COP21: a retrospective on the eco-war

As the COP26 kicks off in Glasgow, UK, we flashback five years to a very different yet familiar scenario that took place in Paris during the declared state of emergency. Then, as now, the Conference of Parties was being touted as the last opportunity for world leaders to reach an accord that could prevent the encroaching climate catastrophe. Then, as now, anarchists and activists were present on the streets protesting, occupying and defying authority, sharing their fury and indignation at the inadequacy of the political response to the collapse of our ecosystems and the burgeoning toll of the world government’s incompetence. The COP26 already features the absence of key world leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, as well as earnest declarations from the UK’s Boris Johnson about the necessity of reaching a consensus on reaching net zero on carbon emissions by 2050.

The Paris COP was marked by illegal assemblies, raids on activist hubs, radical marches and creative resistances, tear gas, riot squads, militant samba bands. As two weeks of talks begin, we share this reportage from George F on a legal briefing given by activists in Paris as part of the training given to attendees. Of course, the situation now in Glasgow is very different from then in France, which had been placed under martial law after terrorist attacks , and this reporter finds it surprising that the UK government has not used the COVID pandemic as a reason to further curtail freedoms to assemble and protest. However, we watch with baited breath to see if the comrades in Scotland can match the necessity and urgency of the current crisis with the fury and activity managed by those in Paris in 2015.

COP26 represents the latest front in the ongoing struggle for the very future of our planet, a struggle that, as outlined in the manifesto of Make Rojava Green Again is intimately connected with capitalism and the failure of democracies to operate outside of market forces: “The connections between the market economy, exploitation, destruction of nature, war and migration show what the result is when centralist and hierarchical systems try to subjugate nature. A solution that ignores these relationships, a solution within the existing system, is not possible.” In response to this, anarchists everywhere must be at the front and centre of the transformation of our world into one that not only preserves nature and our environment, but places it at the very heart of how we organise and operate, with the ecological forming a pillar equal in importance to gender and class liberation.

The following is an extract from George F’s 2020 nonfiction work Good Times In Dystopia, and is reproduced here to highlight the level of danger and repression faced globally by eco-defenders, in solidarity with all those attending the COP26, and as a reminder of the ongoing battles taking place around the world to resist capitalism’s relentless ecocide.

Artwork by Junk Comix.

“Nonviolence declares that the American Indians could have fought off Columbus, George Washington, and all the other genocidal butchers with sit-ins; that Crazy Horse, by using violent resistance, became part of the cycle of violence, and was ‘as bad as’ Custer. Nonviolence declares that Africans could have stopped the slave trade with hunger strikes and petitions, and that those who mutinied were as bad as their captors; that mutiny, a form of violence, led to more violence, and, thus, resistance led to more enslavement. Nonviolence refuses to recognize that it can only work for privileged people, who have a status protected by violence, as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of a violent hierarchy.”

Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects The State

“So hello, this is the legal briefing. Thanks for attending. Now as you are going to be part of the de-escalation team, you will be at high-risk of violence and arrest as you will be stood directly between the police lines and the main protest. It’s important that you memorise the names of some solicitors who are sympathetic to the cause, as the police will think you intended to be arrested if you write the names or the numbers down on your body. They will not call the number of the flier.

“At the refugee march people attended and were then later identified and arrested by the police at other events. This is because of the state of emergency. 58 people were arrested, yet only two received warnings for attending a forbidden demo. Maximum sentence for this is 1 year imprisoned.

“At the Climate march there was a mass act of civil disobedience that resulted in a kettle, tear gas and baton charges and 317 random arrests. 

“You don’t have to carry your ID. You can give your name and a date of birth, and that counts as identifying yourself, but you may want to decide whether you wish to comply with the police state. If they don’t believe you, you want to prepare that someone has access to your passport. You could be asked to leave France for one year.

“If you are attending the march, you need to plan as if you will get arrested. If you are taking a gas mask, it is classed as a defensive weapon. You should be careful taking anything that could be deemed a projectile. Don’t take any drugs, knives, guns or whatever, and if you are arrested, try to hide your phone inside your pants, as the police here don’t check as thoroughly as other places. There’s already been examples of people uploading video messages from inside the jail. If you’re caught, call the number and tell them which police station you are in.”

“So what have the police said about the march?”

“It changes every day. Under the state of emergency it’s illegal for more than two people with a political message to gather, which is why people are heading to the convergence point in pairs. Any attendance at a political protest is an act of civil disobedience. They have permitted the human chain and tolerated writing ‘climate justice’ with people’s bodies. The protest with the thousands of empty pairs of shoes was beautifully done, but the red lines action is still civil disobedience. The state of emergency means more stop and search and raids on many of the squats and convergence centres across Paris. L’Annexe was raided just last week by a hundred stormtroopers and is under constant armed surveillance. We are half expecting another raid before Saturday. The legal team for the protests have been put under house arrest, but nothing more.

“If you are arrested, you need to use the buddy system. Make sure you are clear who your buddy is, and do not lose them. If they go to the toilet, you go with them. With your buddy you organise into an affinity group, making sure you are always with people who are watching, but not at risk. They should always know who is there, what happened, and where, and afterwards these are the guys who greet you outside the police station with champagne.

“Now, please can you raise your hands, wrists together. If you bend your hands down, when they put the handcuffs on you they will be looser than if you just keep your hands like this. Believe me, if you are cuffed for a long time, this will make a big difference. Remember to hide your phone in your pants and when you can, smuggle it out and text people to let them know what’s happened to you. The process at the station is that they will fingerprint you, photo you, and frisk you, but not very thoroughly. Often at this point it’s easy to ‘accidentally’ smudge the fingerprints, or mess up the photo somehow, or generally play around with them to delay a bit more. They will keep you for four hours to ID check, then up to 24 hours to investigate you.

“When you are to be released, you don’t have to sign anything. Repeat – YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SIGN ANYTHING. They may pressure you, but there are people already regretting signing something they did not really understand, and it’s making more problems for them now. Even when you receive your possessions back, you do not have to sign anything. Repeat – YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SIGN ANYTHING. The police may put something else in with your stuff and cause you a lot of problems. Some people we know unwittingly signed a conditional discharge, and if they had held out, they wouldn’t have had to sign anything.

“They normally tell you it’s a piece of paper describing your time in custody, but the translators there are very much on the police’s side. If they do anything illegal during your time in custody, you can appeal afterwards, but if you sign, it makes it much, much harder.

“If you have no access to a lawyer or interpreter, try to keep mental notes on what the police do, or do not do, and make physical notes immediately afterwards. If the police decide they are going to investigate a crime, they will give you access to a solicitor within four hours.

“Now, when being interviewed, it’s a bit different from in the UK. In France it is not ‘no comment’, but ‘I have nothing to declare’. Repeat after me.”

“I HAVE NOTHING TO DECLARE.”

“Again.”

“I HAVE NOTHING TO DECLARE.”

“Again!”

“I HAVE NOTHING TO DECLARE!”

“Now let me describe my ideal arrest. I’m in for 24 hours, so I can rest, I am with my friends. I have done the handcuff trick so I am ‘comfortable’, and have my phone hidden in my pants. I’ve told them I have nothing to declare, and have managed to smudge my fingerprints and ruin the photo. I sign nothing! After 24 hours I am released with my friends and greeted by champagne and chocolate and beer.

“Now, afterwards, I have to deal with trauma. Arrests can be and are often violent. I need to make sure that I have money for the metro, a map. The police could release me somewhere far away where I’ve never been before. Have you got a safe, warm place to go back to? A major thing after release is not to pressure people, give them time. At some point they will want to speak.

“Make sure you take the time to read all the legal info, educate yourself as much as possible. 

“So overall, gatherings are prohibited. You can get a maximum fine of 75000 euros or 6 months in prison, but so far all that has been issued is a warning. They have the power to ban people from certain areas, or force certain groups to dissolve.

“Let’s talk about medical preparation. Tear gas. First of all, it’s a projectile weapon. If you get hit by a canister it can seriously hurt. It can kill. Secondly, the gas burns on the skin, the eyes, but it won’t kill you. It’s like intensely concentrated onions, but it won’t kill you, so don’t panic. You can limit its effect with a scarf soaked in vinegar or lemon juice. Make sure you have baby wipes. Now if tear gas is blowing in the wind, walk upwind of it, sideways. Unless of course the police are there. There’s some great footage from the 29th if any of you are into riot porn.

“If it gets on to your skin, it can cause some problems. Don’t wear any make-up, and wear glasses, not contact lenses, as they can melt into the eye. If it’s CS gas you may not even see it, as it’s invisible. Now can I have a volunteer to pretend they’ve been tear-gassed? Ok, thank you.

“Now, if I see someone has been gassed, what do I do? Ok, calm down, calm down, it’s ok. It’s Eve here. Kneel down, turn your head on one side. And now I squirt water in from one side. Now, from the other. Good. If you do it from the top down it can burn the body. Tell them the effects won’t last more than half an hour.

“Pepper spray is a short range weapon. If it gets on the clothes, remove them. When you go home, don’t have a hot shower, wipe it off and use cold water.”

“It helps to have clean skin.”

“One day I might.”

“I once saw someone in tear gas stand with their eyes screwed shut and not move. Just before it hit, they took a huge deep breath, hyperventilated, and waited until it subsided, sipping air with their eyes closed.”

“Swimming goggles can also help. One of the hardest things is the impulse to get away. We ended up fumbling around with our buddies.

“Ok, now if the police charge, one more thing is to cover your head and neck with your hands. If you want to keep your hands up, make sure you do so in fists not fingers are the batons will smash them to pieces … 

“Ok, let’s review the solicitor names …”


Image by Junx Comix.