Anyone following news in the United States since the tragic attacks in Paris and subsequent prohibition on large-scale demonstrations around the climate talks would expect a city on lockdown with obvious police presence and security on high alert. But, what I saw when I arrived this week was an active, vibrant and bustling city where pretty much the only noticeable difference is the massive hurdles being put in the way of people pressuring governments for bolder action on climate change.
Security clearly needs to be taken seriously. But the prohibition on protest seems more about politics than security – a fact that was brought home as a few of us from Food & Water Watch and Center for Biological Diversity attempted to hold signs outside a side event, which California Governor Jerry’ Brown’s schedule indicated he would attend.
We arrived at the Petite Palais before 5:00 p.m., when Gov. Brown was to participate in a roundtable conversation with representatives of California businesses. We went to the driveway heading into the back entrance to look for a place to hold signs that participants could see as they arrived. Before we even got out our signs, a well-armed police officer approached and told us to move along. We moved to the front of the building where we were told the same. This was not a large-scale demonstration: it was three people attempting to quietly hold signs with messages telling Governor Brown to ban fracking. Ultimately, we moved much farther down the street, a good 200 meters from the event and held our signs.
Crowded Christmas Market
Why weren’t we allowed closer to the event? There were dozens of people walking around in the general area. And it clearly wasn’t to keep crowds from assembling – less than a hundred meters away was a bustling Christmas market.
But if you bear a political message, the crowds (however modest) are, in our experience, unwelcome.
The serious matter of security is affecting peaceful protests that would result in elected leaders, like Gov. Brown, being embarrassed by their climate records in their home countries.
But the Food & Water Watch and Californians Against Fracking team have not been deterred. A small number of our staff have passes to attend the inside sessions where we have been able to bring our message directly to Governor Brown and other leaders. When the governor participated in a session with leaders from China, Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director, was able to ask him directly about his unjustifiable support for fracking and other extreme oil extraction. She was joined by staff from Center for Biological Diversity (our ally in Californians Against Fracking) to talk with reporters about Governor Brown’s record. The night before that, Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch and Californians Against Fracking hosted the Paris premiere of “Dear Governor Brown,” Jon Bowermaster’s new film; the Los Angeles Times covered the screening.
Other permitted actions are in the works, and we will continue to call out Governor Brown’s record both inside and outside venues where he is appearing.
We will continue – despite efforts to muzzle public debate– to amplify one clear message to the COP21, to global leaders and to Governor Brown: you cannot be a leader in the fight against climate change and support expanded fracking and extreme extraction.