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What to Expect at Tomorrow’s Illegal Climate Action in Paris

"Plan for your arrest, and go as if you will be [arrested]," a legal advisor told activists preparing to defy a ban on protests in Paris this weekend.

by Ashley Renders
Dec 11 2015, 6:14pm

Protesters gather at Le Centquatre in Paris to plan the weekend's activism/Photo by Ashley Renders

After failing to come up with a new global climate agreement today in Paris, world leaders are working around the clock to agree on a text that will keep global warming below acceptable levels. But climate activists aren't holding out much hope.

A coalition of 150 organizations ranging from young radical leftists, to labor unions, to faith groups and big international organizations like the World Wildlife Fund has organized a protest to call out world leaders for their lack of ambition around climate change.

About 2,000 people gathered throughout the day at a community center in Paris to hear the plan for Saturday's action with hundreds, if not thousands, more expected tomorrow, said John Jordan, an activist with Climate Justice Action.

The original plan was to stage a protest that would give the climate movement the last word. But with the negotiations going into overtime and protests officially banned by France's state of emergency, everything has changed.

Originally, activists had intended to surround the COP21 conference groups with red lines, symbolizing the lines politicians would have to cross to reach an agreement. They also wanted to have people jumping out of vans — which was deemed to be a dangerous thing to do in a state of emergency, John Jordan a climate activist with Climate Justice Action told the crowd gathered at Le Centquatre in Paris today.

More importantly, Jordan said, the COP21 conference is located in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. After speaking to the community, the coalition decided not to bring more police presence to the area, he said.

Related: This Former UN Climate Chief Is Concerned Paris Agreement Won't Go Far Enough

Now, Jordan said, people are being asked to arrive two-by-two to a central location. That's because more than two people sharing a political message is considered an illegal demonstration under the state of emergency, he added.

At noon, 30 makeshift foghorns will go off signaling that everyone should gather. Protesters will then open 500 red umbrellas and step into the street, creating a two kilometer red line. Activists will unfold two banners over 100 meters long, as well as two more banners that are two kilometers each. At that point, the foghorns will go off again and activists will raise 5,000 red flowers into the air for a two-minute moment of silence to pay respect to those who have died or will die from climate change, said Jordan. Eventually another foghorn will go off and protesters will dissolve back into the city two-by-two, he said.

"This is going to be big, and it's going to be beautiful," said a mass email distributed by 350.org today.

The organizations involved in planning this action have come to a consensus that the protest will be nonviolent, that they will not provoke police violence, and they will not push through police lines or damage property, said Jordan.

Members of Coalition Climat 21, which represents the 150 organizations involved in planning the protest, met with government officials today to discuss the action, said Jordan. Those negotiations are still in progress, and there hasn't been any agreement, meaning the protest is still illegal, he said.

"Plan for your arrest, and go as if you will be [arrested]," said Isa Fremeaux, a legal advisor who was briefed by lawyers before speaking to those gathered today.

Taking part in a forbidden demonstration is punishable by six months in jail and a fine of 7,500 euros, she told the crowd. Failing to disperse after police have asked you to leave is punishable by one year in prison and 15,000 euros, and covering your face in order to hide your identity is also subject to a 1,500 euro fine, she told them.

Related: Paris Climate Talks: Only Four More Days for a Plan to Save the World

"It's important to take space on Saturday — and not even necessarily that much — because of what it says about the way social movements react when the government says you can't do anything," said Tadzio Müller, an organizer with Climat Coalition 21.

Protesting in the context of states of emergency will be the future for many social movements, he added. "We need to know how to maintain, build and project our strength in a situation like that," he said.

Organizers announced today that they are planning to target fossil fuel projects around the world in spring 2016, with major actions planned in Germany, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, the U.S., Nigeria, Canada and Brazil, said Emma Biermann, European Trainings Coordinator at 350.org.

"The COP isn't actually the place where we fight for climate justice," said Müller. "It happens at the production of climate chaos not the ludicrous attempt for political management, which is the [COP21]."

Follow Ashley Renders on Twitter: @iamrenders

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