Beka. She’s right. Communications broke down as they often do when the world is moving faster than cell phones in time.  The scouts were not really needed.  I shrug.  So much for scouting.  Herding cats.  The whole thing feels like a high school popularity contest.  Who is listening, who is calling the shots, who is collaborating, everyone vying for attention, for control. Everyone wants everything to be just right. The clash between chaos and choreography can be both jarring and invigorating, exhilarating and scary in these moments.  I recall the IMF World Bank Meeting  in 2000 the last time I took such a role, kids in masks running to and fro, spray painting cars and blocking police, as we try to stay on our plan for the day.  I eventually give up.  Its not always possible to contain such abundance. ‘You gotta embrace the energy,’ counseled brother Ron in that moment 15 years ago. 

And then we were back at the Louvre. We all walk back to see the umbrellas in place.

“I guess we were their diversion,” explains Beka.

“Ben, you look really terrible,” notes my buddy Marc, pointing out the sweat pouring off my head.  It always good to have friends around to point out when you are looking purple.

“Take off your hat.”

So I take off my hat.  The demo worked.  Everyone is happy, but me. I hate myself for volunteering to be a scout. 

Wandering around among friends, I run into Chihiro, who I took the metro with to the action.
I asked her about the experience.

She took pictures which she showed me, pictures she later posted to facebook narrating. 

“But before getting to the pyramide their were bag inspections... me carrying the bright painted yellow umbrella had a rush of adrenaline getting through... (some people got picked out because inspectors had found a divestment fossil fuel flyer in bag and found that suspicious enough to send the potential 'terrorist' away)... most people made it through and we could do our action in PLAN A mode” Photo and caption by

“and here we are... time for art NOT to get infiltrated by fossil fuel money that is trying to normalize itself... instead of being recognized for its crimes against earth and earthlings and put to trial at ecocide courts” Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“the great moment when it gets anounced the inside action was succesful: people got into the Louvre and spiled oil over the floor - then using their shoes the walked the oil through the building. When they got detained they were held for a while by the police outside - but no serious harm was comitted against any of the "Art-not-Oil' activists --- YEAH” Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“Here the RED LINE was laid out.... and as the only dirty company present (ENI umbrella) I had to improvise my exit (TOTAL umbrella didnt make it through police inspection to the scene of action at the Louvre) ... so at some point during the sing "Total, Eni au revoir - aller aller aller" I decided to get up ... cross the red line and make my exit wavind good bye to the crowd popping out my hand from behind the umbrella... while still hiding my face and the rest of upper body behind the umbrella” Photo and caption by Chihiro.

So after all that, the action actually worked.  The sun is shining and we have a whole day to go.  Everyone is milling around trying to figure what to do next. Some are going to have a nap or hit the general assembly later on.

“Theres an action at Le Bourget!” notes a young woman from Germany.

So the day of actions would continue from the Louvre to the Bourget to Notre Dame.  Marc and I wander off to lunch, chatting with Chihiro, who decides to join. We chat about her movie and talk about striving for something smarter of this world, making new rebel friends everywhere we go.
On the way out, I stumble into an elder woman holding her newspaper.  I ask if I can take her picture.   And we start to chat.  She asks where I am from. 

Photo by Chihiro

“The USA,” I explain.

“No, Americans are all closed minded, all the same, all conformists.”  She practically spits, looking at us. But I hold my ground.  We’re smiling and she’s smiling.  I mention a few Americans who love Paris. Allan Ginsberg, William Boroughs, Nina Simone.

"Oh Americans... yeah you are either the worst or the best..." she follows, mentioning that maybe there are some OK Americas, Noam Chompsky for example.  

Photo by Chihiro

We wander over to lunch at La Palette on the other side of the river and we order lots of coffees.
I suggest she change the name of her movie from Radical Friends to Rebel Friends, just like my book.  She's more interested in talking about friendship and the existential crisis of our era. 

new rebel friends

Gradually, we find our conversation taking on the dialectics of destruction vs regeneration conversation permeating Paris. Chihiro talks about indigenous vs alienated relations to the land.
Marc refers to the poetry of the apocalypse.

And I order an éclair, listening in awe at my smart friends.
I drop the word Hegel every once in a while but its hard to keep up with these two. 

“Don’t be naïve about power,” notes Chihiro, referring to her movie and work.
“Indigenous people live with the environment. This is the opposite of alien species who do not know how to live with the environment.  Rather they are alienated from it.”

“There are ways out of this  clash of cultures” I chime in.

“The city is a space for alienation,” she follows.  “You don’t know where your food comes from.”

“They are also living breathing things,” I follow.
“They are living beyond their capacity,” explains Chihiro. “We have to  move beyond a destructive system, marked by trade.  How can we reverse this?”

“By supporting sustainable cities,” I chime in.

We talk and walk and make our way to the Metro.

Chihiro tells me about her favorite trees, the Palinka in Chiappas.

We talk about the politics of the movement as we subway over, about funders dropping the calls for action after the bombings.

“AIDS activists would take over, disrupting the conference,” I recall, referring to international AIDS meetings.

“The lack of infrastructure for these demos is a mess,” explains Chihiro. “There is another dynamic, she explains.  Kids growing up and separating and letting go of childhood and being destructive, sometimes undermining these efforts.”

“But there is a creative dynamic in the destruction,” I chime in.  Still I agree with her about the generational oedipal struggle she describes.

We’ve heard there is going to be another popup action at Le Bourget.

“We wanted to join in ...” notes Chihiro, on facebook. “and so actually made an effort to travel down to the place of nauseating perverse climate politics. The COP21 where money gets saved and land and locals are sacrificed.”

"Of course to keep us from performing any of our great ideas there is blue team presence everywhere... even if you make it into to civil society climate space (metal detector and bag check security)... long live free trade enslaving the rest to not speak out against it enslaving the rest of of us to existential crash."  Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“The whole civil society space at COP21 is nautiatingly designed for greenwashing... behold the celebrating of technology taking natures place... we dont need trees... we celebrate the beauty and magic of the plant kingdom by mimicry of visual design and superimpose our machines... YEAH : ( sarcasm.”  Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“Getting some new ideas for appropriate popup actions: How about doing a flashmob of people throwing up... (your politics and greenwashing make me sick) ... would be the message and the pictures would definitely have.”  The gross factor" Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“This is our attempt to make the cheesiest picture of the day - I think we succeeded. Also we came up with another idea for an action: Doing a SHIT-IN...”
You know you enter the building, get to a plenary.... do a flasmob of people standing on the tables, taking their pants down and start shitting.
The message? "Your politics is crap"
Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“Walking past lots of stands and talks at civil society space this panel talke dof interesting matters: The lack of gender equality in delegations (still very men-dominated game this raping the planet affair) and the need for 1,5 degree max climate change... instead of policy that allows for 2 degrees...” Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“You can see how much audience there is for these matters... and how well the panel is positioned (without proper lighting or anything) they are practically in the dark

“Well enough of this Bourget... we didn’t find any action so lets get back to the city to the zone of action.”  
Photo and caption by Chihiro.

After Le Bourget, we were going to go to the General Assembly at the Zone D’Action Climat, the ZAC. But Chihiro has heard about a flash mob at Notre Dame.  So we zip over there, meeting activists in holiday garb in from of the horse in front.  Activists plan to stage a sing out about the extension of a new airport.

“What I call 'an unfortunate picture' depicting me and my new friend arriving on the scene of the JEDI XMAS action... he himself depicts as "A picture that captures my essence" ... ah well... in anycase... its advancing the story of the day: arriving on the Notredame scene for a singing flashmob.” Photo and caption by Chihiro.

“Funny & energizing.... Nathalie kickstarts our singing-mob action.  Starting with Art not oil action at the Louvre (against toxic industry normalizing their harm through appearing artisitic) and ending at the notredame with the JEDI group singing xmas songs against the airport expansion NDDL - a local French struggle...popup actions are the things are done here now that the state of political emergency is repressing all forms of collective action questioning politics as usual: a practice of sacrificing land and locals for money and power... by using violence and oppression.” Photo and caption by Chihiro Geuzebroek

“Nathalie from the JEDI action group is giving a speech: what songs we will sing, the context of the Hollandes plans to commit the crime of airport expansion at time of Climate State of emergency... and showing international solidarity for a local sruggle (with courtcase actually taking place today D10).” Photo and caption by Chihiro Geuzebroek

“And besides two french songs... there is also an english song which is easier for me and my foreign friends to happily sing along with — with Marc Allen Herbst and Benjamin Heim Shepard.” Photo and caption by Chihiro Geuzebroek

While certainly protest themed, the vibe at Notre Dame is strikingly warm and holiday like.
After the singout, we read poems and strolled to the ZAC to meet more friends, where we read poems and talked about the world.

“Don’t emphasize hope,” cautions Chihiro.  “It precludes action.”
That’s my point, out of this clash between hope and despair, utopia and apocalypse, there has to a creative solution.

That’s action, notes Chihiro. Climate change is a symptom of a larger problem about a system that extracts resources without putting anything back, a system that colonizes people and land.  And we are feeling these crises right now in the climate, which seems to be pushing back. But out of these crises and changes, new spaces are opening for alternate solutions.
We are nature defending herself, chant climate activists all week long.

Sitting at the ZAC, we all start reading poems and talking.

When we think of Marx, we often recall his musings about a post capitalist future.  Most attention has been on predictions about communism as a resolution to the crises of capitalism. Out of the crisis of capital, we think of the calamities of Mao and Stalin, as well as economic crises in 1929 and 2008.  But Marx also speculated that Barbarism could emerge from capitalism.  From this vantage point, it does not look like he’s wrong.  But what of that ecosocial transition?  It seems to be on everyone’s mind.  But what is it going to be : barbarism or a just transition, a great leap forward or a human scale shift, apocalypse or something brighter?

Bring light into the darkness, Chihiro concludes, after reciting her her poem.
I read Laurence Ferlinghetti’s “I am waiting….”

We are all waiting and pushing, wading through history’s murky waters.  That’s why we are here.  From the Louvre to Notre Dame to Le Bourget to the ZAC, this twelve hour conversation has brought me through the klusterfuck of the feelings, between the cops at the Louvre, the singers at Notre Dame, the crap at the trade show Le Bourget!, and the abundant narratives of the ZAP, the stories all connecting to each other.  It is time to go back.

Back at home, I tweet out a message from

We Don't Have Another Lifetime To Wait


Listen to the demand for action echoing in the streets: keep fossil fuels in the ground. Transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The draft text circulating now in Paris proposes a global energy transition 'over the course of the century', which is too far-off, and too vague to send a strong signal. We need to transition off fossil fuels by 2050 -- at the very latest. 
Communities on the front lines of climate change have been fighting -- and winning the fight -- for setting a very ambitious global goal of limiting warming to 1.5C. Delaying the transition to renewable energy until the end of the century would be a death-knell for that goal, and for millions of people facing rising seas, deepening drought and super storms.
No more empty promises. Tell negotiators in Paris to set a long term goal for a just transition by 2050 at the latest, and pledge to keep upping their ambition every 5 years.

Thursday – Your Politics is Crap COP21: I fart in Thy General Direction – Prop Making

Marc and I were in top spirits when we woke up.  We’d been up chatting till 4 am.  The next morning we’d zip out some of the art spaces to make banners.  But first we strolled by Republique, where the people of France have constructed a makeshift do it yourself memorial for the dead killed during the terrorist attacks.  Greg and I had gone out earlier in the week to Bataclan.  It is striking how open these spaces are even after the state of emergency.  Almost immediately the city of New York took down the peace memorial at Union Square Park after 9/11.  With national political ambitions compelling him to tie our loss into a call for vengeance, Mayor Giuliani quickly put an end to the peace vigil there.  The same cannot be said of Paris, where sign after sign call for peace, love and understanding.  There are certainly calls for vengeance in the air, as the election on Sunday pointed out. But the memorials feel open. Here are a few.  

Those in the climate movement are quick to point out that the violence of this war, with refugees and people fighting over resources, prefigure things to come, if the floods and droughts continue.
After the sadness of the trip to Republique and the boldness of the images of kissing bodies, paint, color, passion, and compassion, it was hard not to feel a tragicomic pulse in the energy of these resilient streets.  Paint and graffiti everywhere, with ideas filling the streets.

So Marc and I strolled, ate Moroccan food and made our way for prop making.

Marc found a friend from London who needed help decorating his bike for a tour to illuminate  projections about the movement all over the city.

A hundred people were in the room, with banners and paint, cardboard and art supplies everywhere.  And there at the corner, looking at a banner was the familiar image of David Solnit.  I’d seen him every night the year before as we prepared for the People’s Climate March in New York City.
He smiled and gave me a hug when I greeted him, providing a welcoming orientation to the prop making session, showing me banner materials, suggesting slogans, paints, and brushes.  Movements thrive when they open space for us all to participate in which ever fashion we can. 
Marc and I spend the afternoon finishing the decorations for the bike.

And eventually start on our own banners. 

Looking at the slogans, I ask Nick what he thinks.  The author of the People’s Art History of the United States, he suggests, “I Fart in Thy General Direction” in homage to the old Monty Python gag of the French telling off King Arthur.

That’s just what we were talking about last night, recall Chihiro’s message to the cop: "Your politics is crap"

Its in the zeitgeist.

We decide to go with “Ligne Rouge, Justice Climatique/  Red Lines, Climate Justice.”
This is the slogan of the movement.  We are drawing a red line, which you cannot, cross, the world cannot cross.  This is a red line. From Greenwashing to Red Lines of emergency.
Marc and I start outlining.  Marc does a lovely job outlining, the English.  I start painting it in on the top. Then he starts with a pen on the French, forgetting that Climatique has three more letters, which he leaves a couple inches for.

“Ben, I made the classic mistake,” he confesses. “Don’t tell Dave.”
I run to get Nick and show him and then Dave, to show him.
Dave smiles, acknowledges the error, and suggests I point out something positive about Marc’s work now.

“I love your bubble letters,” I point out. Like a good den mother, Dave smiles, laughing.
Eventually, we start in on the next banner.

Dave and Marc discussing bubble letters.

And Nick seriously suggests, we follow up:
“COP21: I Fart in Your General Direction” as a protest sign.
There are hundreds of protest signs here. So we follow his call.

 Photos, top the big banner for Saturday.  Bottom, Marc Herbst painting our iconic banner. Photos by Nicolas Lambert 

Its getting close to seven, so I walk to get  a soup in the kitchen, snapping a shot of some of the organizers and banners. On my way back, a man comes up to ask that I delete the photo, which I do.
“The security vibe changed in here,” Marc notes, counseling me on the things I could have said.
“’You don’t even know how radical I am,’ you should have said that” note  Marc.  “Or maybe, ‘I can but I already sent in the photo.’”
Between crusty punks and Nick’s commentary, we work for hours.
“I don’t think you should have done the red outside the white,” notes a Frenchman standing by me, talking with Marc.
“No need for kabbitzing,” I retort, feeling slap happy.
“I do not understand that English.”
“Its Yiddish.”
“That’s not what that means,” Marc retorts.
Later he looks it up.  I was right.

We finish our beautiful sign, go to one more meeting stating we have to go to another meeting tomorrow at 1 at the ZAC to find out about D12. Drama and suspense is everywhere.
Big plans on the streets of Paris. Too many meetings to attend. Naomi Klein spoke to a huge crew at the ZAC as we were painting.

The energy in the space is amazing.

Everyone seems to agree that the politics coming out of the trade show at the Le Bourget are crap. Earlier in the day, the demonstration we were looking for the day before actually happened. A group of some six hundred activists got inside Le Bourget zapping the meeting and reminding the delegates of our red line, that we need more than platitudes or an empty declaration of victory from the leaders.  The temperature has only risen .86 c and people are already dying. It can’t go any higher, activists declare, disrupting the meeting, drawing a red line through the proceedings.
But what about D12?  You’ll find out tomorrow, they tell us in the meeting at the end of the day.

Friday  - Final Meeting and a Friend from New York

I slept in, barely making it on time to the bit One PM meeting at the ZAC. On the way out the door, I get a message from 350 with the big plan.

But its still good to be at the big meeting.  There are literally thousands of people in the room, with people standing speaking into mikes on the stage. This is what it must have been like the night before ACT UP’s stop the church action in 1989, I was thinking.  I’ve only heard of meetings this big. Humongous banners hang from the ceiling.

The red line action will take place just below the Eiffel Tower on the Ave Des Grand Armee, with a moment of silence for victims of climate, war, and the war on the poor.
 I start to walk around the side, stumbling into my old buddy Bill Talen, aka Rev Billy, standing with Chris from BP not BP, who have collaborated together on one of the British Museum BP zaps. 
The facilitator asks us to talk about what we hope will happen tomorrow, what we are worried about. We each want to create an abundant image of something beautiful, extending out of the conversations we’ve had all week.

As Billy wrote:
“In Paris, we feel the sea-change that is taking place within the souls of the activists. It is dawning on us that a revolution must take place. For the centuries that the CO2 has been rising, a middle class has been building in the imperial industrial countries. We consumers have been taught to look the other way when it comes to the violence of our businesses that our nation states press on people around the world. Now finally with climate change we can no longer do this. The other end of this colonialism, sweatshop economies and military occupation is coming back to haunt us. Why would our governments believe that we would offer serious opposition? We never have, but we will now. -----Below a conversation with old friend Ben Shepard at the Zone Action Climate meet.
Billy will be at the Pantheon the next morning at 9. I’ll see him there.
“They are banning protest, but the real threat is global warming,” notes one of the facilitators.
“Standing below the Arch de Triumph, this symbol of colonialism, we will recall those lost to climate change war and the war on the poor. When you hear the thirty fog horns tomorrow, we will have a moment of silence.  And then we erupt!  Paris is the dance, not the end.  May 2016, we shut down the fossil fuel infrastructure.  Its us with our disobedient bodies that are going to do the work that they have failed to do in Le Bourget and over the last 21 years. And we are going to reappear.
We’ll draw our red line in the sand.
At the palace of the republique, massive and resolute, we’ll erect a kissing wall.
Make love not war, I chime in with Reverend Billy. It sounds so hokey, but in a world with too much repression its more necessary than ever.
Its not hokey, we are too separated from each other, with our gadgets, he followed.

Paris is not the end, notes my hero John Jordan, explaining the scenario, looking out at everyone.
Remember, “Resistance is the key to joy,” he concludes, chiming back into the joy of protest narrative which first drew me to Reclaim the Streets, ACT UP, and DIY politics.
D12 is going to be one for the ages.

The message from states:

The plan:

As the Paris Climate Summit ends, thousands of people will be back in the streets to have the final word and show that we’re taking our future into our own hands, setting the stage for more action in 2016.
On December 12, starting at around 11:45 AM, we will be meeting on the pavements along the Avenue de la Grande Armée between Place de Etoile and Porte Maillot. (Note: please don’t gather AT the Arc de Triomphe — you will be separated from everyone else.) Follow the greeters with red arrows along the avenue to find the event.
At Noon, after a loud signal given by foghorn, we will converge into the Avenue de la Grande Armée. Follow the red umbrellas and arrows that will guide you. In the street, we will hand out thousands of red tulips, unfold our enormous banners, and spread out into a long ‘red line’.
At the second sound of fog horns, we will take a 2 minute moment of silence, which will end with the sound of brass bands, and we will lay our flowers along the centre of the Avenue as our memorial to the victims of climate change.
We have kept the location secret until now in order to make sure we could mobilise successfully. With all the details now worked out, and 24 hours to go, it’s time to get the word out that this is going to be big, and it’s going to be beautiful.
There is still key information we want to be able to distribute to everyone coming to the action. Please sign up for SMS updates, or text JOIN to +33 6 44 63 07 76.  We also have final D12 in-person briefings in English and French today at 1pm and 3pm.
Here are the final details:
What: D12 Mobilisation to draw Red Lines for Climate Justice
When: Noon, December 12

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