by Nathan Thanki and Trudi Zundel
Last week the people marched past the UNFCCC meetings with trucks, horns and speakerphones blasting political messages for the delegates inside negotiating over the future of the planet. No one inside blinked an eye. A crowd of maybe 50 people gathered by the gated walkway to see them march, and horsed policemen barred every potential entrance. We were left wondering why the energy didn’t penetrate the gates, why people inside didn’t seem to feel the same urgency. But yesterday, as the negotiations were heating up instead of coming to a close, accredited members of civil society finally carried the voice of dissent from the streets to the corridors.
Civil society had been quiet, cautious, wary during the first week, but as week two began and the negotiations remained largely closed, there was no way the pressure couldn’t build. The UN has learnt that the best way to silence someone is to engage with them, but sometimes they forget. It began with the Stand with Africa flashmob, to test the waters. Then the brave Canadian Youth Delegation turned their backs on the Canadian government, literally rising together in the plenary to defy the shameless Peter Kent. Soon after that, Abigail Borah of SustainUS took it up a notch; shouting over Todd Stern as he attempted to give his plenary speech. “You do not speak for me!” There were sporadic walking flashmobs of I <3 KP shirts, and rumblings of a large action for Friday. When Anjali stepped away from the podium and did a call and response with 50 youth, the message to governments had become clear.
You have denied us a voice too long. We do not need your microphone, we have our own. You will hear us.
By 3pm on Friday, it was now or never for civil society. Up to now only the youth had been raising their voice. But finally the rest of civil society joined us as we carried the demands of the many to the halls of the few. An initial rallying cry mic check went out, and suddenly hundreds of people were marching through the ICC towards the plenary. Delegates from Egypt and Maldives were joined by Kumi Naidoo and other NGO leaders. Banners and placards appeared from nowhere. Jubilee South and La Via Campesina had been protesting the World Bank’s inclusion in climate finance and quickly joined the march through the hall. The UN guards were quick to respond. They had been expecting us. Frankly, it was rude to keep them waiting for 2 weeks. They put on their serious faces. One was in the crowd, stealthily taking badges without asking. That’s how we lost three. Some people (some from earthinbrackets) took their badges off and pocketed them. The march reached a blockade and could go no further. The singing began. Shosholosa, mostly. Cries reflected the fundamental values that all of civil society could agree on: urging governments to negotiate on behalf of their people; respecting the principles of the convention, like historical responsibility; urgent action; and of course the broad cry for climate justice. And although the divides among civil society still showed–some falling into the EU trap of calling for a new treaty that would kill Africa and blame China/India, and some not wanting to get thrown out for protesting–it was still a show of unity.
The protest yesterday may have boosted the energy in the negotiating room for a little while, but the new draft decisions that came out this morning certainly don’t accommodate civil society’s demand for climate justice. I think of it as baby steps, though. Corporate lobby still has more say than us, the villains are still not getting the blame and shame they deserve, polluters are still being protected, and our future is still being sold for profit… It will take a lot more than a peaceful march at a COP to dislodge such a deeply-ingrained, corrupt system. Until it ends, the struggle continues.