Thursday, 10 December 2015

Sadness as COP15 ends

This is not a report from the COP or the activism here in Paris, so much as a report on my feelings. An undeniable feeling of sadness is gripping me. Sadness for the earth and the climate. But also sadness for this movement, parts of which I’ve been able to observe at rather close range over the last week and a half. For the activists who are trying so hard to keep up hope. Who struggle, in almost every conceivable way, to find ways of being effective – either by influencing the text or, despairing of that, by groping for ways to stave off catastrophe or at least healing some wounds without having to rely on the politicians colluding with business that make up the elite dominating the climate summit. They do so by discussing strategies for how to show their displeasure despite the repression legitimized by the state of emergency. They call for support for frontline communities, for blockadia, for real solutions, for an end to colonialism and racism, for system change, for a stop to the madness and the injustice done to nature and to so many people. They have learnt from Copenhagen not to place too much hope in the politicians. They know that a long struggle awaits them, us. But despite this, there is this sadness in the air, at the palpable feeling that the system is moving, unstoppably, in the wrong direction.

Can sadness go along with action? Yes, I believe it can. Sadness is not resignation. There are people – people who are like angels or boddhisattvas – for whom action and sadness go well together. But for most activists, I suspect that sadness is not an 'appropriate' or at least not a very effective feeling. Anger is perhaps better, or rather: a particular mixture of anger, hope and confidence. To all activists, therefore, I want to end by quoting the end of a speech I heard last Sunday at La Parole Errante in Montreuil, at the People’s Summit. The speaker is Kumi Naidoo. I can’t quote it verbatim, but here is, more or less, what he said. I leave the word to him:
The planet does not need saving. We will be gone, but the planet will still be here. It will be greener without us. Make no mistake about about it!

Whatever happens here, please don’t be sad. Remember Copenhagen! What we got there was not a fair deal, but a flab deal – full of loopholes and bullshit. We were devastated. But the struggle will continue.

When I was 20 years old I fled South Africa into exile. That was a time when there were many burials. My friend said: “Kumi, what is the biggest contribution you can make to justice?”. Then she said: “No, it’s not giving your life. It’s giving the rest of the your life!”.

Two years later she was brutally murdered by the regime.

Struggles for justice – climate justice, gender justice, economic justice, social justice – are marathons. They are long-term struggles.

Do not give up hope!

If you are courageous, victory is certain!
What we can note here is that substantive issues are only briefly alluded to in the vaguest and most general of gestures. Instead, the speech plays almost entirely on an emotional register. Clearly Kumi Naidoo's aim is to intervene in the emotions of the listeners. He wants to raise spirits and inspire courage and confidence. But at the same time, his speech bears testimony to the sadness, the anxieties and the fatigue that he senses already exists in the audience, or at least will exist once the summit is concluded, and which function like a dark, inescapable fond against which his own forceful words shine forth like stars.

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