To the (inflatable) barricades!
Around 60 climate justice activists are huddled around workbenches in a sprawling warehouse in Jardin D’Alice, a convergence centre in the Robespierre district of Paris. They are making disobedient art for the protests planned around the Cop21 climate conference, scheduled to begin in three days.
Ben Peters, from Oakland, California has just finished making his first inflatable cobblestone, a striking piece of activist art that is likely to become ubiquitous throughout what is becoming known as the ‘Redlines’ movement. I ask Ben what his reaction is to the recent terrorist attacks here, the state of emergency and the resulting ban on protest. 'I think it has become even more important to show that an alternative future is possible and that people are willing to fight for it.'
Mona Caron from San Francisco agrees. 'I immediately thought of the connections to oil and this intractable cascading from the Bush wars. Not only do we need to stop extracting oil for the sake of the environment but it is also the source of conflict and terrorism.’ 'Fundamentalism and capitalism feed off each other,' adds her artistic collaborator David Solnit. 'In the US we watched the elites use 9/11 as an excuse to shut down on our rights to protest.’
I speak with Camille Libre, from the mass movement for environmental and social justice in France known as Zone A Défendre (ZAD). ZAD are fully aware of how aggressive the policing can be, since one of their own, Remi Fraisse, was killed a year ago by a police stun grenade. Camille explains how he feels about defying the ban on protest. 'I don’t give a fuck about the government… What happens in Cop21 is incredibly important and I don’t trust the governments at all. We need massive change and we will fight for that. I hope that more people come. This is an attack on nature and we must defend nature for future generations. Nothing is more important than this.' He tells me that if I speak to anyone in ZAD they will say the same and then, with a smile, he adds they will also say that their name is Camille Libre.
Over the day I speak to several young French people here and all echo the thoughts of ‘Camille’. Many say that the terrorist attacks are being used by the government to shut down protest. Some are angry that even though protest has been banned, the authorities are still allowing the corporate sponsored Solutions 21 exhibition to go ahead and a large music event.
There is a pervasive sense of courage in the face of extreme adversity. When I ask people if they are frightened, they say that they are but that they are also completely determined, and that they are proud to be able to be here and take action. One unnamed young French woman goes further: 'With climate change we are talking about unimaginable violence, violence on a massive scale. Climate change is a war, the biggest war we have ever seen. We must represent everyone and we must act now. If you do not come here to fight for climate justice, act in your own homes, in your own towns and cities.'
Artur Van Balen from Tools For Action is the young German who developed the giant inflatable cobblestones that are being made for the actions here and in Britain as part of the Redlines movement. I ask him what Redlines signifies to him. 'Redlines is a visual meme that represents the lines that must not be crossed if we are to have a sustainable planet for all.' He goes on to detail how the current conflict in Syria can be connected to drought caused by climate change.
The first Redlines action took place in Germany, when 1,500 people shut down the biggest open cast coal mining operation in Europe. The first in Britain was a smaller action where a group called ‘Matt Ridley’s Conscience’ shut down an open cast coalmine near Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
All the activists here stress that the Redlines actions planned for the coming days here in Paris are the start of a movement that will not stop with the end of Cop21. In fact, this marks the start of a global movement that will continue until the Redlines are no longer being crossed by those who intend to continue business as usual at all costs, even at the cost of a sustainable planet for all.
As we were practicing using the inflatable cobblestones in the street outside, an elderly man was inadvertently blocked in his car. He asked us what we were doing. When we explained, he said, 'Thank god for you young people, you are our brightest hope.'
*If you're in Paris, help Tools for Action make more inflatables! *
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