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Co-leading the Sustaining All Life Team in Morocco

Others have written about what the Sustaining All Life* team did at COP22—the United Nations climate talks, in November 2016, in Morocco. [See following articles.] The workshops, forums, caucuses, fundamentals classes, support groups, listening projects, and one-on-one contacts all contributed to the success of the project. I write here about my experience co-leading the Sustaining All Life team.

LEADING WITH TERESA

I co-led the team with Teresa Enrico, the International Liberation Reference Person for Pacific Islanders and Pilipino/a-Heritage People. It was an extraordinary experience. Who would have thought that two raised-poor women of the Global Majority with backgrounds of colonialism, genocide, enforced involuntary servitude, and dislocation due to immigration and forced migration would lead a team to work and serve fourteen hours a day, every day.

That was not our plan. We had talked at length about how we would have a leisurely, relaxed team, and lots of laughter and play while we did our work. We had planned to follow the theory that liberation is in how we do what we do, not just in the outcomes. We had planned to take the time to insure that our working together embodied principles of liberation. Not only that, we had planned that each team member would have an open evening to go shopping at the Souk, an Arab marketplace. (Our hotel was on Rue Moulay Ismail, near Jemaa El Fna and the largest Souk in Marrakech.)

What happened, contrary to our plan, was that we got so engrossed in our work that the time flew by. Each new day brought new successes and an increased sense of what we might be able to accomplish. This led us to add new activities to an already full calendar, and the team ended up working what seemed like all of the time. For example, the interpreters were on constant call and in continual demand. After we had planned to interpret an event into French and Arabic only, we might get someone who spoke only Spanish, and the Spanish interpreters, supposedly on a break, would quickly and willingly come to the aid of the person needing interpreting. These kinds of needs arose all the time, and members of the team were unstinting in their willingness to meet them.

When the administration of COP22 decided to change the entry procedures and admit everyone, many local people attended (unlike at COP21, in Paris, at which most of the attendees were international). We ended up with a significant local following and decided to schedule a forum specifically for Moroccans. This meant that in addition to our already heavy schedule, team members held two additional meetings with Moroccans to organize and plan the development of RC in Morocco. (You can read in other reports about the successful beginnings of an RC Community there.)

THE TEAM

While incredibly overworked, our team served with delight and determination, goodwill and great willingness; with beauty, brilliance, and grace. I suppose if Teresa and I could take credit for creating such a team, we would do so. In truth, they came ready to work.

The members of the team and the roles they played are described elsewhere. Here, I want to mention how incredibly well we functioned—like a well-oiled machine. The attention and support we gave each other could be felt and touched. We planned what we would do, discharged about it, and did it well. Many times we planned what we would do, did what we planned, and then discharged about it. Or not.

THE ORGANIZERS

Anne Helgedagsrud (an RC leader in Norway) and Diane Shisk (the Alternate International Reference Person) were a formidable organizing team. The ongoing uncertainties and continually changing circumstances we faced meant that they worked pretty much 24/7 [twenty-four hours a day]. Keeping supplies available, barcodes matching, and literature available for our many activities was a handful. As you might imagine, they were up to it [capable of it]. What you might not imagine is that both of them had physical conditions that might have been a constraint for others. For them, they were a nuisance but not a hindrance.

IMPERIALISM, DOMINATION, AND SUBORDINATION

Teresa and I had planned that the team would spend some time examining how we worked together. Specifically, since we were a group committed to liberation and were part of an organization whose number-one goal is ending racism, we wanted to put attention, in our work, conversation, and discharge, on how dynamics of domination and subordination played out [were acted out] in our group.

At the COP, our team had two conversations about racism, oppression, domination, and subordination. First we talked and discharged about some of the ways that oppressor patterns—including racism, colonialism, USer patterns, and Western superiority and domination patterns—show up in RC. Later we asked, “How are we doing? What have we noticed about how we are attending to these issues?” Doing this was good. Making space for these conversations made a difference.

We agreed that our goal was to build a team that worked well together. To do this, we wanted to increase our ability to notice, name, and interrupt patterns of imperialism and domination that could interfere with the relationships that would enable us to be an effective team. Team members were asked to describe the ways that patterns of imperialism and domination—based on national identity, race, gender, class, religion, and other identities—had affected them as part of the team. Below are some of the patterns people identified.

Bossing: “People boss you around and tell you what to do, even if you are the designated leader.”

Controlling: “People strive to be in control and make sure things are done in the way they think they should be, failing to include the thinking and consideration of others in the development of procedures and solutions.”

Doing it the U.S. way: “Often the U.S. way is the ‘right way.’ ‘Let’s do it my way, the U.S. way.’”

Invisibility: “People act as though I am not there. They do not listen to my thinking, do not ask for my thinking, do not hear me when I speak. People fail to notice that I am here and literally physically walk over me as though I am not here.”

Urgency and pressure

Efficiency: “The team we want is characterized by strong relationships built on connection and closeness. We lose much of the strength and viability of the team when we skip over relationships in favor of speed and production.”

LANGUAGE LIBERATION

Language liberation was a big deal. Not only were we concerned that other people understand what we were sharing, we also wanted all the members of our team to be well thought about. This meant taking time to insure that every member understood everything, including the jokes. Giving attention to language liberation became a group effort.

FLEXIBILITY

A hallmark of our working together was our enormous flexibility.

Just before departing for Morocco, we learned that our partnership with the organization we’d expected to share a booth with was not working well, and we decided to end that partnership. We weren’t sure that we would have a space in the COP pavilion, but nevertheless we prepared to go to the COP. We eventually ended up with a space inside the Green Zone. Also just before leaving, we were told that our materials had to be electronically encoded. With a lot of help and assistance from Team Seattle, we responded to that challenge.

As I mentioned before, at the COP we added to our schedule at the last minute a forum in which people from Morocco could speak about their experiences with climate change. To recruit participants, we walked around carrying posters describing the forum, contacted all the people we had met from Morocco, and conducted listening projects to give people a chance to talk about the prospect of Moroccans having their own RC Community. About fifty people ended up attending the forum. More than twenty of them have said they want to be in a fundamentals class.

OUR RECEPTION

On the rooftop terrace of our hotel, looking out over Marrakech, we held a reception that was much like an RC workshop. People got to introduce themselves, meet and greet other people, have mini-sessions, and give attention during demonstrations. One participant who did not get a chance to be in a demonstration made me promise that she would have a turn sometime later. (The next day she found me, I gave her attention, and she had the session she hadn’t gotten to have at the reception.) When the reception was over, we finally had to say the place was closing. The attention from our team was magnificent, and people stayed and stayed. We gave them literature and promised to be in touch. We have kept that promise.

MEETING THE PRESS 

We had several opportunities to speak to the press. I did an interview for the COP22 Newsreel that was included in their daily news edition. Malana Bursen-Rogers did an interview with the radio station Ecoutez-nous (Listen to Us) about the Youth Forum. At first the interviewer kept pointing her recorder at me. I explained that the forum had addressed the empowerment of young people and young adults, and the need to listen to their voices and follow their leadership. I said that she should listen to the voice of Malana, who had led the forum. Malana described Sustaining All Life and what we believe about the empowerment of young people and their leadership of the climate movement. Iman Awadh did a live interview, in Arabic, with Radio Morocco about Sustaining All Life and our work at COP22.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS AT OUR HOTEL

The staff at our hotel, Hotel Ali, were thoughtful, kind, courteous, and friendly and did everything they could to make our stay pleasant and enjoyable. They quickly learned our names and greeted us by name when we appeared in the morning for breakfast and returned from a day at the COP. They went to lengths to prepare food that we wanted and juices to our order—including a fresh juice with Moroccan mint that they developed just for our group. They also prepared a delightful and delicious buffet for our reception on the rooftop terrace. Mariam, one of the managers, came to the forum we organized for Moroccans and also joined our reception as a guest. Many of us made connections and friendships that we will maintain for life.

STAYING IN THE MEDINA

Our hotel was in the Medina (the old walled city) at the entrance to the Souk (the Arabic marketplace). I had been afraid that the location might be a distraction. The lights were bright and there was activity in the Medina all night long. People played drums, sang, and danced. There were vendors of every description and people with show animals, including snakes and monkeys. The crowds were thick and the atmosphere merry. Contrary to my fears, the atmosphere of the Medina helped us feel completely comfortable, and eased the transition from our fifteen countries to our home together in Marrakech.

Barbara Love

International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

(Present Time 186, January 2017)


* Sustaining All Life is a project of the RC Communities in which Co-Counselors go to wide-world events and bring what we’ve learned in RC to activists working to end climate change, environmental degradation, and environmental injustice.


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