I’m pulling out of the Paris demonstrations. Here’s why
This December brings big decisions for us all, and I’m not just talking about the Christmas pudding versus chocolate log (versus both?) debate. If we want planet Earth to survive, every one of us must think about our environment, our actions, our future. World leaders are currently tackling this at the UN Climate Summit in Paris.
Some climate activists, including myself, were going to travel to Paris to make our wishes clear. But in light of the recent events, this has changed.
Paris is traumatised. Like it or not, COP21 is set against a new background.
That doesn’t mean people passionate about action on climate change should stay silent. It doesn’t mean we’re giving in to terror. It means each of us should notice what is happening, and re-consider what we would bring to the table by journeying to Paris.
I’ll be changing my plans to staying in Britain, because I’ve decided that is how I will best help the climate activism movement.
I’ve been constantly reading press releases, emails, newspaper reports and messages in order to arrive at this decision. From a selfish point of view, I would have loved to have gone. Meeting hundreds of other like-minded people and making our voices heard? Fantastic.
But, I’ve decided, not worth it. Not worth making the jobs of the French Government, Gendarmerie and Police Nationale any harder than it already is.
If the French government say that mobilisation will compromise their ability to secure the safety of others, I believe them. They’re in a better place to make that decision than me, don’t you think?
As far as I can tell from my email from Friends of the Earth, the plan is that “hundreds of separately located small groups will combine creatively to form our message on the streets of Paris”.
It sounds amazing, and fun, and I totally want to do it. But it’s not what I signed up for, and in the light of the current circumstances has an echoing ring of preaching to the converted. And of bending the rules, which is great in some circumstances but not, I don’t think, these.
Unlike my mum (hi Mim!) it’s not the potential of danger that’s putting me off. Obviously any mobilisation carries the risk of large crowds, and with the changes in plans that risk has reduced somewhat. In terms of terror threat, Paris is extremely vigilant and some are saying this is a safer time to visit than before. Not sure about that, but seeing as the whole of the UK has been assessed by the Security Service as being under severe threat of international terrorism (“an attack is highly likely”), location seems slightly irrelevant.
Yes, climate change is a bigger threat to human kind than terrorism. It’s wanting to prove this that really made me want to stick to my Paris plans. Don’t give into terror and all that. But I listened to the comments of friends and family, some of whom live in Paris, telling me that my presence would not be helpful. Who am I to override what Parisians and the French Government are telling me?
Activists “trying to find grey areas in the law” (John Jordan); the idea of “thousands of people” taking part in “a day of civil disobedience” ; today’s demonstrators trampling all over memorial objects — none of it sits right with me. Not at all, and certainly not now.
Those planning to march have found solace in what Naomi Klein wrote for the Guardian on the 20th November. Unfortunately, I disagreed with the majority of it. She stated that when France decided it didn’t have “the will and capacity to host the whole summit . . . it should have delayed and asked another country to step in”. (By the whole summit, she includes those visiting to march.)
She describes banning the marches as “ a dramatic expression of this profoundly unethical abuse of power: once again, a wealthy western country is putting security for elites ahead of the interests of those fighting for survival. Once again, the message is: our security is non-negotiable, yours is up for grabs.”
Um, well, yeh. Sorry. Protection is a finite, non-guaranteed resource. I’d much rather it be given to those who are integral to the talks, not those marching. The sad truth is: that’s how our world works. We value the security of certain people more highly than others. For example, at this point it is more important for the UN Secretary General to be in Paris than it is for me to be in Paris. World leaders have been chosen to represent us. That’s democracy, as confused as it may be right now.
Paris police, understandably so, don’t have the patience for protests that start to look dodgy. We’ve seen that today, with tear gas being fired “at activists protesting as part of global climate demonstrations” and 100 people (update: 200 people) being arrested.
President Hollande graciously (or reprehensibly, depending on how you see it) stated “These disruptive elements have nothing to do with defenders of the environment. They are not there so that the [COP21] talks succeed but are there solely to create incidents”.
I am glad he has recognised that, but it doesn’t change the fact that the situation is messy — kettling and blockades and missiles. The police are, as the BBC is saying on its current news reports, “taking no chances”.
I’m not saying I couldn’t have made a difference in Paris. I’m not saying others shouldn’t go. This is a personal decision.
Indeed, life must go on, and we mustn’t give in to terror. But that doesn’t mean we blunder ahead with everything. We stock-take. We examine the circumstances. And we make the decisions that feel right for us.
Tl;dr: I have decided I can have just as much — if not more — overall positive impact on the situation by staying in England.
So what will I do instead?
I will make a donation to Friends of the Earth, who had to absorb the costs of the hostel and Eurostar tickets in order to refund my money when I decided not to go to Paris.
I will write to Eurostar and ask them to consider making a donation to Friends of the Earth for tickets that will no longer be used.
I will attend climate marches and activities in other locations. (I wish I’d been able to make London this weekend, but circumstances denied it.)
I will spend a lot of the weekend I would have spent in Paris doing proactive and attainable things for the movement. These may become clearer nearer to the time, but will probably involve alternative demonstrations, writing about the movement, putting pressure on world leaders from afar, and helping others to understand climate change and the need for action.
If you have any more ideas, please tweet me @BeccaLaBee!
Well, thanks for reading. This blog was an entirely selfish exercise in order to sort my thoughts out and I have now withdrawn from the Paris event. Maybe I’ll share this post. Maybe I won’t.
Whatever your decisions, stay safe and true to yourself.
@BeccaLaBee is a part-time student and content creator who spends a lot of time writing and staring wistfully at dogs on the street. She welcomes replies and comments, either here or on Twitter — https://twitter.com/BeccaLaBee