By Valida Prentice, who offers us her reflections from the nine-hour sit-in and climate justice fast
Cross-posted from TheClimateers
I spent months helping prepare policy briefs on adaptation, plan how the SustainUS communications team would interface with policy and actions, and set up a framework for the international youth communications and media production teams to work within at COP. All that is now over. My personal (unaffiliated) involvement in yesterday’s unapproved sit-in inside the Bella Center served as a transition into a new activist life outside of the COP-15 conference center.
In the end, we held our sit-in for nine hours. At around 2am, we walked away voluntarily (in some senses of the word), because the UNFCCC Secretariat and the security guards communicated an ultimatum to us: if they had to physically remove us, all 300 NGO observers (reduced from the 7,000 allowed in on Tuesday and Wednesday) would be banned from entry on Thursday and Friday. Three hundred is a paltry sum compared to the total number of accredited NGO observers (around 20,000), but it is better than zero.
Our diverse group of sitters-in was concerned about the silencing of civil society voices, and we considered being arrested to show our dedication to voicing this concern. However, we agreed that to silence civil society voices further would hurt, not help the chances for a fair, ambitious, and legally binding deal. We were holding our sit-in to share this ask, signed by over 12 million people now, with negotiators and press in the Bella Center. We were therefore unwilling to further reduce the already small chances for success in achieving this real deal in Copenhagen by allowing the UNFCCC to use our sit-in as an excuse to shut out civil society completely.
Our procession out of the Bella Center was bittersweet – mostly bitter. The sit-in had been a great success in some ways:
- gaining tons of media attention,
- engendering more smiles and thumbs up than we’d seen in the last 10 days in the Bella Center combined,
- and giving all of us an uplifting feeling as we realized we were not only supporting something we believed in but were also concurrently supported (and in some cases personally thanked) by millions of people in the Bella Center and around the world including friends in the youth climate movement, official country delegates, and John Kerry.
But as we left, we knew our impact inside the Bella Center was over, and with stalled negotiations over unacceptable texts, it felt like we hadn’t achieved enough.
But today was a new day. I woke up rejuvenated after five and a half ours of sleep (I’ve been averaging around six hours/night – better than I’d expected). This movement is still growing. Although we’re closer to tripping over climate tipping points with each delay of a binding, science-based treaty, this movement is going to continue. With the added urgency to mitigate climate change and the added need to help affected communities adapt to changes we can no longer avoid, the undercurrent I’m feeling among (my mostly new) friends here is that it is time to bring this movement to a new level. Welcome International Youth Climate Movement version 2.0.
Today, I fasted in solidarity with three Climate Justice Fasters who are now on day 42 (!!!) of a water-only fast. For me, this cleanse is also a symbolic clearing of my system as I prepare for a new kind of involvement in an improved movement.
Tomorrow, I will continue (that is, unless I chicken out) down this path of a symbolic restart by shaving my head with a group of other activists in front of the Bella Center. Other things shaving my head could possibly end up symbolizing include: the ugly negotiating process, the bad decisions made by negotiators, or the catastrophic changes that unabated climate change could bring about.
Those are risks I’m willing to take, though, because if the shave does turn out horribly, it will be, as the Climate Justice Fast was explained to me, a form of penance for being a part of the problem and not effective enough as part of the solution til now. At the same time, though, my shaved head will provide a promise of new growth – personally, in the movement, and for the world – to help us rise up above the challenges we have created for ourselves.
Life goes on and we will not let it pass us by. We won’t just sit and wait for a fair, ambitious, and legally binding deal. We will make it happen.