It may turn out to be a global turning point, at least in the first steps of aspiration and intention. That is yet to be decided. Oliver Moore travelled with the Irish contingent to the Climate Change Talks in Paris.
After many months of momentum building towards the Climate Change talks in Paris – COP21, – people had been, very understandably, put off traveling for personal and political reasons. There was much empathy, sympathy and worry after the November 13th terrorist attacks.
There were also serious restrictions on travel and gathering with the introduction of state of emergency laws. Formally these made outdoor gatherings of more than two for political purposes illegal, brought in large fines and lengthened detention for being arrested. The authorities had already placed a huge number of environmental activists under house arrest in Paris. These had to sign on three times a day in the police stations and stay at home otherwise. The November 29th non-sanctioned March, from what I could gather, was very tense at times and many were in fact arrested.
Once I learned the march at the end of the COP21 wasn’t sanctioned, I felt I had to go to Paris. I was not going to be silenced. I was going to work with the activists who showed up to, peacefully, bear witness and to help generate some climate justice momentum. I was going to get on the Stop Climate Chaos bus and the boat (I was hardly going to fly now was I?!)
We moved with great enthusiasm towards France on bus and boat, getting to know each other and discussing what type of events we’d get involved in, and what the implications of the state of emergency might be.
We ground to a shuddering halt in France. The Irish bus was detained, following a supposed tip off to the French police by the Irish authorities. Certainly, that’s what the French police told us on at least four occasions where they held us, just off the boat at Cherbourg ferryport. About ten well armed French police took our passports, took photos of our banners, and presented special deportation papers for us to sign.
They wanted us to return on the 9.30 boat, three hours after landing. This was both a serious moment of deflation and also our first strong coming together as a group to work. We rang everyone. We rang Friends of the Earth France who were immediately in discussion with the police in Paris. We rang both embassies, many politicians, people in the COP, and after some discussion, the Irish media. We wanted to leave the diplomatic efforts to work first, in case media coverage created a situation where it would look bad for the French to be seen as backing down.
It was amazing – and a bit unnerving – to see just how networked we were. And it was often the youngest, quieter ones in our group of 20 to 72 year olds – who had the unexpectedly useful connections.
We also kept engaging the police, chatting to them, and getting off the bus to do so as often as possible.
The captain of the ship came down to talk to us – he wasn’t used to dealing with 35 potential returnees, so he wanted to get a suss on us. Minutes ticked by.
One of us – Grace O’ Sullivan – asked if it was her presence on board which had stalled us. She’d been on the Rainbow Warrior – the Greenpeace ship protesting France’s nuclear testing in the Pacific. The French state attacked the ship Auckland Harbour in 1985. She was on it when they attacked, killing photographer Fernando Pereira.
They said it wasn’t her – it was all of us.
Some people were getting emotional – we had a few meetings and certainly decided collectively that we wouldn’t be signing anything. We were formally asked and resolutely refused, with a little laughter (see video) By now Grace was on Drivetime live from the bus, telling the country about us, fielding bizarre questions about weapons and terrorism. A victim of French state terrorism looking at exceptionally peaceful people in santy hats being asked live on national radio if there were weapons on board. Surreal. More minutes slipped away…
Texts back from Dublin and Paris weren’t hopeful as to our chances of getting through, except, strangely, one from inside the COP. But we couldn’t rely on one ok text – so there was still more calling, more talking to all sorts of strange bedfellows as the minutes kept ticking.
And then, at 8.30, we got word – they got word – we’re getting through. What. A. Moment. Pure joy and release. We were back en route to Paris for the #RedLines action.
The above is an extract from a fuller report on the ARC2020 site.