As part of our ongoing series of reflections on Cop 15, Mel Evans critically reflects on her time mobilizing for and engaging in Cop 15. She points towards the possibility of new avenues of struggle, and new alliances developing in the wake of Copenhagen.
Mel Evans is part of Platform (www.carbonweb.org), participates in UK Climate Camp, and is currently interviewing women involved in resistance in the occupied Palestinian territories.
SPRING (after COP-15)
Three months on from the COP-15 mobilisations at Copenhagen, I’m grateful that Notes from Below left this much time for us all to draw our thoughts together.
That was a lot of build-up for two weeks of life on earth passing like any other. Amidst the race to put out fresh news-bits, final verdicts, surmising opinion pieces I heard again and again that ‘people have made their mind up about what happened’. That is how we create meaning; we gather information, look at it, decide what we see and form a story from it to tell ourselves, and each other. I just didn’t know we were doing this to so tight a deadline.
I decided to step back. I wanted to lounge in the limbo where stories are not yet history, and look at what happened carefully. Gather a little bit more information. Spend a little bit more time seeing it, listening to different voices. I suppose I wanted to try and learn as I went. I didn’t want to join the hustle to package up a story that could shape some history that only I wanted to take forward into the future. But instead let my story emerge, as my truth rather than supposing it on everybody else’s. I’m not denying material reality or Ed Miliband’s slack pyjamas in this, just getting a feel for the meaning of events.
What follows below is a collection of my responses and reflections, as a twenty-something white woman from the UK who was involved in mobilising for the COP-15 protests, commenting on the impact and implication of COP-15 on UK climate activism.
In doing this, I found Stuart Hall’s movement analysis in Media Power and Class Power particularly useful:
“Yes there are breakthroughs and when they occur, they are real and important. Because we are stuck with an over-monolithic account of how things work, we are driven in our sectarian and ultra-leftist way to talk as if NOTHING matters or makes any difference except the one, final Big Breakthrough, one which seldom comes, but meanwhile protects our revolutionary rectitude. It is much more difficult to engage in the back breaking job of pushing and supporting a whole range of openings, while at the same time criticizing their weakness and limitations.”
WONDER (a couple of choice moments of)
1. Evening Assemblies 1 and 2
There was almost nervousness in the air. Or maybe it was just the extreme cold, 300 or so people huddled in a loose arc, most of us fresh off the buses from Germany, Turkey, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Russia, UK, US, China, Japan and of course Denmark. Translators poised, the several hundred bleary but bright daggers of eyes hit the handful of facilitators who bounce from cultural diversity in meeting style to progressive listing, in which the order of speakers fights oppression. As soon as action planning begins groups warm up and invigorate each other. It’s a diverse group meeting without forming as such – climate justice activists from South and North, some autonomous, some from organisations and groups of very different sizes, coming together as a new direction in movement.
2. Reclaim Power planning session no. 1 with CJN and the Climate Caravan, who arrived the day before from WTO talks in Geneva.
It’s another large cold graffiti-decorated could-be sports hall. This time it is HOT inside though. Everyone in the room is holding their hearts out in their hands for words of wisdom to be inscribed upon them. Seven women, indigenous from regions now known as Guatemala, Mexico, Columbia, the Phillipines speak and break through all the bullshit of Hopenhagen in the city, politicians spin from the Bella centre, consumerist streets back home, and centuries of ongoing colonialism. Here together, we commune in our anger. We enthuse about the Peoples’ Assembly being planned for the Reclaim Power action. And the struggle beyond CPH feels tangible, perhaps together we feel more ready to fight, to defend our humanity.
BREAKTHROUGHS (tangible, lasting)
At the beginning of 2009 ‘climate justice’ was new vernacular to parts of the UK network for climate action. Now it’s informing the activities of a spread of local and national groups, who are building on links made throughout the past year’s mobilising to take action on the root causes of climate change as part of a struggle for social justice. The journey to Copenhagen provided an opportunity for people who came to direct action activism via anti-war marches and urgent-and-purely-scientific climate change to look at climate change politics within a broader historical frame of racism and imperialism, domination and exploitation. A speaker at the Blackheath camp COP-15 plenary put it clearly: “You must understand that you are not starting, but joining a struggle, against colonialism, that has been going for hundreds of years”. This perspective was not new, but reflection on it became more widespread, and has led to desires for strengthening of both local grassroots bases and of international solidarity and support. Since Copenhagen more coal sites have been squatted across the UK, numerous tar sands actions have been organised, migrant support in the UK and at the Calais-Dover border has grown, various anti-airport expansion campaigns have linked with communities and trade unions, a team of people from UK networks have gone to participate in the Mother Earth Rights conference in Cochabamba, Columbia…a lot is happening, in different ways and directions, inspiring and learning from each other.
The COP-15 mobilisations also saw new allegiances, named in this collection of responses as an ‘emergent diagonalism’. Ngos and revolutionaries were taking baton-hits and twittering about it alongside each other. Traditionally the one knows their shit, the other knows their gut, the one accepts reforms, the other pushes for deeper change. The idea to have the two straining to reach each other across the UN military divide still inspires me – autonomous black block alongside Indigenous Peoples next to middle class white twenty-somethings moving steadily toward campaign officers ditching their Blackberrys, all intent on setting up a Peoples’ Assembly which could hear peoples’ response to climate change rather than corporations’ projects. The groups weren’t so two-sided, but challenges were respectively set: to both drag the insiders away from corporate NGOs that have legitimised the COP process, while at the same time persuading some social justice activists that climate change is not just an environmental issue; that climate impacts will drastically undercut basic human rights along fault-lines of gender, race and class; that fighting for the rights of the earth and the people are one and the same. Across interlocking spectrums, various groups take different actions in different moments and contexts. It is important to recognise that there is no silver bullet – we should value difference in movement as in ourselves, in order to find the million seeds of resistance needed to open space for social justice.
LIMITATIONS (ways to move on)
When I arrived in Copenhagen I found it difficult to navigate the various peoples’ spaces. I felt there was a lack of a big central space for a lot of different people to make use of for talking, planning and relaxing. One thing I really valued in my initial experiences as part of UK climate camp was the job-shop – anyone can walk in and usefully participate. Chopping vegetables was not only a time to sustain the camp, but also a time to talk about social politics, to plan an action with a close comrade, to meet new people and have discussions in the neighbourhood. At Copenhagen there was a sharp separation between the people providing the all-valuable sustenance from sleeping space to three meals a day to information, and the people involved in mobilising and organising actions. This dichotomy mirrors the male-female, mind-body binaries of old that I thought our movements were trying to move on from. It is this dichotomy that capitalism uses – the dominion of (sic) man over nature – to privatise the planet from land to people to particles of air. I would like to see more of the integration of sustenance and social politics, of vegetables and discussions in future mobilisations, for the full participation of all involved.
Along similar lines of misrepresentation, the ‘Climate change is not just an environmental issue’ zine failed to incorporate a thorough anarchafeminist analysis. It’s section ‘Feminism and climate change’ looked at climate impacts on women portraying the ‘worst victims’. I would have preferred to read a stirring account of patriarchy and white supremacy as integral structural components of global capitalism. Without seeing these power structures as a key site of struggle, we will fail to take actions that can alter social injustice. Capitalist domination of peoples and lands rests on the brutalising, intertwined logics of patriarchy and white supremacy; there are numerous stories of resistance from around the world that see this full picture.
My final query for us comes from the afternoon after Reclaim Power. UK activists had built our narrative from gloriously tearing down fences at Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station, and amongst ourselves and others I felt acute disappointment that we hadn’t significantly invaded one of the most high-security locations on the planet on that particular day. I sensed this both in somewhat defensive claims that ‘everybody had an amazing time’; in open expressions of feeling betrayed by the full body of the march not pushing towards the fences; and in claims that the Danish style of organising was fundamentally flawed. Overall, I personally had a shit day, having gotten pepper sprayed directly into both eyes early on. But I still thought the idea, and our collective intention, was wonder-ful. I reflected on where we were placing value with paying so much attention to breaking a boundary, as I had also been keen to do, seeing it as a symbol of capitalist enclosures from time immemorial. If we had placed more value on creating our own space, as many did that day, perhaps we would have revelled longer and fuller in coming together from around the world to struggle alongside each other and make spaces of our own.
INTO THE NEW (resilience)
In the face of the desolate domination of our world, it can be vital to celebrate our breakthroughs, as well as taking the time to carefully reflect on the limitations of our actions. Within the coming years’ activities and strategies I hope we can both constructively build on each other’s ideas, with their limitations, and accept supportively the different ways we all choose to try and bring about change. This requires a certain kind of resilience – to see the good and the bad in something at the same time, to hold close both anger and hope, to value breakthroughs without arrogantly blinding ourselves to their limitations, and equally to see limitations without cynically discounting genuine radical potential.