Sustaining All Life, in Paris

Photos from Sustaining All Life in Paris

In late November and early December 2015, fifty Co-Counselors—twenty-five delegates and twenty-five volunteers—did a Sustaining All Life1  project in Paris, France. They shared RC tools and what we’ve learned in RC about the connection between oppression and the environment with activists gathering in Paris during the COP21, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. The following are reports written by delegates at the end of each day.

Friday, November 27

On Thursday and Friday many of us participated in two pre-Climate Talks events: the Conference of Youth and an Indigenous Conference, both sponsored by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). We talked to people, handed out flyers, generated interest in our work, and attended events held by others.

At the Conference of Youth we had a workshop in the program: Young People Ending Racism in the Environmental Movement. Emily Bloch and Jean Charles2 presented our understandings about the connections between racism and climate change, along with sharing the tools of RC. People did a mini-session, and four people spoke strongly about their experiences of racism as related to the environment. Sustaining All Life delegates Janet Kabue and Mari Piggott3 talked about how they’ve used RC in their work against racism.

The workshop broke into small groups of people of the global majority and white people to share experiences with racism and environmental degradation/climate change and racism in the environmental movement. Then people reported back to the whole group. It ended on a hopeful note, and people were enthusiastic.

On Saturday morning the Sustaining All Life delegates and volunteers will begin a weekend workshop in which we’ll connect, discharge, continue our preparations, have fun together, and figure out more about how to get our word out.

Sunday, November 29

Today a group of us—young people and Indigenous people—joined a sunrise event at the Eiffel Tower. It was organized by Indigenous/First Nations people. Using music, words, and drumbeats, they prayed for the people of the world and appreciated Mother Earth.

After reuniting for breakfast and a planning meeting, the Sustaining All Life group headed out for our first listening project5 of the week. We traveled by metro to Boulevard Voltaire, near the Place de la Republique and nearer still to Bataclan, the site of the biggest death toll from the recent attacks on Paris.

The large march planned for today had been banned and instead activists had organized a human chain along the route of the march. We decided to do our listening project with the activists along a section of this chain. Early concerns about a heavy police presence weren’t realized while we were there, though we heard later that many activists had been arrested and tear-gassed at Place de la Republique. In our location there was an exciting, happy atmosphere and we found it easy to engage with many people.

Once we started, it became easier and easier to talk to more and more people about Sustaining All Life. Many seemed delighted to find us and hear about our mission. Some gave us spontaneous hugs. One person invited us to the center of activism where she works, and we plan to do listening projects there this week. We invited many people to our workshops and other events.

After a quick take-away lunch, we made our way back to our hostel, where we reported back on highlights and lessons learned. After dinner we had support groups and a final planning meeting before bed. We are now finishing our day’s work by writing this report at 11:30 p.m.

Monday, November 30

It has been a day of scouting for us.

This morning we all went to the COP21 site by train, bus, car—and bicycle! We couldn’t get into the non-governmental organization (NGO) area, as it doesn’t open to the public until tomorrow morning, but it was good to see the venue and how it is arranged. Although the security was extremely tight, there were a lot of friendly guards.

Today was a stellar example of how we’re always trying to figure out what to do as we go. Diane has been organizing us at every step. As we are walking on the sidewalk, riding on the train, or waiting for a bus, she is directing us and presenting our next steps.

We walked from the COP21 site to the Lycée Rabelais, where our workshops and other events will be held. A small group of us entered to view the site, while the rest of us had mini-sessions outside.

Then we went by bus and train to Gare du Nord (a large railway station). Many activist hostels are located nearby, and we thought we might do listening projects in the area or even find a place to do small workshops. We took turns getting lunch, while those not eating scouted for places to post flyers and posters. Others did listening projects outside the station.

Some highlights:

  • Michael Levy spoke with a couple of people who didn’t know about the climate conference, and he invited them to one of our events on Saturday. He also spoke to a USer who is here for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and who was interested in what we are doing. We are going to get him in touch with Co-Counselors in his RC Region.
  • As we left this morning for the COP21 grounds, Glen Hauer9 met a man staying here at our hostel who did not speak English or French. Glen asked Juan Manuel Feito Guerrero10 to speak with him, and Juanma rode with him all the way to COP21. He learned that the man had come to the Paris climate talks as a representative of many communities in the Amazon River region and that he had traveled six days to get here, four of them through the jungle. The man was grateful to meet us, as he speaks “only” his native language and Spanish and is not familiar with the ways of white people. Juanma will ensure that he has lots of support while we are here.
  • On Sunday evening, Canadians Mari Piggott, Beth Cruise, and Bo-Young Lim11 went to a “Meet and Greet” sponsored by the Canadian Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. They didn’t know if they would get in, or what they would say, but they knew they should be there. They greeted the minister and met other delegates to COP21. Imagine their surprise when they saw the minister again today, waiting in the security line to enter the COP21 grounds. They took advantage of the opportunity to speak to her one-on-one about Sustaining All Life, and she was interested in what she heard.

We returned to the hostel to do our work, meet in constituency groups, and have dinner and an organizational meeting. We should get to bed soon, as some of us are going to the COP21 grounds before breakfast, to get ahead of the crowds and post flyers and meet people. 

Tuesday, December 1

Today was the first day we were allowed into the Climate Generations area—the “civil society area” of COP21 where many organizations have stands, exhibits, films, and lectures.

Diane found a vacant space and a large empty table, which she occupied with our literature. It did not attract as much attention as we wanted, so later we moved the table closer to a walkway. Immediately many more people stopped to read and talk to us. We also found two other spots to set up literature in other parts of the huge conference halls. All this proved valuable for meeting people. (Because we are not registered with the United Nations as a non-governmental organization, we have no official space on the COP21 grounds.)

In the afternoon we did two workshops. The first was Young People at the Forefront of the Climate Movement, led by Emily. It attracted a small but enthusiastic group, some of whom expressed great interest in learning more about RC. The second was Sustaining Indigenous Life Worldwide, led by Marcie Rendon.12 It also attracted a small, enthusiastic group. One woman attended both workshops and decided that she would come back tomorrow to take our RC fundamentals class.

In addition to our tables and workshops, groups of us conducted listening projects throughout the day in various places in the building. Most of the people we listened to did not have high hopes for the governmental part of COP21, but some were hopeful about what grassroots groups could do. Almost all were happy to have run into13 people who listened to them thoughtfully.

This evening we gathered and shared lots of hopeful stories about people we’d met during the day, including from Senegal, Bangladesh, Hawaii, Scotland, Suriname, India, Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti, Mali, and the Philippines, as well as from North America and Europe.

One of us had met the director of an African federation for environmental organizations and had listened to him and told him about our work. He’d said that racism and colonization are the “big elephant in the room” (a major issue not being discussed) and that we are the only organization to have brought them up.14 

This evening Diane pointed out that our delegation is being led by two working-class white women and had us pair up by gender and discharge about sexism.

We delegates and volunteers have a wide variety of skills and varying amounts of attention for the tasks we are undertaking. For example, some of us find it difficult to reach out to new people all day long, while for others it is fairly easy. Together we have been able to support each other well and accomplish a lot.

Wednesday, December 2

Today was the day we became an established presence at COP21. In addition to the large table we were using yesterday, Diane helped us acquire an official space in the Climate Generations area. We now share a booth with an African NGO.

At our various spaces, we did listening projects and had countless conversations in which we continued to build relationships and invite people to our events.

Mari led a young people’s caucus (a support group) in a public open space in the center of the venue. It grew to twenty-five participants, as young people passing by joined. The group played a game and did a go-around on what was hard and what was good about being a young person at COP21. Rob Venderbos15 said, “People who came were relieved to be among young people. You could see them relax, and they all left feeling better. I think they’ll feel more connected to all the young people at COP21.”

Another winner today was a decision to hold our planned forum in a large unused open space on the grounds of COP21. The forum was led by Teresa Enrico,16 Mari, and Seán. Volunteers walked around with signs and invited activists to share three- to five-minute stories of hope and courage. Once it started, those walking by were attracted by the energy in the space. The forum stood out among the events at the COP21 as one of the only places where people could hear about each other’s activism and cheer each other on. Among the stories were those of a woman doctor from Afghanistan who’d decided she could save more lives by climate activism than by being a physician, and a man from Guinea who’d exposed the parties responsible for deforestation and been subjected to harassment and threats as a result. The group broke into spontaneous applause during the presentations. We had time for twelve activists to share their stories. We also did mini-sessions. Several folks asked when it would happen again!

Jenny Sazama and Alima Adams17 offered a fundamentals class that included two young adults, one from Taiwan and another from the United States, and a man from Italy who is making a documentary about humans and climate change.

Wytske Visser18 led a workshop for climate activists. There were nine participants, six of whom stayed for a support group afterward.

All along the way we are pushing ourselves and each other to share more and more fully what we know about humans.

Thursday, December 3

Today we led ten—yes, ten—events in Paris! Très bien!19 

The morning started with Emily leading a workshop for a group of young people who are staying here in our hostel who’ve come from around the world for a YMCA climate camp. Youth from Myanmar, Réunion, and Switzerland attended the workshop. Said Emily, “They were all excited about Co-Counseling and continuing our relationships and were grateful for the chance to show their feelings.” Janet will offer them a workshop on racism tomorrow morning.

Those of us who weren’t part of the workshop had a (much needed!) session.

Then it was off to20 COP21! Several of us did a listening project by walking down a long lunch line with a sign saying, “How do you think oppression affects the climate movement? We’d like to listen.” It was successful, because people had nothing to distract them from engaging with us.

At our midday fundamentals class, led by Jenny, three young adults got excited about human connection and discharge being the answer to climate change. One young adult man from Scotland said he had been about to quit21 his activism but had changed his mind after his turn in front of the group!

We staffed our tables and booth as usual and continued to have many interesting conversations with people from around the world.

Hemaima Wiremu22 led a well-attended (ninety participants!) forum on how people’s communities have been affected by climate change. A woman from Peru spoke with passion and blunt truth. She said that women are the leaders in her community in spite of the violence they face every day, not only in the community but also in their own homes, and that they’d decided they would not tolerate the violence anymore. Also powerful were two young Indigenous men, from Alaska and Hawaii. A Brazilian woman living in Rome who shared her story in front of the group commented as she left that “this was the true ‘people’s space’ at COP21.”

We offered three caucuses today—for youth, for women, and for activists.

Barbara Love23 led an ending-racism workshop attended by thirty-one people.  Liam Geary-Baulch24 brought to it a group of students and faculty who were from a network of “historically Black colleges and universities” in the United States. They loved the workshop. One said simply, “This is a breath of fresh air.”

(Handout used in this event is here: Tools for Ending Racism in the Environmental Movement)

During the day, a film crew asked Seán, “How do you feel about everything that is going on25 here?” Seán said he was hopeful about the people but not about the governments, because they were too influenced by corporations and the wealthy. Afterward he asked the crew whom they were filming for, and they replied, “The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs”!

The evening finished with a reception packed with all of us and a large number of invitees, many of whom we got to talk to over the course of the evening. The event reflected the personal contact and relationship building we’ve been emphasizing all week. It was catered by students attending the hotel school we’ve been using for our workshops, and they carried plates of elegant hors d’oeuvres around the room. There was a French flag on the door with a black ribbon, and we learned that seven students from the school had been killed in the recent Paris attacks.

Another powerful day for all of us, and many others.

Saturday, December 5

I am writing this report from 34,000 feet.

To say this has been an intense week would be putting it mildly. I think many of us surprised ourselves by the limits beyond which we were able to push. Friday was so filled that we didn’t have time to write a report.

Also, many members of our team left on Friday. In our group farewells, we appreciated the leaders, the organizing team, the French RC Community, the translators, and the young people and noticed what each person and group had brought to the team. It was moving. Many of us had a mini-session on not wanting to leave.

Speaking for myself, I have to say that everyone was amazing! We pulled off26 a logistically challenging, deeply human project. What an honor it was to be a part of the team.

This report is not going to have as much scope and detail as previous ones, because our reporting team has gone its separate ways, but here are some bits:

At noon on Friday we held a forum, with only ninety minutes to get it organized. To invite people, we carried signs, seen by hundreds, that said, “How has climate change affected Indigenous people? We want to listen to you!” The response was enthusiastic. We heard from a First Nations elder and leader from Canada who said he was growing impatient with the governmental climate negotiations. He reminded all of us that everything, everything, everything comes from Mother Earth and that all humans need to reclaim their connection to the Earth.

Later Wytske led a workshop on classism. It was small, but people commented that “the whole world needs to know about this work you are doing.”

We also held another youth caucus in the middle of the Climate Generations area. Several clusters of young people and young adults—each cluster being led by one of our delegation—were sitting on the floor, deeply engaged with each other.

Even though many of us have left Paris, the work goes on. This weekend is the People’s Climate Summit and Global Villages Alternative in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, and our team is offering three programs there—two workshops on racism and a forum on the early impacts of climate change.

This morning Niti Dandekar27 led the forum The Impact of Climate Change on Developing Nations and Oppressed Communities. She had a full room—about twenty-five people—and speakers from Gambia, Indonesia, Senegal, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. At the end people were eager to stay and talk.

Ellie Putnam28 reports that at Barbara and Wytske’s workshop, Eliminating the Effects of Racism in the Environmental Movement, people kept coming in and were totally receptive to everything Barbara and Wytske said and did. There was also great support from the organizing team.

Yay for us!

Tomorrow our young people and young adult team will offer the workshop Young People Eliminating the Effects of Racism in the Environmental Movement.

Today Diane led a workshop for the French RC Community. They did mini-sessions in public in front of Bataclan, where many were killed in the recent Paris attacks. Frédérique Braguier29 reports that “people around us were intrigued.”


(Present Time 182, January 2016)

1 Sustaining All Life is a project of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities in which groups of Co-Counselors go to non-RC events and share what we’ve learned in RC about helping people take action to end oppression and save the environment.
2 Emily Bloch is the International Liberation Reference Person for Young Adults and lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA. Jean Charles is an RC leader in Milton, Massachusetts, USA.
3 Janet Kabue is the Area Reference Person for Nairobi, Kenya. Mari Piggott is the International Liberation Reference Person for Young People and lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
4 Diane Shisk is the Alternate International Reference Person for the RC Communities and lives in Seattle, Washington, USA. She was the leader, with Wytske Visser, of the Sustaining All Life project in Paris.
In an RC listening project, several Co-Counselors go to a public place and offer to listen to passersby about some important issue, such as racism or the environment. They may hold signs that invite people to share their thinking about the issue.
6 Brian Lavendel is an RC leader in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
7 Michael Levy is the Area Reference Person for Santa Cruz, California, USA.
8 Seán Ruth is the International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People and lives in Stillorgan, County Dublin, Ireland.
9 Glen Hauer is an RC leader in Berkeley California, USA.
10 Juan Manuel Feito Guerrero (Juanma) is an RC leader in Bilbao, Bizkaia, Euskal Herria (Basque Country).
11 Beth Cruise is an RC leader in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and is the editor of the RC journal Sustaining All Life. Bo-Young Lim is an RC leader in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
12 Marcie Rendon is the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
13 “Run into” means met, encountered.
14 “Brought them up” means talked about them.
15 Rob Venderbos is an RC leader in Wergea, the Netherlands.
16 Teresa Enrico is the International Liberation Reference Person for Pacific Islander and Pilipino/a-Heritage People and lives in Seattle, Washington, USA.
17 Jenny Sazama is the International Liberation Reference Person for Allies to Young People and lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA. Alima Adams is an RC leader in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England.
18 Wytske Visser is the International Commonality Reference Person for the Care of the Environment and was the leader, with Diane Shisk, of the Sustaining All Life project in Paris. Wytske lives in Ljouwert, Fryslân, the Netherlands.
19 Très bien means “very good” in French.
20 “Then it was off to” means then we embarked for.
21 “About to quit” means on the verge of quitting.
22 Hemaima Wiremu is an RC leader in Otaki, Kapiti Coast District, New Zealand.
23 Barbara Love is the International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA.
24 Liam Geary-Baulch is an RC leader in London, England.
25 “Going on” means happening.
26 “Pulled off” means accomplished.
27 Niti Dandekar is the Regional Reference Person for India and lives in Pune, India.
28 Ellie Putnam is an RC leader in Seattle, Washington, USA.
29 Frédérique Braguier is an RC leader in Pau, France.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00