Amid a Police State in Paris, Climate Justice Activists Offer a Glimmer of Hope

Claire Arkin Dec 7, 2015

I arrived in Paris the first day of the COP 21, in time to hear the unconvincing speeches of various world leaders on the TV in my friend’s tiny flat in Montmartre. In contrast to these stale proceedings, the atmosphere of the climate justice movement that had congregated in Paris was one of solidarity and determination. There are several activist spaces scattered throughout Paris, mostly outside of city central. Place to B is situated in a hostel outfitted for the occasion with a work space, a larger area for seminars and workshops, and a dining area and bar. Most of the people you meet in this space are hidden behind their laptops, driving social media and the online dialogue. Jardin d’Alice in the neighborhood of Montreuil feels much like the Mayday Space in Bushwick did in the weeks leading up to the People's Climate March. The interior is scrappy and in a constant state of growth– giant banners and cardboard structures are being crafted in every square foot of the place. In the afternoon and evening giant pots of vegan fare are offered by donation for activists to enjoy on the wooden picnic tables that line the front room. 

Many activists are living in a squat called L’Annexe which was raided over a week ago, apparently because there was suspicion that “weapons” could be found there. Additionally, several activists have been placed under house arrest, including one on the coalition climat 21 legal team, who released a statement denouncing the arrests. The repressive police presence in Paris a constant factor in activists plans and actions, and generally in the daily lives of Parisians. There are policemen holding rifles patrolling the streets in packs, and they have been known to stop and search anyone for any reason or no reason. It is not uncommon to see policemen with armored uniforms backing young men of color up against a wall and scrutinizing their bags and IDs. 

The repressiveness of France’s police state was fully revealed to me on Friday at the False Solutions action at the Grand Palais.  The purpose of the demonstration was to disrupt the insulting expo of corporate “solutions” to the climate crisis. When I arrived there was a huge line to get in, and the entrance was guarded by dozens of police officers in full riot gear and weaponry. Many people were barred from entering without explanation, including the friends of mine who I was with. Once inside, activists held “toxic tours,” denouncing the companies on display for their criminal activities, and had an impromptu sit-in. The place was riddled with undercover police officers, who roughly dragged protesters and many members of the media out of the expo. Outside a protester hoisted himself up a lamppost and unveiled a flag, and others unfurled a large banner denouncing the expo. With both the interior and the exterior of the Expo in complete chaos the police were forced to halt the event, telling those online that there was a “fire.” These officers also saw fit to spray the peaceful protesters (and themselves, funnily enough) with pepper spray, so that by the end triumphant protesters, and the militant police surrounding them, were both crying. 

This weekend I am at the Global Village of Alternatives in Montreuil, organized by the French group Alternatiba. The atmosphere is joyous and celebratory, with lots of mulled wine and live music. On December 6 there was a “People’s Assembly for Financing the social and ecological transition,” which was held in the town center using 196 stolen chairs from big banks financing the climate crisis. A fitting setting for naming the villains, and voicing the real solutions. Far from the fortress of Le Bourget, in this small square in the outskirts of Paris real progress is being made.



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