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These Red Lines are not for crossing: How new stories are growing the movement for Climate Justice and making it exciting.

 

We are the foxes that wake up at dawn, the mushrooms that appear overnight.
We are microbes and mountains, starfish and stardust
– The Climate Games


Last Saturday morning (12 December 2015) in Paris, people from all sides of the city were converging. Travellers had crossed the continent and were streaming down the metro lines to meet, carrying all the red props they could find. Something spectacular was about to happen.


Climbing up the steps of the metro Argentine, a sea of red bodies emerged. Fifteen thousand people had gathered along L’avenue de la Grande Armée for D12 - Red Lines for an act of theatrical defiance on the last day of the Cop21 climate summit.

It was organised by a coalition of groups and the message was a warning to world leaders, that civil society will have the last word in the fight for climate justice. The state of emergency in France meant there was a ban on public gatherings, making protest illegal. However the evening before, police decided to recognise this long planned demonstration. It was no longer necessary to disrupt the traffic, which in the planning meetings had understandably made many nervous. The police had closed the road, and L’avenue de la Grande Armée was ours to decorate with a visual story. A success for peaceful civil disobedience.

Paris has long been a site of revolution in our collective imagination, and over the two weeks, the city witnessed an outpouring of creative civil disobedience, leaving bold imprints in the fabric of the city. Brandalism was one of the first brilliant acts taking to the streets, with a playful subversion of the corporate industry’s most powerful weapon – advertising. One morning 600 bus stops and billboards across the city were suddenly telling embarrassing truths about the corporations sponsoring the Cop21 climate talks. The civil disobedience happening in Paris had successfully disrupted “business as usual” with inventive, playful and peaceful ways of holding up a mirror to the powerful players deciding the fate of our planet.

 


L’avenue de la Grande Armée became a stage. A place to amplify the voice for climate justice and draw the lines which global governments must not cross. At midday giant fog horns sounded, signalling the formation of the Red Lines as people joined in the middle of the road and raised thousands of red tulips in a minutes silence to honour the millions of lives already lost to climate change and to demand a just and liveable world. These flowers were then ceremoniously laid upon a one hundred metre long red carpet. The Climate Guardians were the dazzling angels standing statuesque on the front line, starring into an uncertain future in the direction of the foreboding La Defense - Paris’ financial district - where many of the corporate sponsors of Cop21 have their home. Millions of people from across the globe could now see the iconic and haunting images of the angels’ protection and concern. The mood was at once defiant, celebratory and anticipatory. Banned from marching, the alternative scene was spectacular, as the Red Lines stretched back, strong and stoic. Stones were thrown across the crowds. Fortunately these were giant inflatable stones that had been crafted in workshops by an affinity group, Tools for Action. These inflatable stones were an ingenious comic prop that both protected the crowds and replaced the aggravation of the police with confusion. The stones bounced ferousiously down the lines, creating a carnival like energy and arrived in many other sites in Paris over the course of the day. Le Jardin D’Alice, a collective space in East Paris, had been the busy hub for many of these affinity groups to make costumes, placards and plan their disobedient actions.

The message at Red Lines was clear - that it would take much more than the measures in any official Cop21 deal to halt global climate change. Asked what the intention of the Red Lines demo was, one woman said “this is a rehearsal for the solutions to come – we are here to demonstrate the will of people who are prepared to take action against the system that are destroying communities.” It’s a story that promises to get louder and clearer as we move into 2016 and beyond.

A good story in any social movement is key to evoking a felt response from wider society, which galvanises and infects. The climate struggle has for so long failed to capture the imaginations of people; it has been a story of scientists, ice caps and intangible future gloom. However the story is becoming clearer and more compelling as the movement builds to create images of climate chaos and the exciting and necessary ways we can transform to a world of climate justice, which is of course social justice.

These actions have been creating an alternative narrative to the dominant one, which is led by political and corporate PRs. Social movements tell the story of our time, and their power lies with the strength in which the story is told. In the climate negotiations, a “red line” is an issue that cannot be compromised on. Here civil society was drawing its own Red Lines that governments must not cross: the treacherous lines of climate justice, the line of 1.5 degree warming, the line against fossil fuel industries and their power to protect their profit above all human costs. The Red Lines event tell a moving story, and one that must be shared, developed and owned by everyone.

 



We are not fighting for nature. We are nature defending itself – The Climate Games

Artist and activist John Jordan was one of the people behind the bold vision of the Red Lines event, and also the Climate Games. He works with The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and his role is at once conjurer, clown and leader. The Climate Games calls itself “The world's largest Disobedient Action Adventure Game” and is another democratic and creative channel in which to participate in this unfolding story. Anyone could participate in The Climate Games in Paris, cyberspace and beyond. You'd register your team on the site and then use the maps to plan, take action (always non violently) and report anonymously on what happened. The Climate Games concluded with an awards ceremony on Sunday evening.

One Climate Games team was L'Ensemble Zoologique de Libération de la Nature, who entered the offices of the bank BNP Paris. In a matter of moments, a hundred people dressed as elements of nature had theatrically transformed the bank, installing an enchanted forest, equipped with trees, flowers and floral carpets, much to the bemusement of employees. This was an action to highlight the “Green washing” of a corporate sponsor of the Cop21 summit, who paradoxically continues to invest in coal, oil and gas whilst putting their brand to finding solutions to climate change. Hundreds of disobedient actions against corporations took place in Paris for the Climate Games and you can marvel at them all here. These bold, peaceful and comic actions serve to remind us of one of the absurd tales of the time, how climate deals are made on false corporate promises.

 


Social media has played an incredible role in the growing galvanisation of this movement, enabling a live and informed platform for engagement. I met Gemma at ZAC at the briefing for Red Lines who had come to Paris for a long weekend with her boyfriend from London. Whilst googling for things do that morning, they had come across Red Lines on twitter. That afternoon, they were unexpectedly sitting amongst 3'000 people in a massive hall “feeling inspired…I have always felt deeply about the need to tackle climate change… but I had no idea that this weekend we would be here, doing this.”

Where there is an invitation to explore, make, converge, discuss and observe there is opportunity to progress in building healthier relationships with ourselves, each other and the earth that we stand on. Whether it was Red Lines, the actions of The Climate Games, or the many other cultural happenings in Paris and across the globe, involved in the ArtCop21 programme, these events provided an important counterpoint to the official conference, an event that empowered relatively few people to participate. The creative activism that surrounded the talks open up routes into understanding the crisis and the opportunity for change on a level that is democratic, human and fun. These actions tell stories that are too often left untold. They offer visceral, and conscious ways of engaging with the biggest threat to civilisation. They map the power dynamics that are preventing a just and liveable world. They help us to imagine that another world is possible.

For more info on action taking place visit.
350.org
climategames.net