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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 anyone to be able to accuse of us trying to disrupt the talks.”
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.”
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.
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.
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The male top-down Earthlife Africa leadership need to ask themselves the question: Why were they not even close to such an action?
That is correct as everyone can see above in the comments. I apologize for the mistake. What you state is the first quote and “I found this action the most overwhelmingly inspiring and empowering thing I did in Durban. People from every race, nationality, gender and sexuality (I know because many of them are my friends) spoke up and were heeded by the crowd.” Although you do not use the same words as David Thong I interpret this as you have a similar opinion opposing both Petermanns criticism against top-down male leadership and that the role of the youth was used by Greenpeace. But correct me if I am wrong. From the video and your statement it is clear that the action was full of energy. But when listening toi what Greenepqace director says this energy is turned into a direction were
the negotiations regardless of political content as well as leaving voluntarily is the outcome. This means that a choice is made between holding on to a political belief or following the rules of the system, and that is not a question of how an action feels for those attending it but an issue of importance for everyone interested in the content of a political process prior to the rules set by the present world order.
Great stand (or sit) Anne, so agree with your opening lines:
“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.”
Just to clarify that i have been incorrectly quoted. David Tong should take credit for the second and third quotations attributed to myself.
The above contribution to the comments was an attempt to explain for outsiders about the action on December 9 at COP17. To those who have been reading this blog there is not much news other than that transcripts from an Avaaz video have been made and the discussion structured in a different way. I hope this can be constructive.
Last humans standing at COP17 in Durban
In the last hours of the UN climate negotiations at COP17 in Durban 2011 a crowd gathered inside the conference building were very many declared their willingness to occupy the hallway were they were standing. In the end only two people stayed while the very many left under guidance of Greenpeace director Kumi Naidoo and Will Bates from 350.org. The political message stated by Naidoo behind this change was ”nobody can accuse us of disrupting the negotiations, all we want to show is our support of the most vulnerable in the negotiations”. The other political message was that people would loose their right to attend COP meetings in the future if they stayed. Thus the action turned from occupy in support of ”power to the people and not the polluters” to walk out freely according to the negotiations with the security authority and hand over the badge when tapped on the shoulder to continue the protest outside.
This can be compared to a similar moment at COP15 in Copenhagen 2009. Here a crowd of similar size also gathered inside the conference building. The difference was that at this occassion the very many including some governmental representatives chose to confront the idea that avoiding disrupting the negotiations as well as completly follow instructions by security authorities was the only intention. The very many chosed instead to walk to establish a People’s assembly for climate justice together with thousands of protesters outside. Thus establishing an alternative to the negotiations by reclaiming power to the people attempting at occupying a space outside the conference building but inside the conference site. Both the protesters coming from the inside and those from the outside were met by police batons, pepper spray and tear gas. The spokespersons for the outside Reclaim power action organized by Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now ended up in jail for instigating violence with heavy economic debts for juridical costs. The action was completly non-violent as announced and no policemen were wounded but many protesters. The People’s Assembly was finally established outside the conference site in spite of the violent attacks by the police. Here the most frequent banner was the green Via Campesina flag, the largest mass movement on earth with some 200 million members standing up against power together with many others at COP15 in Copenhagen. The activists demanded system change not climate change and became one of the important inspirations for the Peoples summit on climate change in Cochabamba.
The difference between 2011 and 2009 is striking. Science shows even more than in 2009 the seriosity of climate change. The limitations of the COP negotiations are now more clear than ever. And yet is the response among those following the negotiations from civil society from the inside so much weaker. This is an argument for looking closer at what happened at the action on December 9 at in Durban. What thus it tell us about future actions for climate justice and the alliances needed for bringing about change?
How the diminishing and almost extinction was organized of a decisiveness to occupy, to not only talk but also act, at a crucial moment in governmental negotiations at COP17 is documented by a long video published by Avaaz (http://www.livestream.com/avaazglobaloccupations). The same crumbling of an action that from the beginning was strong is also accounted for in detail by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project, (including critical comments: http://climate-connections.org/2011/12/16/showdown-at-the-durban-disaster-challenging-the-big-green-patriarchy/#comment-10533). She together with Keith refused to leave when everybody else chose to walk out freely according to the rules set by the security. The two last humans standing up against power at COP17 in Durban
The reaction against Petermanns description has been very strong. ”I feel it’s a real shame that you believe what you have expressed here” writes Cat member of the UK Youth delegation.” Your summary is extremely inaccurate, and you make a lot of false assumptions.” writes David Thong.
The content of the Avaaz video and the core of Petermann’s argument covers the same course of events – the development of the action once it started. In the video and in the Petermann’s report one can see that a great part of the people present agrees to stay and occupy the hallway. Petermann stated in her mic check, the method used by anyone willing to speak at the action borrowed from the occupy wall street movement: I have been coming to these COPs since 2004. They are dominated and controlled by the 1 percent. That will not change unless we make it. And if we go we will not have the power to make that change. So I say occupy the COP!
Organizers responded at first by stressing that individuals who want to leave must be respected. People from South Africa and elsewhere made their message clear supporting the call for occupying and stay were the action started. Power to the people! I did not come here to be caught outside clapping hands! I came to demand climate justice now, stay here and not outdoor. We do not want a new environmental apartheid, lets continue fighting for climate justice, social justice. Organizers once more stated that those who stayed would loose their badges and so those that did not want to lose his or her badge had the chance to leave. Petermann intervened and stated that if we go we will loose our voice This was followed by someone calling for a decision asking who want to stay recieving enthustiastic response from very many. Once again UN security and arrests for trespassing was addressed as something to take into account by those that did not wish to see such consequnces for themselves. Here a South African intervened strongly saying that nobody should tell us what to do. We occupy! The crowd started chanting The people united will never be defeated! Followed by the strongest singing of the South African freedom song shoshaloza during the action. A consensus had developed for a civil disobedience action by staying while individuals could leave.
The response from the organizers at this stage was decisive. Julian who had started the action with his strong voice spoke up: Now we make a decision, we will not leave. This sounds perfectly in compliance with the decision made. He continued: The security will start to remove us. We will be removed one by one peacefully. And finally: If you are touched by security you need to allow yourself to be escorted out, that is all. Suddenly was the whole decision to stay turned into a decision to voluntarily leave.
This message was now explained in detail by Kumi Naidoo. He once again made it clear that people could leave and that those that needed to move please did so and that they should know ”we love you,” and ”you are chosing just another route to be part of the struggle”. Than he adressed the security with the help of the mic check: ”thankyou for the dignity you have showed up til now.” stressing they did not see the people in the hallway as their enemy and certainly did not the protesters see them as part of the enemy. This was followed by ”we are challenged to show the highest level of maturity, dignity, and courage”
Instead of staying Greenpeace director Naidoo now proposed an action he once more described with noble words and called ”the highest tradition of peaceful civil disobedience”. He told the present crowd what it all was about: ”Now we have to plan towards UN security to ensure that nobody can accuse us of trying to disrupt the negotiations.” After the long introduction he had made concerning those that had to leave, the UN security and civil disobedience he proposed more specifically ”A peaceful, and a powerful way for us to leave the venue.”
After this more precise proposal was made a detailed instruction how to leave would follow embedded in explination of how his proposal was related to consequences, possibilities to protest longer inside the building and how to behave in front of media. He started wanting to ”give people a final chance to know the implication of what will now happen.” When we get debadged we cannot come back to the negotiations and also not to future negotations. Some of the present protested showing that they had badges now after being debadged at earlier COP meetings. Naidoo said this is what he had been told by the UN security and responded to the claim that there was no threat to not be allowed in coming negotiations by stating ”take that as an alternative view.”
He continued leaving the subject quickly focusing on singing and dancing in front of the cameras. ”So now the idea of singing is a great one. But we have the world media here. Lets show how we can leave in a way were we can show dignity and were we send a message to the negotiators we are with them, So now if you were to move on bloc to those doors it would create a disruption. So what I suggest, and this would take our departure longer, it means we can sing longer, and dance longer,”
Finally came the precise instructions from the director of Greenpeace: ”So what I propose if we make a straight line, and as you walk out peacefully take our badges and give it to UN security.” During this message Naidoo took of his badge demonstrating clearly what to do. His final comment was to remind the people once more about media and the risk that ”Our enemies will try to present us in a negative way” and then once more repeating with his movements and words to ”give the badges peacefully to the security when we walk out.” Ending with the call ”Be the line!”
Petermann intervened again: “I think we all decided that we did not want to go. And now we are being told how we could go! I personally think that we should sit down and that we should stay. Our voices will be heard. And if security want our badges they can come and take them.” Then she sat down together with some who already were sitting on the floor. This was followed by another call for ”sending our message until they remove us. We remain peaceful. Lets continue singing.” And the singing of shoshaloza started once again.
At this poin the uncut Avaaz video ends. Petermann ends her account by writing:
”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. 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.”
Naidoo was hand cuffed as the only person reported to have been treated this way and went out among the first the front door. The only two that refused to leave were both taken by the security guards and then handed over to the police outside at the backdoor who drove them to the protest outside at the Occupy action going on since some time at the front of the building were they could leave.
Very little detailed arguments are made against the accuracy of Petermanns accounts so firmly confirmed by the Avaaz video of the course of the events. The strong differences are in how what happened is valued and how it was planned.
The reactions are against presenting the action as a way to use young participants to give an opportunity for Greenpeace and other big environmental NGOs to present a photo opportunity for the media. ”They were hardly useful pawns for a big Greens photo-op, and I find your characterisation of them as useful idiots, effectively, to be really frustrating. writes Cat. There were at the action free possibility to use the mic check opportunity and some youth certainly did. But the director of Greenpeace also clearly dominated and spoke five to ten times longer then anyone else.
Also the accusation by Petermann against the action to have been male dominated and patriarchic is questioned. ”I also frankly do not see any gender issue in the planning or operation of the action.” writes Cat.
The central part of the accusation of top-down male domination during the action is the interventions made by those that negotiatied with UN security. Fatima states: ” I find your words about Kumi and the male members of the 350 team personally offensive too. At no point did I feel like they were anything but equals to me.” And furthermore ” As for the other ‘males’ you accuse of patriarchy – they were nothing but supportive”. David Thong writes ” I also frankly did not see any sign of male dominance, nor of it being a top down operation. Kumi seemed to be trying to negotiate with security, but I didn’t see that as top down.”
Petermann also includes Will Bates from 350.org in her group of dominating males. ”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.” In his comments Bates from 350.org have not opposed this description.
Instead he makes the following comment: ”I too felt very uncomfortable about the sort of “huddle” that took place with a few of us (yes, all men — I was cognizant of that as it was occurring too) with security as the action proceeded. I ended up as part of that huddle quite spontaneously as a result of being recognized as one of the action organizers and pulled through the security line. Once there, and hearing what sort of “agreement” was being considered with the security (to move outside), I then proceeded to argue that none of us could choose to re-locate on behalf of the larger group — and that in fact, the intent of the action was to stand our ground until removed from the conference, making the spirit of our movement and our objectives heard inside as long as possible. Kumi Naidoo stood by me as I very nervously made the case for staying where we were and at very least allowing the group to decide. Eventually the huddle agreed (well, aside from the security officials involved, clearly) that it should be left to the larger group to choose the course of the action, and that’s what happened. And in fact, I think the transparent group decision to stay, discussed and deliberated openly, was a great element of the action.” Which of the three evaluations concerning the possible top-down male nature of the action is the most accurate can anyone find out by watching the Avaaz movie and reading the report be Petrmann and the comments.
Concerning the planning of the action Petermann was wrong. The action was not planned in detail above the heads of young participants. The central role of Kumi Naidoo and Greenpeace and others had been given in advance at meetings were both YOUNGO, a Youth NGO delegation at the COP meetings as well as GCCA participated, the broad Global Campaign for Climate Action describing itself as ”born from conversations between internationally-respected campaigners and advocates representing environmental and development NGOs and social justice groups.” GCCA runs the TckTckTck campaign which according to their webiste ”strengthens global civil society action to prevent catastrophic climate change, adapt to climate impacts and make the transition to a more sustainable and just world.” Main initiators of the action was 350.org, member of GCCA intended as a mass action to support small islans states and African negotiators.
There is of course a legitimate role at actions that initiators in a transparent way negotiate with security authorities. That both Greenpeace and 350.org did not know that people debadged at earlier COPs were not refused accreditation for following meetings shows incompetence in being negotiators at important historical conjuntures were strong civil disobedience is called for. But that many men had been elected to be negotiators is clear and thus had the full right to do so. The question is in what way they did this. One should be very careful with hindsight. It is easy to sit on the side afterwards with videos and statements to come with an analysis and proposals for how things could have been handled better. To the benefit of Bates he certainly attempts at discussing what have happened with an open mind. Others chose to see Petermanns report only as totally inaccurate closing doors not only between themselves and those that stayed. But also to those not present that ask if the Avaaz video really shows a mass action that lives up to the intentions at the historical moment as an expression of ”the highest tradition of peaceful civil disobedience”. Those that do not only want words about climate cjustice but also action.
That Petermann puts 350.org in the same box as Greenpeace is also strongly opposed by commentators. But 350.org did the same as Greenpeace during the action. As initiators 350.org had the responsibility and the possibility to take charge of the course of events when it comes to necessary information on the security conditions. This seems to have been done in a way that caused confusion and gave Greenpeace the totally dominating role in what was an achievement by 350.org. By describing the sentiment of the action as strong while avoiding to take into consideration the actual total change of the decision to not leave voluntarily 350.org shows that it is not only unfit to inform correctly about security consequences but also that it tries to hide the way the organization turned a strong action into a defeat for the democratic decision to stay.
Now what can be the conclusions? The central position of 350.org was well deserved. Like no other organization 350.org has been able to make a call for action that have resulted in unprecedent climate mass actions all over the world. That the legitimacy established by this role was given over to Greenpeace is a choice that devalues the role of self organized mass actions into he hands of professionalized management of political opinion. This is a pity for several reasons which has to be addressed at this historical conjunture in the struggle for climate justice. The weakness of Petermanns account is that criticism is only directed at so called big envrionmental NGOs. Everyone have had the chance to initiate the kind of mass actions called for by 350.org in the struggle for climate justice but have chosen to focus on action for the few or very well developed political analysis of the situation. It is necessary to analyze how different organizations act to demand coherence and promote the ability to strengthen the climate justice movement. This will be important in general but also for the preparation for the coming Rio+20 summit in June 2012.
Active in Friends of the Earth Sweden
Active in organizing alternative activities at the UN Conference on Human Environment 1972
Co-coordinator of international climate action days in 70 countries 1991-92,
iInternational contact person for the declaration process at Klimaforum09 during COP15
“Thank you for confronting Mr. Greenwasher in Chief. I do not know what it is about Greenpeace. Their ex-bigshot Patrick Moore is enthused with nuclear power these days. It is about time the Big Greens were confronted on their claims to represent the environmental movement” Well said, Aletha!
Here in Canada we have the Suzuki Foundation claiming moral conscience;while at the same time doing the complete opposite with misleading info. Too bad- BIG dollars have bought these people off.
Thank you for confronting Mr. Greenwasher in Chief. I do not know what it is about Greenpeace. Their ex-bigshot Patrick Moore is enthused with nuclear power these days. It is about time the Big Greens were confronted on their claims to represent the environmental movement. Unfortunately mainstream movement groups value their access to the political table too much, so they will not risk jeopardizing it by standing up for vital principles. In other words, they may protest before they roll over, but they sold out long ago and now serve to muzzle the movements they claim to represent. It is a real problem for feminism, environmentalism, and the antiwar movement; the mainstream big groups have been coopted and refuse to get out of the way. Though I am active in all those movements, I have to say the big names no more represent me than the Democratic Party whose embrace they have not learned to regret.
Hi folks, Keith here. I arrived at this action with the intent to document it, and left in the back of a South African police truck. Funny how these things work.
This action, and Anne’s analysis of it, has sparked a thread with some discussion points that will be crucial as we navigate the process of building alliances amongst politically and strategically disparate groups in this fight for climate justice. This is exciting- many more heated cyber-and-real dialogues to come. As I’m still jet-lagged from my return from SA today (it’s 12am Durban time), I’ll just throw out a quick thought from the top of my head.
Patriarchy exists. When a group of men ends up negotiating for, and especially influencing the decisions of a larger group, we are reminded of this reality. I’m not saying that men deliberately conspire to marginalize other voices (although this sometimes happens). What I’m saying is that addressing male domination- and being able to recognize it- absolutely must be a component of our movement building. This was a man-huddle. That’s significant.
Will mentioned in his response that he was cognizant and aware of the nature of the man-huddle that was occurring, and that he was pulled into it quite spontaneously as a co-organizer of the action. I recall watching Will, and feeling like I could literally see his brain churning as he tried to decide what course of action to take. I think this could be a great ‘teachable moment’ for us organizers, and especially for men: If we were in Will’s shoes, with the pressure on, and conscious of the gender and power dynamics of the moment, what options would we have to address them? With relation to “stepping up and stepping down,” how does one ‘step down’ in a way that empowers the larger group and the action as a whole?
I’ve got many other reflections from this action, and I’ll probably post something tomorrow- but for now, I’m off to sleep. Cheers, Keith
Thanks for sharing that.
Will – Just wanted to add a voice of congratulations and support.
You say only men disagree with Anne’s post. Fatima and Cat both strongly disagreed, and both are female. Quite a few other women have spoken about it to me very critically.
Also, as far as I know, no one was arrested at the protest on 9 December. Security took people’s badges and evicted them. Some, as Anne said, were handed over to the police, but the police did not arrest them.
Firstly, thanks for being a part of the action and for being a strong voice for us all to stand our ground.
It was a tremendously powerful action. It was particularly inspiring to me to see how the human microphone allowed for such a diversity of voices to be shared and heard. One of the intentions of the action was to be clear that business as usual was unacceptable, including for civil society groups inside. We needed to escalate, and I think this action achieved some small part of that in some beautiful ways.
I too felt very uncomfortable about the sort of “huddle” that took place with a few of us (yes, all men — I was cognizant of that as it was occurring too) with security as the action proceeded. I ended up as part of that huddle quite spontaneously as a result of being recognized as one of the action organizers and pulled through the security line. Once there, and hearing what sort of “agreement” was being considered with the security (to move outside), I then proceeded to argue that none of us could choose to re-locate on behalf of the larger group — and that in fact, the intent of the action was to stand our ground until removed from the conference, making the spirit of our movement and our objectives heard inside as long as possible. Kumi Naidoo stood by me as I very nervously made the case for staying where we were and at very least allowing the group to decide. Eventually the huddle agreed (well, aside from the security officials involved, clearly) that it should be left to the larger group to choose the course of the action, and that’s what happened. And in fact, I think the transparent group decision to stay, discussed and deliberated openly, was a great element of the action.
There’s much more that can be shared about the action, but to me the most essential part is that it took place — that a coalition of groups and individuals came together to step outside their own sort of business as usual and engage in civil disobedience in support of the most vulnerable people on the planet calling for the strong action that science and justice demand.
I will merely point out what those who successfully fought apartheid, segregation, nuclear power plants, wars, deforestation, or other state-sanctioned injustice already know. Real change cannot be accomplished in collusion with those who are employed to protect the power structure. If the 1% or their guardians approve of an action, or give approval to it, it will not effectively challenge power. We are in a planetary crisis. Climate catastrophe, which loomed large anyway, is now all but certain given the outcomes in Durban. If now is not the time to challenge power, then I don’t know what is. That is why I took the actions I took and why I wrote what I wrote. I have devoted my life to laying the groundwork for the transformation of the unjust system under which we are forced to live.
thanks for your thoughts.
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Dear Anne, et al:
I was not there, but have read thru all the comments with interest, following your posts mostly in real time or day after whenever you posted. I note that only men object to this post and only women salute you and thank you – I amongst them! For sitting down for justice right where it needed to be mic checked at the exciting moment, not orchestrated outside into the better photographic light, with or without guards doing something planned out there.
Since the Occupy Movement began, we feminists have heard from every camp that megaphone- and mic- domineering by male “loudest” voices is a recurrent problem irking (or as you say, infuriating) most women. San Francisco and Oakland have worked on it by forming rules, camps, platforms…. working groups against patriarchy are springing up all over and continuing to revamp the new cultures of mic-checking demonstrating (eg http://oaklandoccupypatriarchy.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/points-of-unity-for-a-feminist-queer-occupation/).
However, I can also relate to two common (and mentioned above) phenomena, Anne, which may have tainted your pure unplanned sit-in and thus perhaps lost you more compatriots:
a) the ‘mic’ is always tempting to grab; but if it doesn’t need to be said, don’t say it; right? Not saying what you said didn’t have to be said, just sayin’ the temptation to keep on sayin’ whatever, even when the moment MAY have passed…. I was not there, so I’ll shut up now!:);
b) what someone said about it getting onto the media – you got to admire the ones who did get their pic into all the papers being arrested…. but wait, none were???
I googled “arrests at Durban COP17” and only got the first 3 Greenpeace activists on teh first Mon. trying to unfurl a banner on the hotel wall. Nothing re the last day, even today late on the 18th. No contest, at least two good journalists got to cover most of this historic two-person arrest for a great cause!!:) Thanks Orin and Ben!!:) Do u think anyone inside who kept their credentials heard you??
Best Regards, Thia
I’ve tried to calm down since first reading your article this morning. Nothing angers me more than inaccurate reporting. I shall not reply to all your points as David has articulated many of my concerns. Although he might not want to defend Kumi and the members of the 350 team.. I will. I would also like to clarify that Greenpeace were one of the organizers and not jumping on any sort of bandwagon. Kumi actually sat next to me in one of the planning meetings. The march/protest idea developed in a meeting between Greenpeace, Avaaz and 350. They then brought their ‘idea’ to the GCCA meeting so that a consensus could be reached. In all the meetings that I attended whilst at COP, I have never seen a room more diverse. Members of YOUNGO sat next to leaders of big NGOs who sat next to some party officials. The meeting went on forever and to prove it wasn’t a top down thing – Avaaz printed out 500 t-shirts that said ‘Don’t Kill Africa’ , but a few young people didn’t agree with the message on the shirts and Avaaz took it in good nature and decided not to use the T-shirts for the protest.
I find your words about Kumi and the male members of the 350 team personally offensive too. At no point did I feel like they were anything but equals to me. The 350.org team talked us through every step. I didn’t know who Kumi was until a a few weeks before the protest but the more I saw him and the more I heard him speak the more my respect grew for him. He is a man who fought authority to bring equality to his country so how can you infer that he was blindly crumbling under the pressure of authority is ridiculous.
As for the other ‘males’ you accuse of patriarchy – they were nothing but supportive
With all organized actions, someone must take some sort of leadership. In the planing meeting individuals were identified that would act as spokes and liaise with the security – that is why you saw some people take leadership and convey the message put forward by security back to us.
I must also mention that something like this was said to us hours before the march by someone from 350.org ‘ Security will give us the option to leave or get debadged. I will tell the group that they have these two options but 350 will not be leaving we intend to stay and sit down’ so although you might have taken the first seat.. they were intending to long before you did.
What I hate about the type of action that involves fighting against those who are not our enemies eg. UN Security, is that it takes away from the general message. Coming from London I have seen way to often, effective protests be tarnished by the few who take things way to far. Leaving in peace separates us from them. What would they have said if we had all caused racket? ‘Oh there they go again causing a commotion’… then the stories that echoed through those halls would lose their power. RE The media: they were there to send our message to the world, so that our voices weren’t contained in the halls of the ICC.
Also other people speaking DID NOT ‘ diverge from a script’ it was intended that after party delegates spoke that anyone who wished to speak could do so.
Finally I would actually like to THANK the members of Avaaz, 350.org and Greenpeace who surprised me that day by not only doing the big planing but also getting down there to do the work too. Usually and especially through COP big NGOs bring the big ideas but use other people especially the Youth as their fall guys. But by being amongst the first to sing, chant, sit down and get debadged that day they should true leadership and support.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not standing up for UN Security. Things were better than I expected, from what friends said about Cancun. But a lot of what they did was still totally indefensible. Another example: a friend overheard one security guard suggesting on the last Saturday that things would be simpler if they could just shoot everyone with a yellow NGO badge.
Of course – we can’t reduce them to a one-dimensional charicature. I don’t think I’ll forget the sheer exhaustion in the face of the guard who implored us to leave on the Sunday morning. He begged us to go: “It’s over, go home…I just want to go home…go now, so I can go to my hotel…I fly home today…”
I agree that we must challenge existing power structures. Because of our different backgrounds, you and I will inevitably choose different methods. I agree that the time for mere media stunts is over.
You seem to suggest that I am blindly defending Greenpeace and 350’s leaders. However, I feel that my defence of them is pretty well-based, given that I had talked to them (well, Paul from Greenpeace, not Kumi Naidoo, but…) about this protest before it happened, and have a decent idea where they were coming from.
I don’t think a lot of your attacks hold true. I think I am relatively sensitive to gender issues, though imperfect, and didn’t see a gender issue at that protest. I think 350 did pretty well, though do wonder whether Greenpeace overstepped their role. Overall, I think it was a good action. Most people I’ve spoken to have been positive about it – and it was planned and organised by 350.
I’m sorry if you read my portrayal of the youth in the action as pawns or “useful idiots.” That was absolutely NOT the case. Quite the contrary, I saw the youth finding their own voice and creating a tremendously empowering action. I got frustrated, as I said, by others trying to control it. I merely tried to make space for the youth involved to make their own decisions on how the action would play out. As such I tried to walk my talk as well.
No, 350.org and Greenpeace are not the same thing, but I would not blindly defend their leaders either.
I and others in the organization I work for saw security at the UN at various times 1) ejecting a youth for dressing as a clown, even though he was not involved in a protest but a press conference; 2) shove a camera violently into the face of a photographer taking a photo of that event; 3) tried to prevent a permitted wastepicker action from carrying signs or handing out literature; 4) Roughly shove the media up a staircase so they could not take photos of the removal of me and Keith. The UN Security are there to guard ability of the 1% to get away, literally, with murder at these UN Climate Conferences.
So yes, you’re right, UN Security let the leaders through in order to negotiate with them and so the leadership would control the crowd for them. That’s what the security does–crowd control.
Power is going to have to be challenged. Participants in the action got a taste of their own personal power that day. I hope they go on to continue to ‘up the ante’. Media stunts, unless they directly confront power, aren’t going to cut it anymore. Check out the Yippies and see how they challenged the status quo.
First – sorry about the tone of my last comment. Posted in frustration from my phone while getting ready for work.
Where I found your summary inaccurate was in your description of how it was planned. Cat and I were at two different planning meetings beforehand about it (actually, Cat may have been at both – I can’t remember). The march was 350’s idea, and they pitched it to GCCA for support and numbers. Greenpeace are one of the ENGOs that make up GCCA, so knew about it through that. It was not a calculated photo op, nor a spontaneous youth action. It was intended by 350 as a mass action to support AOSIS and African negotiators.
My perspective of it would be different from yours, because I was running around the outside filming it. I left shortly before Keith – and I guess you, though I don’t think we’ve met – were ejected.
I found it very easy to get around the cordon. You just had to drop to the back of the protest, walk up the stairs, walk over above the protest, and walk back down the other side. The second line of volunteers prevented people on that side from blocking access to the plenary, maintaining a clear space, but, otherwise, getting around was pretty easy (surprisingly so, I thought – compared to what friends told me about Cancun, security seemed reasonable).
If security let Kumi Naidoo and Will through the cordon itself – that’s not really sinister at all. That’s security trying to identify apparent leaders (or negotiate with self-identifed leaders) and negotiate an outcome. Hardly mysterious.
Also – you talk about how disempowering it would have been to move outside etc. Fair enough. However, I know Will was also concerned about the safety of the others there. He was happy for people to be de-badged (as were 350 and Greenpeace), but didn’t want to antagonise security into violence. He, like you, knew that some of the YOUNGO people present hadn’t been involved in much activism before.
I would not call the initial messaging tightly controlled, by a male leadership or otherwise. 350 were a little concerned, beforehand, to focus the messaging on supporting AOSIS and African negotiators.
I did see Kumi getting handcuffed, though have no idea why security did that. I don’t have any reason to believe that he somehow persuaded them to do it as stunt.
I also frankly did not see any sign of male dominance, nor of it being a top down operation. Kumi seemed to be trying to negotiate with security, but I didn’t see that as top down. Will had discussed the options with security at the previous night’s GCCA meeting.
Also – I’m pretty miffed that you put 350 in the same boat as Greenpeace. The two are utterly different in structure, philosophy and organisation.
I also object to your characterisation of the “I <3 KP" campaign. That was a bit of a farce, but for a totally different reason – and I was at the GCCA meetings where that campaign was planned. The "big greens" weren't concerned with saving the KP at all costs, regardless of whether it would help.
Overall, the thing that frustrates me the most about your post is the way it belittles the experience, decision-making and knowledge of the YOUNGO people involved. I know at least some were at their second protest ever (though many were experienced activists, including with direct action). Some have a better understanding of the KP than I do (and I did my damn law honours on it). They were hardly useful pawns for a big Greens photo-op, and I find your characterisation of them as useful idiots, effectively, to be really frustrating.
I also frankly do not see any gender issue in the planning or operation of the action.
Finally, as I said before, while I have problems with both Greenpeace and (less so) 350, I don't think you can remotely equate the two.
Thanks for your thoughts.
I’m sure you experienced the action differently, how not? I’m sure it appeared different depending even on where one stood in the action. But as to your accusation that I was inaccurate or made false assumptions, I happened to be standing right in the front, right next to security, right next to the mic checks and right next to the head of Greenpeace. I had a very clear view of the whole thing. Everything I wrote was as accurate as I could remember and I reported what I saw, what I heard and what I said.
But I was not the only one who had this particular view of how this action went down. Some videographers filmed a lot of the action and have a video of it which we will run on Climate Connections tomorrow.
By the way, thanks for letting Cat know that Greenpeace was informed prior to the action. That had been clear to me by what I saw, but thanks for confirming it.
I also found the action overwhelmingly inspiring. It was for this reason that I became outraged when the head of Greenpeace began attempting to control it. Especially trying to make the protest go outside, which, as I wrote, in my experience leads to disempowerment.
I was happy to have stumbled upon the action. I was happy just to be a part of it until I witnessed the top-down male domination of it. Then I had to speak up.
It is often the case in our movement (and I’ve been in it for over 2 decades) that women do the hard work of organizing and the male leadership come in and take the credit. That seems to be what happened here.
Lastly, I showed up in the foyer outside the Sweet Thorne room 15 minutes prior to the action and it was seeming with reporters and cameras. Someone tipped them off. Oh, and by the way, I did not have a bad time. I just don’t like patriarchal behavior. I, like you, found the occupation very empowering.
I was there. That wasn’t how it went down. I was also at the meeting where 350 first pitched the idea of a march within the ICC to GCCA (including Greenpeace).
Your summary is extremely inaccurate, and you make a lot of false assumptions.
Hi Anne, This is an interesting blog, it’s always intriguing to hear other people’s perspectives of actions that you have been a part of. However I feel it’s a real shame that you believe what you have expressed here, and given that you entered the process of the action at 2.45, and were not involved in its inception, I would love to clear some things up.
I have tweeted you a photo of the action planning meeting on the morning of the protest, lead by 350 and the youth constituency – please take a look – it is overwhelmingly female. We also spoke in whispers in this meeting and all others, and orchestrated all logistics through online SMS services – the media were very genuinely not informed – they pounced upon the action because it was the first interesting thing to happen at the climax of the conference. Additionally, the overwhelming impression that I had was that Greenpeace had turned up at the time of the action, much as you did, and added their support to this protest. Julian, the guy who began the mic check was chosen because he has the loudest voice! Thirdly, throughout the whole two weeks at COP I enjoyed many pleasant conversations with security who expressed a tendency to be “On our side” and a need to respect the rules of their job in a way that was most respectful to us – those of us from the youth constituency watching the end of the action commented at how gracefully they had removed you from that space, I wonder what you would have preferred?
I found this action the most overwhelmingly inspiring and empowering thing I did in Durban. People from every race, nationality, gender and sexuality (I know because many of them are my friends) spoke up and were heeded by the crowd. I feel genuinely sad that you see all of these things surrounding this action in such a negative light. I believe that this movement requires inclusivity, disregard for the gender of its participants and organisers and love for all those involved. I’m very sorry that you had such a bad time.
In peace, Cat (a member of the UK Youth delegation, replying to your blog from a personal perspective)
Dear Anne thank you for your courage, along with your wonderful women of inspiration, you too an inspiration! cheers jj
It’s also a pitty for people to encourage others to leave a sit-in as strength comes through numbers and leading trickles of people out of a demonstration just makes both groups smaller and more vulnerable.
Well done and good on you for writing and documenting this. Pretty impressive to hear about people from Greenpeace actually encouraging people to leave a sit-in. What is particularly strange is leaving when asked if you’re already allegedly being done for trespass.
Although personally I’d say there’s nothing wrong with parading for the media. It’s just another strategy. You can try and influence those making decisions themselves through protest or you can try and influence their constituents. The reason one wants media is that change is often created through mass public opinion. That can only really come about through main stream media. Therefore you parade for the media. As a friend of mine in politics once said “if it’s not on camera it may as well not have happened.”
I don’t agree with that completely but if you want your voice to be heard someone has to be listening.
It strikes me that perhaps the most important aspect of these sort of demonstrations are two things. 1. trying to influence decision makers directly and hoping they hear what’s going on, and 2. making sure that they are recorded some how (as you’ve done here) it keeps yourselves safe from unruly security and it makes sure others hear about what happened.
This post is excellent. The time certainly was right because truth had to stand/speak up to power–rather it be the corporate elite or mainstream “environmental” groups who cow-tow to the powers that be. Big greenies using ‘mic check” for their own purposes are a disgrace to the 99% occupy movement. The 99% will approve this post and the 1% surely will condemn it. Greenpeace and .350.org (though not all of them), rather they know it or not, are shills for the 1%. See you in the streets.
Anna many thanks for both your actions and this post. i’ve been wary of greenpeace and various other ngos for quite a while now because of their media “events” and the dominence of males in these organisations.
It is unpopular to not Greenpeace and the other “Big Green” ENGOs who have foreclosed on the future out of what? Fear that they would lose donors? But we’ve got to call a spade a spade. The ENGOs who have refused to tell the truth about how dire the climate change emergency is are as guilty of progenycide as all the dastardly skeptics and deniers. Thanks for standing up, er, sitting down to them, in order to make this point.
BTW, here are two blog posts you might enjoy: http://blog.greenhearted.org/2011/11/request-to-all-women-attending-durban.html
BTW, note who ecoSanity.org mentions in the BETRAYAL banner!
Thanks for clearing that all up. I was watching it on Democracy Now and unaware that’s how it all went down.
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