After Paris attacks, protest is criminalized – and major activist groups are complicit

Image description: a WWF promotional poster features a panda with a megaphone and a young person with a skateboard leading a crowd of protestors holding signs and banners through rubble-littered streets. The caption reads: “Paris Climat 2015: Pour tout changer, nous avons besoins de tous.” (To change everything, we need everyone.)

Starting next Sunday, November 29, the largest and most important international climate conference to date will begin in Paris. The 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP21) aims for nothing less than the establishment of an international framework for pricing and trading carbon, with the aim of holding the global increase in temperatures to 2°C.

The behind-the-scenes planning and lobbying and scheming in the lead-up to this conference has been extensive – as has the out-in-the-open organizing by environmental activists and organizations. And, upon close inspection, there’s quite a bit to protest at the COP21.

For instance, the access to negotiations and deliberations that has been granted to major international corporations is considerable and troubling, especially when compared with the positive dearth of consultation with the most affected frontline communities. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that the promised emissions reductions to date fall miserably short of achieving the hardline target of 2°C or less of warming which the scientific community warns is the most that our civilization can possibly endure.

Given how high the stakes are, and how non-transparent and open to corruption the negotiation process is, the scale of demonstrations was projected to be massive – the “largest climate civil disobedience ever”, organizers said in October, although even then the major professional activist organizations were trying to soft-pedal the more militant grassroots factions’ plans:

Campaigners have shelved earlier plans to prevent delegates leaving the summit until they reach an emissions-cutting deal that matches activist ambitions.

“The redlines idea strikes just the right balance between ‘shut it down’ and ‘do your job’,” the author and campaigner Naomi Klein told the Guardian…“The idea is not to lock the delegates in but to have acts of civil disobedience that block the streets and infrastructure, if they cross red lines that are minimal necessities for a liveable planet.”

In other words, in place of an earlier plan to literally bar delegates from leaving the conference until a satisfactory agreement had been reached (i.e., disruptive civil disobedience), major green orgs had pushed the deployment of giant inflatable “red lines” to mark down exactly what aspects of the agreement they expected in advance to be disappointed with (i.e., purely symbolic civil disobedience).

Whether this newer tactic would have ever been effective is now unknowable, however. In the aftermath of last week’s killings in Paris, French authorities have announced a blanket ban on protests during the COP-21 conference, citing their concern that they wold be unable to guarantee the security of the marches

Needless to say, the French feel they have the organizational capacity to ensure the security of the conference itself, as well as, for instance, major football matches and an annual Christmas market on the Champs-Elysees; it is a political decision to prioritize the security of some gatherings over others, even assuming that the law enforcement authorities truly feel they do lack the capacity to keep marches and assemblies free from attacks.

After all, as many have noted, security and intelligence organizations the world over have been taking advantage of the Paris attacks to push policies and agendas which are totally unrelated to what transpired last week:

The aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks has now devolved into a dark and dishonest debate about how we should respond: let’s ban encryption, even though there’s no evidence the terrorists used it to carry out their crime, and let’s ban Syrian refugees, even though the attackers were neither.

It’s hard to overstate how disgusting it has been to watch, as proven-false rumors continue to be the basis for the entire political response, and technology ignorance and full-on xenophobia now dominate the discussion.

The crackdown on protests is part of a larger (and absolutely terrifying) boost in police powers in France over the past week; under the three-month-long state of emergency, police now have the power to “keep people in their homes without trial, searching the homes of people without a warrant from a judge, and the power to block any website that is deemed a problem.” Human rights organizations are sounding the alarm over the massive increase in police powers.

And though they may not seem to be at first glance, these twin issues of climate change and civil liberties are closely connected. Under the current global regime of corporate power, those people who are in a position to constructively address climate change are those who are least inclined to take the radical actions which are necessary. We have long known that another world is achievable; we have the ideas, the technologies, and the popular will to take widespread and meaningful action on the climate crisis. The single largest obstacle to this change is, bluntly, capital; the interests of the extremely wealthy and everybody else perhaps diverge most sharply on the question of climate change.

Given this reality, the ability of the masses to take to the streets and disrupt the proceedings of these conferences of the extremely powerful, conferences which will quite literally influence the future of every species on this planet, is absolutely essential. To lose even this minor voice in the process would be a major blow to environmentalists’ prospects of achieving their goals. The fight for climate justice and the fight for civil liberties are inextricably intertwined.

However, the major activist organizations behind the protests don’t agree, as Rolling Stone reports:

Earlier this week, envoys for the various environmental groups determined to demonstrate during the upcoming COP21 world climate talks met with Parisian police to discuss the fate of the marquee event: a long-planned march that was expected to draw as many as 200,000 people into the streets of Paris.

Their meeting Tuesday ended in a deadlock, and on Wednesday the activists left defeated. “The police have just informed us that the tragic attacks in Paris have made the march there impossible,” Avaaz Deputy Director Emma Ruby-Sachs said in a statement after the discussion.

There are still thousands of marches and actions planned in more than 150 countries that will go ahead as planned, Ruby-Sachs said, noting, “Now it’s even more important for people everywhere to march on the weekend of November 29th on behalf of those who can’t, and show that we are more determined than ever to meet the challenges facing humanity with hope, not fear.”

Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, confirmed the dispiriting news. “We won’t be marching, but will be looking for other creative ways people can still make their voices heard in Paris,” Henn said in email to Rolling Stone.

Just to be clear: groups like Avaaz and 350.org are exactly the same organizations who a month ago were promising the “largest climate civil disobedience ever”, the same organizations who told us that it was absolutely pivotal for the future of humanity that we get a good deal out of COP21, and that they would put everything they had on the line to achieve that agreement. These very same organizations voluntarily entered into negotiations with the police over whether they should be allowed to engage in civil disobedience, and when the cops gave them a stern “Non!”, they folded completely.

This is nothing less than a total abandonment of the largely grassroots movement that these organizations have pretensions of leading.

And, understandably, a lot of people are pretty upset with this turn of events.

As I’ve said in this space before, I strongly feel that the way forward for the environmental movement is a campaign of widespread, disruptive civil disobedience. Capital must know that there is a price to be paid for inaction.

This movement can’t wait for official permission to work towards its aims, because it’ll never get that permission. The Paris protests were always going to be heavily policed, and every effort was always going to be made to keep the peoples of the world from having their voices heard at the conference.

The very purpose of holding such a massive gathering was to push back against this elitist insularity, to force the perspectives and ideas of widely disparate groups into public awareness through sheer force of numbers.

Now, with that effort in jeopardy, it’s time to push forward, despite the abandonment of the big green organizations, and bring the voices of the people to the streets of Paris during COP21.

The force of numbers is a powerful one, and, official bans notwithstanding, there will be protests in Paris. They will last longer and be more effective if large numbers of people turn out, despite the abandonment of the big green orgs.

So here’s hoping for a doozy of a protest in Paris next week. Here’s hoping that the organizers’ initial predictions come true, and it is the biggest climate civil disobedience action of all time. Solidarity to all those taking to the streets of Paris in the weeks to come!


Solidarity Saturday is a weekly examination of activism and protest in Canada and (occasionally) around the world. You can reach me at matt@thealfalfafield.com or leave a comment below.

 

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