Seasons greetings to all my valued readers,
If you thought the last blog post was long, then I’m afraid this one is going to read somewhat like a thesis! Reason being that my laptop failed me almost as soon as I arrived in South Africa, so I have had very limited web access (and time) over the last 2-week period at the COP and in Durban.
It has been a very exciting 2 weeks indeed, and I first wanted to share with you some of the photos that I managed to salvage from that time, along with some from our expert photographer, Wolfgang :-) This provides an overview of some of the activities from the Youth for Eco-Justice programme and the actions outside the main UN convention:
Saturday 3rd December 2011: Global Day of Action on Climate
Another bright and early start at Glenmore Conference Centre, as the sun rose, brought two of the familiar caravan trucks pulling up the hill to collect the troops. Destination: the Durban Diakonia Centre, starting point for all the faith organisations on the march for Global Climate Justice. I was elated to meet the crew from the caravan, who were in higher spirits than ever as we unfurled our banners and warmed up our singing and chanting voices for the world to hear. The atmosphere was buzzing as we departed in a grand procession of several hundred to join with the main march and then on to demonstrate outside the ICC. When the faith march caught sight of the WWF and Greenpeace flags, as well as local workers, farmers and womens’ groups, a huge cheer arose, and the whole street erupted in a roar of colour and cries for “Climate Justice Now”! 8,000 of us made our way through the street stalls and soaring high-rise buildings of down-town Durban, as the heat of the sun parched lips and throats – we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. We carried the Youth for Eco-Justice banner from the interfaith rally, along with one Thea and I had made at 2am the night before demanding “POLLUTERS, PAY!” These joined the demands of the caravan petition, and thousands of other messages and voices with a general theme of Save our Planet: Save our Future. It was extremely moving and powerful to see so many local white and black Africans come together to walk the streets side by side for a common cause.
As we arrived at Speakers Corner, we whipped out the 6 tents that we had bought at a huge warehouse store at 7am that very morning to declare the presence of the Occupy movement at COP17. We quickly deployed spraypaint, flags and decorations and promptly had an OCCUPY visual-protest tent-banner stretching across speakers corner hill, opposite the UN. People took shade and stowed their belongings in the tent, and we listened to Christiana Figueres (Chari of the COP) speak from a platform 50 metres away, to address the gathering crowd. After the speeches, I went back to socialise with the Caravaners, Y4EJ’ers and Occupiers for a while, as the rest of the groups and banners of the March passed along the road between us and the UN, until I suddenly caught glimpse of the bright green and purple of the Grow Campaign disappearing off down the road. This could mean only one thing: Oxfam was in town! And I knew that Chris would be with them, puppeteering the immense straw figures of Mother Earth and Father Water, so I dropped my things and conversations and jogged along after the procession. It was so heartwarming to see a familiar friendly face from the UK, and catch up, after 4 weeks of completely new people and places, and not a trace of home. I felt excited about the role of UK youth in the process that would be continuing in the second week, and my own participation with Y4EJ, UKYCC, WAGGGS, Oxfam, Tck Tck Tck and plenty of other influential organizations. The March had brought us all together on a truly momentous day, and a renewed hope rose inside me, refreshing my motivation and energy for the demanding and intensive week ahead. I joined Chris, and his friends Kylie and Sarah for a more chilled out afternoon at North beach, where I could take a bit of a breather in good company – a grateful break from thinking “what’ve I got to do next!?”
Sunday 4th December 2011: Zulu Church & a Chilled Afternoon
Sunday brought the 35 Eco-Justice warriors at Glenmore their well-earned Sabbath day of rest! We set off early on a 45-minute drive out of the city to Lungelo’s Zulu Church – one of the most fantastic places I have ever been to join in worship and fellowship. Unfortunately, due to late minibuses to pick us up, we arrived well into the service, after the welcome and initial singing, which is a significant part of any African gathering – faith-based or otherwise! Still, we enjoyed an excellent programme of scripture, sermons and song. Langa performed his dramatisation of the stages of the cross with his small drum and his big voice, which was extremely powerful indeed. Then a lot of spontaneous song and percussion and praise… And after the main part of the service, a local woman came in to speak to the congregation about HIV/AIDS and gave a very informative, educating speech about many aspects of this terrible disease and its reality in the life of so many members of this small, bright community. In the afternoon, I headed to the ICC to meet at Occupy COP17 and plan more activities for the week. After a quick meeting there, I headed again to North beach, where I met my UK friends and Thea from Durban to sit on the grass and enjoy some nice acoustic music in the sunshine. It was exactly how any Sunday afternoon should be…
Monday 5th & Tuesday 6th: YOUNGO Working Groups & Friends
These were free days to participate in the COP and side events and to generally immerse ourselves in the Durban Climate. I spent the morning in the YOUNGO (Youth NGO) constituency meeting, followed by the GCCA (Global Campaign for Climate Action or Tck Tck Tck) meeting, followed by the YOUNGO Finance working group. We discussed topis such as the governance and sources of the GCF (Green Climate Fund) and what the different campaigning organisations were planning in terms of actions: The Robin Hood Tax team were planning a huge dart-board-style target, with the centre representing the youth position on successful global financing for Climate Adaptation and Mitigation, and the country positions being marked with darts, according to how far away they were from the direction we consider necessary. By lunch time, I was shattered, and popped over to the shops to find some lunch. In the afternoon, I headed up to the C17 Civil Society space at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, where there were lots of talks, workshops and seminars going on for the rest of the day. On Monday evening, Thea took us to a local bookshop/café/gig venue called the collective, where we watched local acoustic acts compete in a small intimate battle-of-the-bands competition, which was extremely enjoyable. Tuesday was a similar story, with more information overload from the COP in the morning, and some chance to reflect on it and discuss with people in the afternoon.
Wednesday 7th December: Africa Roars & Robin Hood Football
Another immersion day saw a small crew from the Youth for Eco-Justice group head down to Addington beach to join and help 2,000 local school children form the shape of a lion on the beach to roar for climate courage from our world leaders. We took the Occupy tents for shade and to make our statement at the seafront, and plenty of large bottles of water, since it was a scorching day. We also picked up some facepaint from a local trader and decorated ourselves as lions, offering this to the children as well. The group gathered to be addressed by officials form the conference as well as the director of the GCCA, to explain how everything would work, and what it meant in the context of the UN proceedings. The school children were extremely engaged with the issues and their relevance in their own context. It took a lot of patience and resilience on their part, as they filed into their positions, and waited there, sitting on the sand, in the African summer heat. I particularly enjoyed a video put together by OneWorld TV covering the event:
This incredible human beach art was recorded by a helicopter which passed overhead 5 or 6 times, sweeping by while we all roared and waved! Here is the final image which went to press:
After this, we packed down the Occupy tent-banner, reclaimed our flags and paints, and headed for Speakers Corner, where an historical football match would take place outside the ICC. The “World COP” brought together representatives from “the Robin Hood Tax” (a strong international campaign advocating for the Financial Transaction Tax) to face the clowns of the “1% Bankers” (youth dressed up in suits and clown shoes and hats, to show the folly of our financial system). As the whistle blew, immediately the bankers rugby-tackled the Robin Hood team (dressed in green, with pointy hats) to the ground and ran off holding the ball (decorated as the Earth) towards their goal, which by this time had been conveniently enlarged for easy access, as they slid through for their first goal. The crowd was raging, but the ref wasn’t listening… In fact, no one was quite sure who the referee actually was any more. Robin Hood’s team made an amazing comeback just before halftime, but the score was fiddled and by the end of the short second half, the bankers had given up on the game, and had somehow made a sideline dash off the pitch to grasp the huge cheque, representing the winners’ prize – the Green Climate Fund! This time, the crowd’s displeasure grew to a level that was too much to ignore, and someone had to step in to check the real score by discerning and weighing up each side’s story. The Bankers were finally penalised for their foul-play and the Green Climate Fund was released by the Robin Hood team to those with the greatest and most urgent need for Climate Finance for mitigation and adaptation. The national SABC news team covered the game and interviewed the star player from the 1% Bankers, with our “Green Climate Fund” placard in the background, and the ¿People or Profit? cardboard cut-outs of suited men.
Thurs & Friday: Project Planning, Presentations & COP17 FINALE
The final phase of the Youth for Eco-Justice training saw the participants prepare 10 minute-presentations to give to our three smaller groups, followed by questions and feedback. There was a real diversity of project ideas, from greening churches to preparing for thre Rio+20 Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, UNCSD). It was a real pleasure and privilege to be part of such an energised, global group of young people and I was proud of every single one. We will be reporting all our projects soon at http://y4ej.wordpress.com so you will be able to see all our different youth initiatives that are springing up around the world, and watch them grow and flourish.
Friday afternoon was my final change to participate in the COP and my last bit of free time in Durban, before the Y4EJ closing party that night, and my bus leaving on Saturday morning. I knew I had to make the most of it, whatever happened. I first headed to Occupy at Speakers Corner, and took part in the general assembly there, and said my last goodbye to the tent-banner that had traveled with us for the whole time in Durban, then headed inside the UN… We knew it was time for the youth now. Everything that had happened this week must culminate soon and all the disappointments and delays had led us to this point. We first passed by the Fossil of the Day stand in the now-largely-deserted exhibition area, where, ironically, Canadian youth were preparing balloons and banners for the final Fossil presentation at 6pm that evening, which would go to Canada for their poor decision to leave the Kyoto Protocol and continue to drive their polluting industries through the centre of their economy. We would have to be back at Glenmore by this time, for our own leaving dinner, buffet and final socialising and goodbye time. So we asked where all the young people were at the moment, and what actions might be going on for the rest of the afternoon. They pointed us immediately in the direction of the ICC and the main plenary room, where apparently “something big was happening”. Kaitlin and I headed over to find a mass of people crammed in the corridor between the main plenary room and the staircase, and 2 walls of UN security, blocking their way into the main conference session. Greenpeace headed the front of the crowd with huge neon banners of “Listen to the People, not the Polluters”. I knew I had to join. But this was no raucous crowd – they were organized and they were being heard: Singing, and use of “the human microphone” (a repeat after me system) were getting us heard. People from minority groups and small island nations were getting their stories out there. Many placards were being waved, proclaiming: “We stand with Africa”, “Don’t kill Africa” and “703,000 stand with you”. It was a real highlight for me to have stumbled across this pivotal demonstration and to be involved. The open staircase that boxed us in on my right side was lined with cameras, video cameras and microphones, as the press covered the messages we were sending out. Again, please take the time to watch this excellent coverage from OneWorld TV:
As the demo progressed, it became clear that we would soon no longer be welcome, and would need to make a decision about whether to try to stay or whether to give up and go. There was a division in our group, as it came to light that those who were to stay would likely lose their “badge” – their accreditation into COP17. However, this seemed to be a sacrifice that many were willing to make if it meant our voice being heard just outside the conference hall for a little longer. I quickly came round to that side of the situation and decided to stay. We continued in even higher spirits, even though our numbers were now reduced, but the twenty or so of us remaining (including several from UKYCC) continued with redoubled efforts and resolve. About 10 minutes later, another line of UN security (with the usual rabble of media pushing up close behind) boxed off our last exit, and the chief security officer began coming round to tap our shoulders in groups of three to ask us to be escorted out through a side door. By this point we had already sat down, to show willingness to cooperate, and to keep the atmosphere as calm and peaceful as possible under the circumstances. I was one of the last to go, leaving only a few particularly resolute activists, who really looked like they wouldn’t be moved! I proudly raised the “703,000 stand with you” placard high when I was finally asked to stand up and go, and made the slow pointed journey, step by step, towards the door, continuing to sing, with the others who stood side-by-side. Our badges were taken and we were directed through a maze of back-corridors and eventually ended up let out through the fence onto the street behind the ICC. We sung and marched our way back to Speakers Corner, where others had already assembled, both from outside and from the eviction. A little while later, a police van arrived, offloading the two activists who had sat by me at the front of the group, who must’ve remained after I left, trying to fight for their right to stay and for their voice to be heard. One lady explained that this was what she did every year. Part of me had a huge respect for their courage, and the other half was questioning whether the extra few minutes they had gained to shout our message, and their eventual arrest and names/fingerprints filed, would have made a difference…
Grappling with the missed opportunity to stay with Occupy for their overnight vigil, I traveled back on the Conference Shuttle bus to Glenmore and made the walk up to hill to the centre at about 6:30pm, to find the farewell party already underway. A huge buffet awaited us on the patio, along with drinks and exciting desserts. I went to sit next to Thea, who was enjoying some red wine and good conversation with Joakim, an NGO activist from Sweden. I felt an ache wash over me, that it would be a long time before I saw any of these amazing people again, and I promised myself I would stay in touch by any means possible (not too hard thankfully in this day and age!) I had a brilliant evening with some excellent conversations, and tearful goodbyes. We wrote messages to each other, collected in an envelope with our name on, to take home after the trip. I had to leave the party at about 11pm to go and pack up my room, ready for the early bus in the morning, and decided to leave a fair amount of things behind for ease of travel. It had been an incredible last day in Durban, and one that I am unlikely to forget.
Saturday 10th & Sunday 11th: Bussing, Cape Town & Church
Thea kindly drove me to the bus station for my 7am departure to Cape Town. It was a 24 hour journey round the coast via East London and Port Elizabeth, but the missed hours of sleep from the previous month descended on me like a lead weight, and I managed to sleep for most of the journey, which was a real blessing. I arrived in Cape Town on Sunday morning, surprisingly refreshed, and eager to find a church to sit and reflect on the trip, before catching the ‘plane home on Monday. I was directed to the Central Methodist Mission, where it turned out a service had just begun, so I wandered in. I left my bags with a very kind man near the door, and went to sit in between two homeless people who had come for the service and a lunch that was especially put on for them every week. It was a true community church, taking care of people’s needs – and the sermon was excellent – about identity. Spiritually refreshed, I went in search of one of the hostels on Long Street, and eventually found and checked in to Two Oceans, for R100 (~£10). I had a nap for a few hours and then spent the late afternoon exploring parts of Cape Town, which was absolutely beautiful, under the gaze of Table Mountain and with the wide ocean over the other side of town. I found a German restaurant on the seafront, which had a very good live band, so I sat down, bought a drink and enjoyed that for a while. I also bumped into Anna from Tck Tck Tck, which was a pleasant surprise, after the number of times I had seen her in Durban, at every different campaigning and activism event and meeting! I had a quiet evening in the hostel, cooked some food, and prepared myself for leaving Africa the following morning.
This trip has been truly eye-opening for me, and shed light on the real-life issues and injustices in the world. It reminded me how easy it is to get caught up in the minor day-to-day concerns of our own lives, without having the wider perspectives of other global struggles. I would recommend traveling to Africa to anyone, but particularly traveling with a purpose and a cause, to help people and to come alongside others in their strife to say “we’re fighting with you and for you – we’re on your side”. For me, the climate struggle is one of the most critical and urgent problems that we must address as a global community, and brings with it some of the most stark social injustices that the world has ever seen, between people and polluters. I know now that I will never stop speaking out on these issues, and participating in the processes that will bring change, whether those be UN conventions or grassroots actions and projects.
The final outcomes of the UNFCCC COP17 were less than desirable, lacking ambition and seriously endangering our future on Earth. Here is a reflection on the last 48 hours from one of our very own UK activists, Tom Youngman (UKYCC et. al.):
Climate Change has become a controversial issue that many people in my country know about but not many people are prepared to talk about. This must be changed. We cannot ignore the dangerous over-stretching of all the planet’s resources, and degrading of the natural ecosystems that support us. I am so glad to be involved with people, working with organisations such as Youth for Eco-Justice and the We Have Faith campaign, with UKYCC, Earth Charter, A Rocha, WAGGGS, with GCCA, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, 350.org and all these brilliant and motivated people who are going to be the ones who bring about a sustainable future for life on Earth. I am proud of you all. Keep the vision; keep the faith. Together, we will succeed.