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? On 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.
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 spaces 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.