The journey from protest to riot

It feels like the script for yesterday’s violence in Paris was in many ways written over a week ago. Buzz Tour’s Eve, Sama and Miranda witnessed a lot of the events in Place de la Republique yesterday and we have since spoken with others in different parts of the square to hear their stories.

12310424_10154358208153222_7187090291990779079_nThe Place de la Republique was the planned march start location and contains a shrine of flowers, candles and messages of sorrow for the victims of the attacks. In place of the official march, Avaaz arranged for people to be able to place their shoes in the square to represent them, however the shoes then had to all be cleared away by twelve and when I arrived they were bagging up seemingly hundreds of shoes. A ‘human chain’ was formed along the march route which the police permitted as long as they remained spread out and on the pavement.

We defied the protest ban and walked the march route (more on that story later) and saw a range of attitudes from those in the human chain. Some stretches were sombre and back against the wall, others happy and at the edge of the road. All sorts of banners and decorations were showing support for climate action. After the human chain dispersed, the square gradually refilled with people.

Many of those who later filled the square might not have attended a legal march, but attended now to reclaim the right to protest. Following the Paris murders, anger seems to keep growing, feeding itself in a spiral. Speaking with French protesters there is a great deal of history of French police abusing protesters and many have become battle hardened. When a large number of angry and frustrated people gather and are confronted by a large number of police, violence is going to happen. It seems the more police, the more likely that violence will occur. Anger at capitalism as the root cause of inequality and environmental degradation has to be expressed. When unfairness builds, people are going to want to challenge and confront it and will look for opportunities to do so. To reclaim their power and respect in the face of unfairness, people seek action.

People have been taken from their homes without warrant, forbidden from travel, the COP21 protest legal team are under house arrest, even we are followed and Miranda’s accommodation was raided by armed police, just to get everyone’s ID.

Yesterday a few people began to throw the shoes representing the march at the police. The police tear gassed the crowd, and blocked the exits to the square. Miranda was one of the last people able to leave before the metro too was closed. Some people continued to throw things, anything that was to hand, including candles from the shrine. Police began to kettle protesters into a smaller area, sometimes slowly, sometimes with charges. In the process of kettling the crowd, the police trampled and broke many of the candles of the shrine. The police violently charged the few hundred strong crowd, including areas where nothing had been thrown from. One woman in her fifties told me, “We weren’t being violent, they kept charging us. They beat people with batons and then they would take someone and arrest them, it seemed random.” Over three hundred people were arrested, most of which are still in prison now.

Repressing protest and violent policing will not reduce violence. Throwing shrine candles at police will not help address capitalism. This script is currently scheduled for a number of replays. If we don’t want repeat performances, we have to do things differently…

Bike convoy

There are bike convoys to the Paris climate summit both from within France but also from other countries, yet as a group of people with a political message they are in breach of the law against protest. I met up with the Belgium Climate Express group as they continued on after they were forbidden from entering Paris. Their banner reads “We continue”.

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The 300 strong group from Belgium IMG_0631found themselves without accommodation or food after the police pressurized their accommodation into not letting them stay. The group ranged in age from 18 to 56 and many people had not been involved in a long distance ride or public political expression before. 130 people decided to return to Belgium whilst 170 continued on, doing an epic two days worth of cycling in one day, splitting into small groups to make it into Paris. Sama and I joined their contact in France as he took food out to the group and we met them en route along the canal.

Bike convoys are a great way for people to express their passion on an issue, travel low carbon, challenge themselves and get together with other allies. The bike convoy from the UK Time to Cycle will be leaving next week and we can expect similar challenges for them to enter the country and make it to Paris.

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Brandalism

As the climate talks began yesterday over 600 posters had been put up around Paris to challenge the corporate advertising messages and allow environmental messages around the COP21 to be heard. Everything from beautiful images of nature and cartoons to fake company adverts admitting deceit.

The posters received national press coverage in France, Germany and the UK and raised issues of corporate sponsorship of the climate talks, social justice and the global economy. 130 artists from all over the world submitted hundreds of designs in English and French to the organisation Brandalism for illegal distribution by about 50 volunteers. I’ve been really impressed with the effect of this project to create discussion and change, and the power of seeing these messages in a normally commercial space. If this tactic interests you there is a wealth of information on the Brandalism website. Here are just a few of my personal poster favourites to put a smile on your face.

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Paris protest and mass participation

So far the state of emergency in France means that the government has forbidden public mass gatherings like the climate march, they no longer require warrants for searches, can forbid the movement of people and vehicles at certain times and places and can censor communications believed to facilitate terrorism. What might this mean for climate activists in Paris and what are some of the tools available to us? legogatheringOn the metro the other day I was passed by about thirty soldiers with guns walking in line and glaring sternly at everyone. Yesterday I had my backpack checked going into the supermarket. The people I meet have not been deterred by the threat of terrorism from living their lives as normal and we remain in a western country where protest is very low risk compared to much of the world. As legal restrictions increase there is a lot we can learn from protest strategy elsewhere in the world to allow the maximum number of people to participate.

Positive change can come from our constructive actions to create a new reality, but it also comes out of resolving conflict and stopping harm and abuse. Those with power who benefit from inaction on climate change are in conflict with those suffering because of climate change, and indeed the rest of life on earth. The behaviour of vested interests such as Esso has shown that they will not change unless forced to. These points of conflict can be worked on in a wide range of ways but some tactics are especially suited to mass participation in times of reduced public freedom.

Protesters brandishing shoes during a demonstration to demand the resignation of Tunisian Minister of Women's Affairs, Sihem Badi on March 29, 2013 in Tunis. Badi is highly criticized for months for her good relations with the Islamist ruling party Ennahda and recently for her support to a kindergarten where a three-year-old girl has been raped. AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID In a ‘virtual march’ shoes, pictures, footprints, banners and toys may be used to represent the dead or those not able to march. Those marching elsewhere can carry pictures in solidarity. When mass gatherings are forbidden a distributed action is one which happens simultaneously at a large number of locations.

If public spacescafe are forbidden, privates ones such as shops, cafes, theatres etc may be used. For those accepting of a greater level of risk, ‘forbidden’ actions are available. Civil disobedience is the deliberate non-compliance with a law believed to be unjust.

Where organised protest is forbidden, other signals can be used which are hard to classify as a protest. For example, gathering and all wearing a symbol, using a certain ringtone, making public noise at an arranged time… Humans are endlessly inventive in our communication and if the risks outweigh the benefits for one form, others may be devised.

There is of course also a huge range of disruptions which can be directly used for those causing harm. Over the next month hundreds of thousands of people are considering how they will make climate conflict visible and work to resolve it. Behind choices of tactics they will be considering who are the targets we want to change, and what are the levers we are seeking to influence to make that happen?

If you’d like further reading about strategic non-violence try Blueprint for Revolution and for tactics and strategy you might enjoy Beautiful Trouble.

Buzz Tour in Paris

I arrived in Paris on Friday evening but was inside for the night before the murders began. Over the next month Buzz Tour will be reporting from Paris, bringing you interviews and articles about the people gathering to work to reduce climate change, but in this first report can only express my condolences to all those injured and those who lost loved ones.

On Saturday I saw soldiers outside a synagogue and assumed it was because of the killings but my companion told me that Parisians have been living with soldiers outside some places of worship and schools since last January’s terrorist attack. I spent today walking from one side of Paris to the other today then catching the buses around. In the unseasonably hot, sunny weather people went about their Sunday business and the street cafes were busy. Tourists packed the areas around famous sites and families were using the many parks.

peaceOpposite the Porte Saint-Denis (built to celebrate Louis XIV’s war victories) a homemade banner call for “Paix Amour” – Peace Love – with the Eiffel Tower peace symbol. The Eiffel peace symbol was also showing on electronic screens in the spotlessly clean business district amongst the glass high-rise towers.  The number of homeless people living in poverty on the streets across the rest of the city is very high, most of them black.  Cardboard corrals and tent shanty areas pop up now and then anywhere, even next to the Commerce building.

Hundreds gathered in Place de la Republique for a peace vigil this evening. Looking out of my window I can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance,  tonight relit after being dark in mourning yesterday.

 

What’s happening at the COP21?

Want to connect with the biggest climate meetings and demonstration of our time? The 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21) is a focal point for people from around the world to gather. The talks begin on the 30th of November and finish on the 11th of December but grassroots events are already happening and will continue after the talks. Here’s a look at what’s coming up.

On Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th in all major cities across the world are the climate marches. If you want to organise your own local demonstration a good place to start is 350.org.

The Climate Games, the “world’s largest disobedient action adventure game” runs from the 30th of November to the 13th of December. Before that, teams need to anonymously register and pick a target. You can play anywhere in the world especially for the opening round on the 30th of November and teams will win points for their actions. Here is an excellent toolbox for disobedient actions to give you inspiration and more information.

In Paris you can find out more about the dozens of workshops, gatherings and talks on the website of Coalition Climat 21, the French-led coalition of over a hundred different groups. On the 5th and 6th of December the Peoples Climate Summit will have the largest concentration of events, just to the east of Paris in Montreuil. Between the 7th and 11th of December the Climate Action Zone will help people to form groups and to prepare to take actions against those worsening climate change.

climategamesAs well as the games, on the 12th of December in Paris there will be the largest European civil disobedience on climate change in history. This will include a ‘red lines’ action where streets will be blocked with inflatable red lines that represent the ecological ‘red lines’ that should not be crossed. After the summit groups will return home with their new skills and friendships to prepare for a actions in spring 2016 against major global warming gas emitters.

If you’d like to go to Paris you can arrange your own transport or Reclaim the Power have organised coaches. In Paris there will be free ‘crash space’ organised by Reclaim the Power for which you will need to bring a sleeping mat and bag. If you would like to arrange your own accommodation we suggest you are quick! If you would like to cycle there you can book your place (including accomodation) with Time to Cycle.

In the words of the Climate Games, get ready to make your move!