Breaking and Building – Resistance in the Midst of Collapse

The sky is breaking here in Durban. Just as I arrive at Speakers’ Corner for Occupy COP17’s all-night candlelit vigil, the clouds that have been looming ominously over the city all day finally let go. It starts pouring. All us candleholders take shelter underneath a plastic tarp, and we begin our general assembly. “Let’s show those clowns inside what democracy really looks like”, says one woman, and the rest of us immediately echo her words, creating a human microphone. We’re wet, we’re exhausted, but we’re together and we’re here to listen to and respect each other.

As the sky above us is rupturing, the negotiations at COP17 are crumbling too. With no positive outcomes in sight and only hours left before the governments, the corporate representatives and civil society who converged on Durban two weeks ago head home – with or without a fair, ambitious, and legally binding climate agreement.

Earlier today I heard a woman from Kenya speak at a rally.  After expressing her outrage at the UNFCCC process, she sounded a message of hope. She explained that she would bring what she learned from others on the fringes of COP17 to the organizing she does in her community. “Because that’s where the real work will be done”, she said. The crowd cheered. This fight cannot and will not end when negotiators finish up inside the International Convention Centre (ICC) late tonight or sometime into tomorrow.

While in many ways being at COP17 is a disempowering and disillusioning experience, it is also an extremely inspirational one. I am meeting folks from around the world that are engaged in building alternatives to the business-as-usual paradigm of profit over people that the Canadian government, among others, seems to be committed to.

Even as the rain starts to seep through the tarp over our heads and some candles start to flicker unsteadily, I feel much more comfortable here at Speakers’ Corner than I did all week in the ICC. Everyone’s voice is listened to here. We’re doing our best to support each other; not banks, not industry…

The best part of returning home for me will be continuing this struggle with others in my city. I hope to harness the anger and disdain I am feeling right now – at the Canadian government, at the UNFCCC process, at the unwillingness to compromise that seems to fill the plenary in the ICC – and use it to contribute to creative resistance.


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