Activists to defy protest ban with giant civil disobedience at end of Paris climate talks
Thousands expected for major action in Paris marking climate ‘red lines’ crossed by governments and big polluters
As negotiators try to finalize a UN climate pact being hailed as dangerously insufficient, a network of groups will express their outrage and pledge continuing action in the new year with massive civil disobedience at an iconic French site.
Organizers hope to send a message that leaders should not try to claim the agreement is a success - with industrialized countries refusing to commit to a fair share of emissions reductions, putting the world on a path toward a catastrophic 3 degrees of warming.
Backed by 350.org, Attac France and others, the action on Saturday will evoke “red lines” that are the minimal conditions for a just and livable planet and which activists say the world’s richest governments are trampling over.
Since the Paris attacks that killed 130 people on 13 November, the French government has maintained a state of emergency prohibiting any form of protest, drawing criticisms that they are curbing the right to dissent.
Despite the ban, hundreds of people have been turning out throughout the week for non-violent direct action training - including “speed-dating” to match people into teams - in a large cultural centre in the north end of Paris.
Organizers plan to evade the ban on demonstrations - which are defined as “more than two people sharing a political message” - by sending out thousands of groups of two on Saturday, before converging at a still undisclosed Paris landmark.
At that point, activists will unveil hundreds of red umbrellas and giant inflatable cobblestones that hearken to Paris’ revolutionary history. A 100-metre long red banner reading “Keep it in the ground” will identify the multinational corporations primarily responsible for climate change, according to plans seen by the Guardian.
Scores of actions under the theme of “Climate Games” have already happened through the city and Europe in the last weeks, tracked by an anonymous online platform - including blockades by British group Plane Stupid to protest new Heathrow runways, and the installation of 600 fake adverts across Paris criticizingcorporate sponsorship of the UN negotiations.
Along the bank of the Seine river, graffiti has appeared criticizing the French government for using the security measures to eclipse other issues: “L’état d’urgences pour faire oublier les tas d’urgences.” (A state of emergency to ensure other emergencies are forgotten.)
Activists plan to lay 5,000 red flowers and funeral wreathes to draw attention to what they described as the “climate emergency,” commemorating past and future victims of climate change, while fog horns give off a deep mournful sound.
“We will widen the circle of grief from those murdered by terror to include those dying because of climate change,” says activist and artist John Jordan.
“It’s also a battle over who tells the story of the outcome. Will it be governments and corporations or social movements who get to have the last word? We cannot let them declare this agreement a triumph, when in fact it will consign millions of the poorest people to death.”
After the 13 November attacks, organizers cancelled their original plans to surround and blockade the summit conference center because they felt surprise actions, even with the commitment to non-violence, would have endangered activists with French police on high alert.
Organizers also did not want to draw police to the St Denis suburb close to the UN conference centre, which has a large Muslim population that has already beentargeted for violent police raids.
Juliette Rousseau, coordinator of the French coalition representing 150 organizations, including labour unions, green organizationsand faith groups, says the French government has been determined to make it difficult for people to mobilize.
“Even before the attacks of 13 November, the government was trying to close the borders to activists, trying to ensure the mobilizations would be as small as possible. The state of emergency has turned out to be a tool they could exploit to achieve this. They never wanted their agreement to be received with waves, never wanted their party to be ruined by civil society - which in its diversity is actually the best expression of society’s interests.”
“We know that our leaders have shown little respect – not for the rights of people on a planet torn by inequality and racism, nor for the red lines for a just and livable planet. Lines we should dare not violate. So we will stand with our bodies to draw red lines, committed to protect our common home from burning up,” it reads.
“This will be our demonstration of hope, power and strength that we will hold as we bring the fight back to the fossil fuel industry in 2016.”
Other groups such as student unions are said to be supportive of the planned civil disobedience but are worried that the government could, under its state of emergency powers, dissolve their organizations.
Charges for refusing to disperse from actions include up to one year in jail and a fine of €15,000 (£10,850).
As an alternative, the French government had offered civil society a sports stadium for an authorized protest on Saturday, but that has now been cancelled.
The exact location of the noon action will be revealed by email and in meetings on Friday.
A separate human chain action organized by other groups will convene later at the Eiffel tower on Saturday.