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Highlights and Challenges at COP21

The following twelve articles are about the Sustaining All Life project at the recent United Nations climate talks in Paris, France.

During the Sustaining All Life project at COP21,1 I loved getting to co-lead, with Wytske Visser,2 such a strong delegation of experienced RC leaders from around the world. We functioned as a team, stayed caring and close, and fulfilled our goals. We eagerly took on3 every challenge and grew from each one. We could tell4 we were a valuable part of the event. Our tone uplifted everyone around us.


It was a pleasure to work with Wytske. We both have working-class backgrounds and similar understandings about getting a job done. We like each other a lot and complement each other in good ways as female leaders. Each of us was relaxedly and openly supportive of the other’s leadership. That was special.

The team was extremely well prepared. All our events (workshops, forums, classes) had been planned ahead of time and the leadership and organizing teams had already been in touch with each other. We’d found a location for our events that was near to the conference. Our handouts had been written and translated into French. Our Sustaining All Life pamphlet had been translated into ten languages. Our delegates and volunteers together could interpret into eleven languages. Everyone had an assigned job, and teams were organized for everything.

We were diverse and international, and we worked well together. We benefited tremendously from the many years of work we’d all done on oppression and oppressor material.5 We weren’t done with that work, but we were a unified force, able to take on challenging circumstances and stay united.

Our “forums” gave voice to lots of people who otherwise might not have been heard. They addressed a variety of issues and were well attended and appreciated. People used them effectively to share important stories. Without them, many people’s stories would never have been heard by a group.

Barbara Love, Marcie Rendon, Teresa Enrico, Hemaima Wiremu, and Azi Khalili6 —our global-majority and Indigenous women leaders—were strong, smart, and visible. They led us throughout the week and showed how solid our liberation work is.


Every evening, after a day’s activities, we met as a group for several hours. There was always a huge amount to do and never enough time. It was challenging to prioritize. We had to figure out which important things we would not address so that people could get into work groups and then finish on time for sleep. Almost every time I addressed the group, I spoke too fast—trying to slow down and not being able to. Everything was being interpreted, so this was hard on the interpreters and the non-English speakers.

Because we had only a week in Paris to accomplish our many goals, we’d had to communicate a lot of information to the delegates and volunteers ahead of time. English was not the first language of many of the delegates, and it was too much to read, so many people hadn’t read everything, creating unevenness in what people understood about what we were doing and how we were doing it.

Once we were in Paris, there wasn’t time in our evening meetings to go over everything and explain it clearly. (I thought it was more important to get to sleep early enough.) So we moved forward without everyone understanding everything. We had to assume that someone would explain it or that people would simply follow us, their leaders, without understanding everything. It is a tribute to the strength of our group that we were able to function like this for a week. There was never time to “catch up.” And there were upsets, but people discharged and came back into the action. There was no blaming or attacks on one another at all.

Most of the time I was functioning at the edge of what I was able to do—tracking many things, making decisions about issues that were constantly arising. I think this was true of most of us. We were really stretching ourselves and giving our best to the project. Sometimes in situations like this, people are hard on each other. We weren’t. We mostly remembered that each of us was at our limit and doing our best, and that it was enough. We stayed connected and strong. We had some fun.

It was challenging to be functioning at the limits of what I could do, and I loved every minute of it. In a way I felt like I had been born to get to try this.


A final highlight was the support of the delegation and volunteers. I was a good leader—I steered us to make many good decisions in a difficult situation, I was caring most of the time and even funny sometimes—but I was not always “together”7 or nice. Sometimes my distresses (and oppressor material) showed and were hard on people. I usually apologize when my distresses run8 like that, but I didn’t this time. (I did discharge a lot about it.) I felt that people were with me. They knew how hard I was pushing myself and were okay with it.

Each person unwaveringly backed9 both Wytske and me and this huge project we were doing together. I felt the whole gang at my back the whole time. I’ve never had an experience like that before. We did something really important together. I am so proud of us.

Diane Shisk

Alternate International Reference Person

Seattle, Washington, USA

(Present Time 183, April 2016)

1 In late 2015, a group of Sustaining All Life delegates and volunteers went to Paris, France, to share RC tools with the activists gathering there during COP21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties), a United Nations conference on climate change.
2 Wytske Visser is the International Commonality Reference Person for the Care of the Environment.
3 “Took on” means undertook.
4 “Tell” means see, perceive.
5 “Material” means distress.
6 Barbara Love is the International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People. Marcie Rendon is the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans. Teresa Enrico is the International Liberation Reference Person for Pacific Islander and Pilipino/a-Heritage People. Hemaima Wiremu is an Indigenous RC leader in Otaki, New Zealand. Azi Khalili is the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People.
7 “Together” means centered and well organized.
8 “Run” means are acted out.
9 “Backed” means supported.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00