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FLASHBACK | Communique from COP

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December 12, 2011
by Quincy Saul

This pockmarked daybreak
Dawn gripped by night,
This is not that much-awaited light
For which friends set out filled with hope

– Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Many arrived in Durban with high hopes. They hoped that the sheer urgency of climate change, especially in Africa, would persuade world leaders and their representatives to take the necessary action to avert global catastrophe. They hoped that dissent inside the meetings would pressure the big polluters to atone for their sins. And they hoped that civil society on the outside would mobilize to change the course of history. Such hopes will haunt us all in the years to come, as we come to grips with the collective atrocity that was COP17.

Showdown at the Durban Disaster: Challenging the ‘Big Green’ Patriarchy

Global Justice Ecology Project | December 16, 2011

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

Dedicated to Judi Bari, Emma Goldman, my mother and all of the other strong women who inspire me

An action loses all of its teeth when it is orchestrated with the approval of the authorities. It becomes strictly theater for the benefit of the media. With no intent or ability to truly challenge power.

I hate actions like that.

 GJEP’s Anne Petermann (left) and GEAR’s Keith Brunner (both sitting) before being arrested and ejected from the UN climate conference. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

And so it happened that I wound up getting ejected from one such action after challenging its top-down, male domination. I helped stage an unsanctioned ‘sit-in’ at the action with a dozen or so others who were tired of being told what to do by the authoritarian male leadership of the “big green’ action organizers–Greenpeace and 350.org.

I had no intention of being arrested that day. I came to the action at the UN Climate Convention center in Durban, South Africa on a whim, hearing about it from one of GJEP’s youth delegates who sent a text saying to show up outside of the Sweet Thorne room at 2:45.

So GJEP co-Director Orin Langelle and I went there together, cameras at the ready.

We arrived to a room filled with cameras. Still cameras, television cameras, flip cameras–whatever was planned had been well publicized. That was my first clue as to the action’s true nature. Real direct actions designed to break the rules and challenge power are generally not broadly announced. It’s hard to pull off a surprise action with dozens of reporters and photographers milling around.

 Media feeding frenzy at the action. Photo: Petermann/GJEP

After ten or so minutes, a powerful young voice yelled “mic check!” and the action began. A young man from 350.org was giving a call and response “mic check” message and initiating chants like “we stand with Africa,” “We want a real deal,” and “Listen to the people, not the polluters.” Many of the youth participants wore “I [heart] KP” t-shirts–following the messaging strategy of the ‘big greens,’ who were bound and determined to salvage something of the Kyoto Protocol global warming agreement, regardless of whether or not it would help stop climate catastrophe.

The messaging and choreography of the action were tightly controlled for the first hour or so by the male leadership. The growing mass of youth activists and media moved slowly down the cramped corridor toward the main plenary room and straight into a phalanx of UN security who stood as a human blockade, hands tightly gripped into the belts of the officers on either side. I found myself wedged between the group and the guards.

Pink badges (parties) and orange badges (media) were allowed through the barricade, but yellow badges (NGOs) were strictly forbidden–unless one happened to be one of the ‘big green’ male leadership. They miraculously found themselves at various times on either side of the barricade. The Greenpeace banners, I might add, were also displayed on the non-blockaded side of security, providing a perfect visual image for the media: Greenpeace banners in front of the UN Security, who were in front of the mass of youth. This was another indication that the “action” was not what it appeared to be. No, the rising up of impassioned youth taking over the hallway of the climate convention to demand just and effective action on climate change was just a carefully calculated ‘big green’ photo op.

There was wild applause when Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace (at that moment on the protester side of the security barricade) introduced the Party delegate from The Maldives–one of the small island nations threatened with drowning under rising sea levels. He addressed the crowd with an impassioned plea for help. Later, the official delegate from Egypt was introduced and, with a great big grin, gave his own mic check about the power youth in his country had had in making great change. He was clearly thrilled to be there in that throbbing mass of youthful exuberance.

Youth confront security during the protest. Photo: Petermann/GJEP

But as with many actions that bring together such a diversity of people (youth being a very politically broad constituency), at a certain point the action diverged from the script. The tightly controlled messaging of the pre-arranged mic checks, began to metamorphose as youth began to embody the spirit of the occupy movement, from which the “mic check” had been borrowed. New people began calling mic check and giving their own messages. Unsanctioned messages such as “World Bank out of climate finance,” “no REDD,” “no carbon markets” and “occupy the COP” began to emerge as repeated themes. At first, the action’s youth leaders tried to counter-mic check and smother these unauthorized messages, but eventually they were overwhelmed.

After a few hours of this, with no sign of the energy waning, the “big green” male leadership huddled with security to figure out what to do with this anarchistic mass. Kumi, or it might have been Will Bates from 350.org, explained to the group that they had talked it over with UN security and arranged for the group to be allowed to leave the building and continue the protest just outside, where people could yell and protest as long as they wished.

This is a typical de-escalation tactic. A group is led out of the space where it is effectively disrupting business as usual to a space where it can easily be ignored in exchange for not being arrested. In my experience, this is a disempowering scenario where energy rapidly fizzles, and people leave feeling deflated.

I feared that this group of youth, many of whom were taking action for the first or second time in their lives, and on an issue that was literally about taking back control over their very future, would leave feeling disempowered. I could feel the frustration deep in my belly. We need to be building a powerful movement for climate justice, not using young people as pawns in some twisted messaging game.

There was clear dissention within the protest. People could feel the power of being in that hallway and were uneasy with the option of leaving. Finally I offered my own ‘mic check.’ “While we are inside,” I explained, “the delegates can hear us. If we go outside, we will lose our voice.”

But the ‘big green’ patriarchy refused to cede control of the action to the youth. They ratcheted up the pressure. ”If you choose to stay,” Kumi warned, “you will lose your access badge and your ability to come back into this climate COP and any future climate COPs.” Knowing this to be patently untrue, I cut him off. “That’s not true! I was de-badged last year and here I am today!” This took Kumi completely by surprise–that someone was challenging his authority (he was clearly not used to that)–and he mumbled in reply, “well, that’s what I was told by security.”

Crowd scene in the hallway. Photo: Langelle

Will Bates, who was on the “safe” side of the security line, explained that UN security was giving the group “a few minutes to think about what you want to do.” While the group pondered, Will reminded the group that anyone who refused to leave would lose their badge and their access to the COP. “That’s not letting us make up our minds!” yelled a young woman.

I felt compelled to give the group some support. I mic checked again, “there is nothing to fear/ about losing your badge,” I explained, adding, “Being debadged/ is a badge of honor.”

After the question was posed about how many people planned to stay, and dozens of hands shot up, the pressure was laid on thicker. This time the ‘big green’ patriarchy warned that if we refused to leave, not only would we be debadged, UN security would escort us off the premises and we would be handed over to South African police and charged with trespass.

At that a young South African man stood up and defiantly raised his voice. “I am South African. This is my country. If you want to arrest anyone for trespass, you will start with me!” he said gesturing at his chest. Then he said, “I want to sing Shosholoza!”

Shosholoza is a traditional South African Folk song that was sung in a call and response style by migrant workers that worked in the South African mines.

The group joined the young South African man in singing Shosholoza and soon the entire hallway was resounding with the powerful South African workers’ anthem.

Once consensus was clearly established to do an occupation and anyone that did not want to lose his or her badge had left, Kumi piped up again. “Okay. I have spoken with security and this what we are going to do. Then he magically walked through UN security blockade. “We will remove our badge (he demonstrated this with a grand sweeping gesture pulling the badge and lanyard over his head) and hand it over to security as we walk out of the building. We do not want any confrontation.”

That really made me mad. The top down, male-dominated nature of the action and the coercion being employed to force the youth activists to blindly obey UN security was too much. I’d been pushed around by too many authoritarian males in my life to let this one slide, so I mic checked again. “We just decided/ that we want to stay/ to make our voices heard/ and now we are being told/ how to leave!” “I will not hand my badge to security. I am going to sit right here and security can take it.”

And I sat down cross-legged on the floor, cursing my luck for choosing to wear a skirt that day. Gradually, about a dozen other people–mostly youth–sat down with me, including Keith and Lindsey–two of our Global Justice Ecology Project youth contingent.

But still the male leadership wouldn’t let it go. I’ve never seen activists so eager to do security’s work for them. “Okay,” Kumi said, “but when security taps you on the shoulder, you have to get up and leave with them. We are going to be peaceful, we don’t want any confrontation.” Sorry, but in my experience, civil disobedience and non-compliance are peaceful acts. And I find it impossible to imagine that meaningful change will be achieved without confrontation.

At some point from the floor, I decided I should explain to the crowd who I was. I mic checked. “I come from the United States/ which has historically been/ one of the greatest obstacles/ to addressing climate change. I am sitting down/ in the great tradition/ of civil disobedience/ that gave women the right to vote/ won civil rights/ and helped stop the Vietnam War.”

 Karuna Rana (left), sits in at the action. Photo: Langelle

About that time, a young woman named Karuna Rana, from the small island of Mauritius, off the southeast coast of Africa, sat down in front of me and spoke up. “I am the only young person here from Mauritius. These climate COPs have been going for seventeen years! And what have they accomplished? Nothing! My island is literally drowning and so I am sitting down to take action–for my people and for my island. Something must be done.” Her voice, from such a small person, was powerful indeed. An hour or two later, while standing in the chilly rain at the Speakers’ Corner across the street after we’d been ejected from the COP, she told me that it was my action that had inspired her to sit down. “You inspired me by standing up to the people that wanted us to leave.” I told her that her bravery had similarly inspired me.

Kumi led a group of protesters down the hall, handing his badge to UN security. Those of us who remained sitting on the floor were next approached by security. One by one, people were tapped on the shoulder and stood up to walk out and be debadged. Keith, who was sitting next to me said, “Are you going to walk out?” “No.”

Security tapped us and said, “C’mon, you have to leave.” “No.” Keith and I linked arms.

Then the security forcibly removed all of the media that remained. I watched Orin, who was taking photos of the event, as well as Amy Goodman and the crew of Democracy Now! be forced up the stairs and out of view. As they were removed, Amy yelled, “What’s your name?!” “Anne Petermann. I am the Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.”

I was familiar with the unpleasant behavior of UN security from previous experiences, and so I was somewhat unnerved when security removed the media. Earlier in the week a UN security officer had shoved Orin’s big Nikon into his face when he was photographing the officer ejecting one of the speakers from our GJEP press conference who was dressed as a clown. Silly wigs are grounds for arrest at the UN.

One of the reasons that media have become targets of police and military violence all over the world is because they document the behavior of the authorities, and sometimes, depending on their intentions, the authorities don’t want their behavior documented. Not knowing what UN security had in store for us, I decided I should let the remaining people in the hall–who could no longer see Keith and I since we were sitting and completely surrounded by security–know what was happening. I explained at the top of my voice that that the media had been forced to leave, and encouraged anyone with a camera to come and take photos. The photos on this blog post by Ben Powless of Indigenous Environmental Network are some of the only ones I know of that document our arrests.

Keith Brunner is hauled away by UN security during the sit-in outside of the plenary at the UN Climate Convention. Photo: Ben Powless/ IEN

They took Keith first, hauling him away with officers grabbing him by his legs and under his arms and rushing him into the plenary hall–which, we found out, had been earlier emptied of all of the UN delegates so the racket outside would not disturb them. I was then loaded into a wheelchair by two female security guards. A male guard grabbed my badge and roughly yanked it, tearing it free from the lanyard, “I’ll take that,” he sneered. I was then unceremoniously wheeled through the empty plenary, past the security fence and into the blocked off street, where I was handed over to South African police.

“They’re all yours,” said the UN security who then left. The South African police discussed what to do with us. “What did they do?” asked one. “They sat down.” “Sat down?” “Yes, sat down. They are environmentalists or something.” “Let’s just take them out of here.” So I was loaded into the police van, where Keith sat waiting, and we were driven around the corner, past the conference center and to the “Speakers’ Corner” across the street, where the outside “Occupy COP 17” activists had been having daily general assemblies during the two weeks of the climate conference. “Hey, that’s cool,” said Keith. “We got a free ride to the Speakers’ Corner.”

I was told later that Kumi was the first arrested and had been led out of the building in plastic handcuffs, offering a beautiful Greenpeace photo op for the media. I rolled my eyes. “You’ve GOT to be kidding me. They used HANDcuffs??? Gimme a break.” More theater. Greenpeace is nothing if not good at working the media with theatrical drama such as pre-orchestrated arrests. Kumi may not have wanted to lose his badge, but he made the most of it. At the Speakers’ Corner following our arrests, the media flocked to him while I stood on the sidelines. The articles about the protest in many of the papers the next day featured Kumi speaking at the protest, Greenpeace banners prominent. The fact that it was a COP 17 occupation that he had repeatedly attempted to squelch somehow did not make it into the news.

I lost a lot of respect for Greenpeace that day.

But many of the youth also saw how it went down. I was thanked by several participants in the protest for standing up to the ‘big green’ male leadership and defending the right to occupy the space. I, myself was deeply grateful for the opportunity to do something that felt actually meaningful in that lifeless convention center where the most powerful countries of the world played deadly games with the future.

http://climate-connections.org/2011/12/16/showdown-at-the-durban-disaster-challenging-the-big-green-patriarchy/

Must Read Interview with Tom Goldtooth – Climate Change, the Big Corrupt Business?

Admin: By far the best interview out of Durban – If only everyone spoke the truth like Tom Goldtooth in this interview … we would be winning the battle instead of losing.

The Africa Report

By Khadija Sharife in Durban

05 December 2011

Tom Goldtooth, head of the Indigenous Environmental Network talks to The Africa Report about the manipulation of carbon trading data and the double standards assumed by richer countries.

“The carbon certificate, that says one corporation somewhere in the world now controls and owns what in our culture cannot be owned – land, air, the trees”- Tom Goldtooth/Photo/Reuters

Goldtooth expresses his misgivings about agriculture being included as part of the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). Arguing that “REDD is going to be the largest legal land grab the world has ever seen”, the indigenous North American warns of colonialism and forced privatisation. And according to him “those with the most money and power can – by remote control, lock up the largest land areas in developing countries”. “They are happiest to work with the most corrupt because it is easiest that way,” he says.

Interview.

The Africa Report: How do indigenous peoples, such as yourself, perceive REDD?

Tom Goldtooth: There are a number of reasons for profiling REDD as a false solution. For indigenous peoples, and as an indigenous organisation that specialises in environmental issues, and which has consulted with many indigenous peoples from the North of the world to the South, from the East to the West, one of the biggest issues is escalation of global warming. In Alaska, melting ice has forced entire villages to relocate, there is coastal land erosion. It is not an easy situation to pull up your entire life – as a community – and move, especially with the other issues involved like settlers with private land rights. So the biggest issue we feel, is putting a stop to climate change by shutting the valve of GHG. It is a matter of life and death.

So we are very concerned that the second round of the Kyoto Protocol is being held back by the powerful governments of the world, including my own government, the US. Any real mitigation is welcome with open arms because we are the people who are most vulnerable and desperate for a solution. But is REDD a real solution? Already, there has been manipulation of the data, displacement of peoples, narratives driven by industry-funded scientists. We are concerned that the same people who caused the problem are now shaping the solution to fit with their agendas – which is making a profit using the same principles that caused the problem. Look at how it is being implemented as well – corporations know that it is easy to exploit the peoples of the South given the state of their governments, the lack of land rights, the violation of human rights, through that piece of paper – the carbon certificate, that says one corporation somewhere in the world now controls and owns what in our culture cannot be owned – land, air, the trees. How can this belong to a one financier when it belongs – and has a right to belong, to the earth?

Give us your perspective on the US government’s position in the climate talks?

In our country, there has been the expansion of fossil fuel development, so even while they are talking a green policy view, they are expanding dirty industry right in our backyards, which is also the homeland of indigenous peoples. Look at the tar sands in Northern Alberta, Canada – this is within the traditional homelands of the Dine’ people – I’m a Southern Dine’. Another group, the Namate, live downstream and with the immediate zone. They are about 22 corporations – many of them state-funded, including Statoil from Norway, and Total from France. The companies involved are not only polluting the atmosphere and the earth, but they’re depleting water, and the same companies are involved with clearing away the boreal forest. It is a viable option now that the price of fuel is going up. Yet Canada, which has not come close to meeting their commitments and is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, has gone ahead with tar sands. These are the governments that are supposed to provide the solution?

Has there been any co-option of the indigenous leadership through corporatising policies such as Alaska’s ‘native corporations’?

Yes – there are many shams, precisely like the native corporation. At the top, our allies in the UN tell us they are still wondering whether it can even scientifically work or not – offsetting biotic carbon in trees for the carbon mine from the earth and burnt through combustion. In the long term, we pay the price. The indigenous peoples in Alaska are very concerned about the destruction of their leadership through the native corporations that was a mechanism by the US government and politicians to gain title to buy them out with money through forming these corporations, which also locates negotiating tactics within these capitalist structures. We work with the Alaskan organisation Redoil – some have resisted becoming part of it and still call themselves traditional governments, they are not part of the regional corporation structures. Some have sold their shares. Others still participate to try and make a difference. These corporations are lobbied and collaborate with the business-as-usual fossil fuel leaders. It has taken us away from our traditional principles and values which is the opposite of commodifying, privatisation resources that are destructive and spell a death sentence. The native corporation heads – we see them in meetings, wearing designer suits, and talking designer talk. We don’t talk because their agenda is the same lethal talk that has caused a global crisis.

If we look at the way in which the UN is structured, is there legitimacy to this UNFCCC event – should it be delegitimised or engaged with?

It is a two-way street for us. Certainly, the UN is what you say. But look – we tried to use it as a way of lifting up issue of human rights, social and environment justice, and bring that to the framework. We know that the first Kyoto Protocol had many problems including that the emissions target that Annex 1 (developed) nations were signatories too, was the bare minimum. It was very hard for us to accept the compromise. Some of the bigger organisations said, ‘Tom Goldtooth – this is the first step, we can strengthen it later.’ But here, it is ‘later’ and the issue of relevant binding agreements holding industrialised countries accountable has to happen. But as indigenous peoples, we cannot wait for another international agreement to be negotiated – another wasted decade. You have petroleum companies now that are investing millions to offset their pollution by owning the environment. Our people end up as renters. But what happens when the carbon market falls apart or collapses? Who is liable? Who pays the price? We are told to safeguard and trust the process, but the advisors in the UN and World Bank, have even admitted that it is going to be very weak.

There is a lot of risk. We fear that at the end of the day, with agriculture now being included as part of REDD, REDD is going to be the largest legal land grab the world has ever seen. Back to colonialism, back to forced privatisation, especially for forest communities. Those with the most money and power can – by remote control, lock up the largest land areas in developing countries. And they are happiest to work with the most corrupt because it is easiest that way.

Do you have representation through large green political muscles – and if so, how, if not, why not?

“When indigenous peoples started to call into question the false solutions, we were attacked by large environmental organisations, saying that we were not looking at the bigger picture, at the benefit of REDD. We saw a campaign mounted to disrupt us, and to marginalise what we’re saying. But indigenous people no longer are able to stand back and let the ‘good intentioned’ voices speak on our behalf. In 1999, it used to be five or six people, at most, holding the line. Only when REDD became part of the picture, did indigenous peoples begin to stand up and actively resist. Corporations that fund some of the green organisations know how to play the game, and the organisations play back, to stay in business. The corporations know there is money to be made from investing in privatised trees, and that it looks good in paper. If you look at the NGOs, these are European ‘white’ NGOs, and there is tremendous racism and classism woven into that. When an ethnic person speaks up, they get offended they don’t want a solution from the marginalised. They want to devise the solution they feel is best for the whole system – and we have to ask ourselves what the system they actually represent, entails.

Many have proposed ‘eco-socialism’ and other similar models as the solution. Renowned Marxist David Harvey says it may be necessary to separate indigenous-type peoples living in the commons, like the Amazon, from the ‘natural’ commons – what is he advocating and from what standpoint?

“The white-is-right dogma – where they don’t care to understand what the reality is and the culture and beliefs, of indigenous peoples, all over the world, especially the most marginalised, the forest peoples. We are the ones most anxious to protect, our cultures are principles on the belief that we cannot own and abuse the earth for our short-term benefit.”

Youth from all over the world have flown in – yet many lack understanding of the political economy of pollution, both problem and solution. Why is this?

“Look at the role of the WWF-type organisations. These are educators. Al Gore – pushing for the carbon market, he is an educator on the environment and climate. They are slumming it out in Durban, it is fashionable for a young white kid from the US or UK to be concerned about a global poverty issue, not the reality in their own backyards, but somewhere where they can be special, become heroes. We challenged the big organisations with environmental racism – the top ten movements, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, to bring our voices to the board, to the way in these campaigns are shaped. They resisted us. Even when they do appoint a person of colour, it is usually from within the mentality of surburbia, so that they are never questioned or taken out of the comfort zone where ‘white is right.’ And these organisations and their narratives are so popular – you have young kids coming, getting their hands dirty. They leave, feeling vindicated, slumming around – as if they have done their share. But this is our life, and that parachuting in and out of communities, the ruckus society, is destructive and presents the distorted reality. We have challenged, and become very unpopular, for raising the issue of classism which is source of the problem and requires an economic analysis if the environmental and climate narrative is to be truthful…. Look at 350.org – we had to challenge them to bring us to stand with them on the pipeline issue. Bill McKibben, the ivory tower white academic, didn’t even want to take the time to bring people of colour to the organising. We managed a negotiation that allowed for both groups to unite.

Concerning celebrated activist voices like Naomi Klein – they appear to come from a specific formula – What are your thoughts?

“Well, it is always the case with the media that ‘white is right’ or that global issues affecting people of color on the frontline should be represented by the type of voices that don’t engage, in a threatening way, the realities of capitalism. There are also many fashionable voices that become part of the establishment in the sense that while they do espouse the truth, it is not pose a threat for change, for ending the system, because someone has adopted a cause that they were not born into. The communities that live in the cancer hotspots, in the immediate environment, their voices are too real, too threatening. Meanwhile, infiltration continues – how the corporations lend their money to the media – how the media shapes the tones and get the right voices to provide just the right amount of dissent. Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg donated millions to the Occupy Wall Street. We need a systems change, not an isolated trendy environmental change. The organisations that speak need to have a real constituency – they need to be accountable to the people they represent. There is no time for egos and games anymore.

As Navaho people, as Dakota people, we are struggling to understand how the problem that created the problem becomes the solution? In our language, we have no translation of ownership for the air – or carbon. One of my elders told me, if you ever have a hard time translating something into your language, beware that it may lack the truth.

http://www.theafricareport.com/index.php/news-analysis/climate-change-the-big-corrupt-business-50176874.html

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