Olivier De Marcellus — Reclaiming Power in Copenhagen. A decisive step towards a global climate justice movement
For many of us coming back from Copenhagen full of hope and energy, it was strange to see that many people who followed the summit from afar see what happened there as catastrophic.. But it has been clear for some time that « at best » they were only going to impose their false (but highlyl profitable) solutions. Clear headed political analysts, like leading scientists such as James Hansen, were already saying that No Deal would be better than a Bad Deal. Finally the deal was so bad that it was impossible to impose (the so-called Copenhagen Accord was not agreed by all parties).
Appalled by our rulers’ greed and total irresponsibility, many don’t realise that this tragic farce - and the unified action of different grassroots networks - has opened a new political space where real solutions have a chance. As I write, Evo Morales’s announcement of an alternative climate summit of social movements arrives. The space is widening. As one slogan put it « Who’s summit ? Our summit ! »
The French Revolution is generally said to have began when part of the clergy and minor nobilility deserted their respective assemblies, which had been convened by the king, to join the assembly of the commoners, the Third Estate. If the word gets out, perhaps the Reclaim Power and Peoples’ Assembly action of the 16th of December, will spark something as important.
That may sound pretentious. We were only a few thousand, only a handful made it briefly onto the grounds of the Bella Center and those inside were beaten back from joining us. But in Seattle too, it was just a few thousand kids who took the decisive action, and they only delayed the summit a few hours. In Copenhagen, the cops won tactically, but their violence only underscored our amazing political victory.
While the world’s powers lost all credibility, fighting among themselves to grab as much CO2 (that is to say as much production and profits) as possible, hundreds of accredited NGO delegates (our modern equivalent to the clergy of the Old Regime), and the governmental delegations of Bolivia, Venezuela and Tuvalu decided to leave the Conference in order to join the Peoples Assembly and discuss the real solutions.
That was our best case scenario.
We never dreamed that our enemies would be so stupid as to dramatise their fear of our action : excluding hundreds of NGOs that they suspected would join us, kidnapping the demo spokespersons and « leaders », seizing the sound truck and above all using clubs to drive back the demo of official delegates who tried to force their way out to join the Assembly. After the massive police infiltration, the dozens of arrests and the trumped up charges against Ya Basta people during the police attack on the assembly in Christiania two days before, the searches and seizures of all sorts of material (even bikes and banners !), this apparently irrational level of repression probably reflects how much power felt menaced by our project.
Very clearly, from the start the police plan was to disorganise our action, provoke us, then beat us up a bit and serve us to the media as a « riot ». But they hadn’t imagined that the demo- even without the sound truck or the « leaders » - would be capable of self-organising and continuing according to plan : trying to get in, assembly with speakers and small groups, compact march back, etc.
Some of the most experienced activists were disappointed that more material didn’t get to the fence, that more concerted efforts to get over didn’t happen, that the other blocks were neutralised so fast. But, although illegality and the practical efforts to break in were an absolutely essential part of our political statement, we mustn’t stay hung up on the purely concrete, tactical level. The objective was not to break in as such, it was to affirm practically our RIGHT to break in and hold an Assembly to talk of the peoples’ solutions. To make it impossible to ignore that there IS an alternative agenda. That was why holding the Assembly – be it finally just inside or just outside the fence – was the essential goal.
Most of the mainstream media had run off by the time the Assembly was held, but that didn’t affect the political importance of a march and an Assembly which brought together the northem activists of CJA with the most significant grassroots movements of the South . There were farmers movements of Via Campesina from all continents, Jubilee South and tmany other movements represented in the From Trade to Climate Caravan : the peoples of Oceania, the Philippine Fisherfolk, the landless of India, indigenous peoples of Mexico, Panama, Colombia and the Andes, etc. They are all menaced by climate change and totally reject a neo-neo-colonial aggression, which under the guise of « market solutions », seeks to make the South pay – more brutally than ever - for a new cycle of « green » capitalist expansion. But more importantly, they were there to offer real solutions, such as : food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, leaving the oil in the soil, re-localised production and another conception of « liviing well », which calls on the North to recognise its Climate Debt and radically question the capitalist project of infinite growth, over-production and over-consumption,
The critical point is that this Assembly was not a chance and fleeting moment. It marked a longer term convergence of different networks and political cultures : global networks of movements and progressive NGOs like Climate Justice Now and Our World Is Not For Sale, networks composed more of young northern activists like Climate Justice Action, the Climate Camps, old Peoples’ Global Action hands, etc. Political victories aren’t just about getting the better of the cops (and even less about the results of the official summit),. Victories are about coming out the battle more credible and more united than before. Credible : today, hopefully the people who imagined that it would be enough to pressure our rulers into a « good » deal, will better understand the necessity of building ourselves the solutions and imposing them through grass-roots popular power. United : since the Zapatistas called forth the anti-globalisation movement 13 years ago, there has never been such a broad alliance of organisations calling for « system change ».
Spontaneously, the same proposition came out ot the evaluations of CJA and CJN : organise People’s Assemblies everywhere, to tackle climate change issues at the local and regional level. These could organise against local sources of CO2 (in transport, for example) or false solutions (nuclear power, etc.), but also impose or construct directly real solutions (organising local food distribution systems). At the same time, by their links to the other assemblies, they would build a global movement, with a global day of assemblies next summer and a global day of action under the banner « System change not Climate change ! ».
So much for the ideas, but maybe its also important to talk of the spirit, the conviction and enthusiasm that made that demo and other moments in Copenhagen so magic for many. Objectively, we were practically kettled in by the cops, but it didn’t affect most people at all. There was no fear or powerlessness in the air. The march back, which had been rather dangerously announced as a « victory march », actually did rather feel like that. After eight hours in the cold and snow, the demo arrived in the center still compact and continuously belting out slogans. Even the last anti-repression demo was not only very large, it seemed to me to have an almost joyful feeling. For instance, the mother of an arrested spokesperson sang Janis Joplin and a song she had come to her during the Reclaim Power demo. People have to feel very sure of their ideas and very sure of each other for this kind of « moment of excess » to happen. As we marched through the night, a phrase came back to me again from Seattle : « We are winning .»
Now we all have to go home, get the word out and make it happen. Now its clear that we can only count on ourselves. The challenge is colossal, but everywhere there are people who know that we don’t have any other choice.
Olivier, from the Climate Caravan
The Reclaim Power action on the The Guardian’s video :
Video of The Peoples’ Assembly
And much more at http://www.climate-justice-action.org/