Day 2: Sunday – November 29th
I learned that in lieu of the Climate March, which had been cancelled by city officials after the ISOL attacks on Paris on November 13th, there was going to be a “Human Chain” of climate activists this morning. On a website I found that listed the event, it stated that the chain would begin at 1 but when I arrived around 12:15 at the end of Le Boulevard Voltaire, the chain was already mostly broken up having actually started around 11:30. (Apparently organizers did this to fool the police.) But many people lingered still – some chanting, others holding signs, while a group of angelic “climate guardians” from Australia floated silently through the crowd.
I walked down Le Boulevard Voltaire as far as the Bataclan theater, the site of the worst massacre. Police had barricaded off the street in front of the club preventing anyone from getting too close, but flowers, letters, poems, photographs, and candles adorned a fence of the park opposite it. The band that had been playing that night – Eagles of Death Metal returned there to play last night (December 8th) after being invited to perform with U2 in a show of solidarity.
The mood here was very somber, reminding me of the days after 9/11 so I decided to turn around and follow the crowd back to Place de la République where I knew there was another memorial, but where I sensed the spirit of the group would be more hope-filled. And it was. I spent time some time talking with some of those gathered: artists, activists, moms, kids, and monks. Most everyone was there in support of the climate talks. I was enchanted by a twosome that had umbrellas decorated with crocheted flowers attached to their bikes. I stopped them to ask about their project: Faites une fleur … au climat.
Fabienne told me that she and Sara (plus another partner who could not be there that day) came up with the idea of asking people to crochet simple flowers from recycled yarn in order to raise awareness about climate change. I told her about a similar stitching project I was thinking about and we agreed that we should try to stay in touch and do something “across the ocean” that would connect our ideas and projects. She expressed concern over the ISOL attacks but seemed hopeful that something positive would come out of the COP21.
Elsewhere at République, dozens of pairs shoes that had been neatly placed out earlier in the day to represent those who could not/would not march were now gathered in smaller batches around the plaza. (Some estimates state that there were over 10,000 pairs laid out at the start of the day.) Someone had lined several pairs up in the street and some of these shoes were now getting run over by cars that were trying to get through the activists
who were now dancing and singing in the street.
Although I saw that police and their vehicles were stationed at the ends of the roads that led into the square, the atmosphere remained more joyous than boisterous for another hour or so. I noticed some protesters coming down one side street and as I went to photograph them, they covered their faces with scarves; they seemed of a different ilk than the climate activists that I’d been chatting with.
Around 2:30 as I was starting to head back to my hostel, I saw the police moving in closer to the crowd followed by their vans. I could tell things were going to take a turn and decided to keep walking. When I searched the news an hour later I saw that there had been clashes with the police. I was sorry to hear about the conflicts but at least pleased to see that French President François Hollande did not blame us climate activists. Some locals told me that the people I saw covering their faces were most likely there to protest the “police state” that had been enforced after the ISOL attacks.
That evening at Place to B, the hostel where I was staying, more climate activists had arrived and were meeting and greeting one another over beer and wine and some live music. This hostel was going to be our home and resource center for the next week (or two weeks for some). I formed a quick kinship with my two roommates: Kelly, a professor of analytic psychology from Illinois, who was in Paris to assist in the making of a documentary film about a climate activist, and Lavinia from Romania, who is getting her masters in Environmental Philosophy at Keele University in England. Although we all had different schedules during the week, it was encouraging to end each day sharing stories of our daily experiences and hopes for the coming weeks of the COP.