By Daniel Jubelirer — Oakland, CA
Our first 24 hours here have been a blur of jet lag, cultural adjustments, crepes and chaos. As tens of thousands of people arrive to Paris just days before COP 21, I see many contradictions. Paris is a solemn city right now, there is a heaviness in the air after the attack here on Nov. 13th. At the same time, there is so much inspiration and playfulness and lightness everywhere in this city, street clowns, artists and student activists especially! Sometimes things seem to feel normal for a while, and then the sight of 10 heavily armed military cops (who look my age) walking through the narrow streets reminds me that this city is not in a normal time.
Earth Guardians delegation has landed in an apartment in the center of the city, just blocks from the Seine. We had a community meeting and created house agreements. We are slowly sinking into becoming a family together, with all the joy, love, arguments and organized chaos of a community.
Today we spent all day at COY 11- Conference of the Youth. This conference brings together over 7,000 youth climate activists. There are 40 concurrent workshops and sessions at all times, plus lots of informal space for networking and connecting. My first day of COY was full of so many amazing connections.
Xiuhtezcatl spoke in the opening ceremony, where we were welcomed by a mid-level delegate from France, and UN Secretary General Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi. The tone was optimistic: that this is a time for young people to lead and push for historic climate justice and climate action right now.
The conference is a zero waste event, and name tags are artfully made from recycled cardboard. All the spaces are built out using reclaimed materials, there is meals served all cooked in the building by volunteers and we wash our own dishes. The whole event is youth planned and youth led. The undertaking itself show that young people walk in the world in a way that embodies sustainability, creativity and community. Some things the world is really needing!
Today at COY 11 I got a solid orientation to this whole experience of COP 21. I went to a workshop on Universal Human Rights language in the agreement, and later to a workshop on a long term goal for the climate agreement. Youth here support a target down to zero carbon emissions globally by the year 2050. In a meeting with US youth delegates we talked about how to push for this target inside and outside the talks. Banners are not allowed inside UN Negation rooms, so youth delegates are painting their faces with a zero around their eye to share their message. There was discussion about what goals and targets we need and which are politically feasible. I was reminded that the purpose of a social movement is to make the politically impossible into the inevitable. Social movements change the game fundamentally. I was honored, impressed and happy to be with such passionate, smart social change leaders who will be at the talks.
While the overall tone of COY is optimistic, once we got into the details of the agreement and the political challenges of needed targets – such as global zero by 2050 – the full magnate of the global climate, environmental and social crisis came crashing down around us. We are at the brink right now. We are so close to a great unraveling of all life systems. It will take an act of God — or a holy and mighty effort of justice weavers, organizers, activists — to turn this negotiation into a success for our planet.
As with all my conference experiences, the real gold of the day was the connections with other people. If the fate of our world rests with how successful social movements are at shifting the culture and the political situation, then we need to remember that social movements are build by relationships. Their strength, fabric and brilliance is rooted in personal connections and relationships between people.
I connected with so many inspiring allies and friends – including a recent graduate of the Carolina Friends School! My high school means so much to me, it was so good to meet Erin who came from Durham to the climate talks. I also met a first nations grandmother from eastern Canada who single handedly stood in front of a fracking truck convey with her drum and stopped them, which led to the shale gas rebellion there. Many were beaten, harassed, fined and arrested by police. They are cautiously optimistic that they can end fracking and fossil fuel extraction in Canada.
I Morgan and Garret who took a Climate Journey to Paris – a cross continental bike tour! They began in New England, through Atlantic Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia & the UK, speaking with local people about their actions in response to climate change and fossil fuel extraction, while also engaging their own reflections on coming of age during this global crisis.
Tomorrow we are leading a Generation RYSE workshop at COY and Earth Guardians are performing – it will be interesting to see how our message and principles are received by an international group. Our organizing principles are youth led/intergenerational, nonviolent social change, creating new systems/solutions focus, and climate justice framing. We believe that these are critical elements of our social movements.
On my way home I visited Le Cafe De Chats near our apartment, a cat cafe. I was relaxed by the free cats (I was informed when I entered that the cats were free and not pets and were to be treated with respect) thinking about what I am doing here and how I can most be of service and play my unique role in this movement, at this moment.
I will sleep deeply tonight after a full day, like the sleepy cats at Cafe Des Chats – and this is just day 1. Over the weekend delegates will arrive, and COP 21 negotiations officially start on Monday. Things are just beginning to heat up. The March for Climate on Sunday was cancelled, but there are new plans brewing. Police have given permission for a smaller action where people will link arms along the march route, an artists are busy at work preparing many art installations, banners and more. If you are in Paris we will see you there at 12pm on Sunday.
Thank you Paris, thank you Earth Guardians fam, thank youth all around the world who taught me much today. Together we are weaving the social fabric of this movement that is changing the world.