Climate Change Activists in Paris Say They’re Being Silenced With Counterterrorism Following Attacks

Standing in Republique square, just two blocks from the Bataclan Theater, site of the massacre of 90 people in Paris two weeks ago, Pierre—who declined to give his last name—told me last Sunday, the opening day of the COP21 climate change talks, “I don’t feel safe here.”


Asked why, the 23-year-old responded by looking over at the human barricade of police in riot gear surrounding him and other people near Marianne, the bronze statue that bears an olive branch and symbolizes the French Republic. The statue is also the site of a makeshift altar of flowers, pictures and candles for those killed in the recent attacks.

“We’re here for peace, for a better future and it's unfair because they’re supposed to be here to protect us, but now they are against us,” said Pierre. “I don’t feel safe with them. I’m afraid of the terrorists, and I’m also afraid of them.”

Pierre and those who returned to Republique were among the thousands of people forming their own human barricade stretching several blocks as an alternative to the ban on protests declared by French president Francois Hollande. Pierre said earlier in the day police got violent, shooting teargas, arresting people indiscriminately and wielding batons at him and his friends after some unknown protesters threw rocks at the police. Climate change activists have been shut out of the media, banned from protesting -- and then condemned on the media by the powerful for protesting. They point out that that lurking right behind Hollande's spechifying and Obama's talk of participation in #COP21 as "defiance" is the kind of cynical calculation that moves the powerful to weaponize even the most tragic terror attacks.

In response to the Republique incident, Hollande said, "Place de la Republique, where all these flowers have been put, these candles ... in memory of those who fell under the bullets of the terrorists. [It is] also scandalous with regard to what is at stake at the climate conference, which is meant to let the world make decisions on the future of the planet."

Asked what he thought of Hollande’s statement, Pierre nodded his head in disbelief and said, “It’s bullshit, because they act like we’re the bad guys. When you see the police and Hollande in the media, we are the bad guys and that they arrest us to protect other people. It’s stupid. We’re here to protect people from climate change."

The police barricade started closing in. "They’re trying to scare us so we can leave,” said Pierre. “You see it's not protection, they are threatening us.”

Asked what he made of the squeeze being put on him and other protesters, he added, “This is all a distraction, a very great distraction because they don’t really want to deal with climate change.”

Pierre's sentiments were shared by many of the hundreds of thousands of people who planned protests, vigils and other actions to pressure world leaders during COP21, considered by many the most important and urgent meeting of our lifetime.

In the wake of the violent attacks of November 13, many activists here in France are feeling trapped not only by the tense atmosphere created in the wake of the attacks, but what some feel is the political deployment of that tension as a weapon to silence protest in France and other countries already under enormous pressure to reduce greenhouse gases endangering the planet and its inhabitants. Obama’s visit to the Bataclan site drew both sympathy and accusations that he too is engaging in the weaponization of anguish.

"I think Hollande, Obama and other leaders are using the terrorist attack to protect themselves from criticism,” said Tristi, 29, who also declined to give her last name. "They’re manipulating us, trying to make us look like terrorists. It’s funny to hear not just that they are here to protect us, but that they also have to arrest us.”

Standing alongside Marianne and holding a sign that read, "I am not afraid to dying for my values," Tristi declared. “The threats from climate change are more dangerous than the threat of terrorism because it is affecting many more people. And more climate change means more poverty and more poverty means more terrorism.”

As we spoke, her fellow protesters stood defiantly before the wall of police, chanting, “Liberté pour nos camarades! Liberté pour nos camarades!”

“The danger of climate change demands the utmost militancy, not just going shopping and acting like nothing's wrong” Tristie said. “We will be back tomorrow and the next day and the next day. This is our home, these are our streets. We can’t let them trap us with their talk of 'terrorism.' Life on earth is too important.”

Visit the protest group's site, Les Desobeiessants.

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