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Sustaining All Life at COP23, in Bonn, Germany

In November 2017, a Sustaining All Life (SAL) delegation of twenty-four RCers plus nine volunteers went to Bonn, Germany, for the United Nations climate change conference called COP23 (COP stands for Conference of the Parties).

It was organized by the Fiji Islands. We had expected it to be in a country close to Fiji, but it was held in Germany, for reasons of economy. There was a government side, called the Bula Zone, where the official negotiations were held, and a non-governmental (NGO) or Civil Society side, called the Bonn Zone. Our delegation focused on the Bonn Zone.

The two of us—Teresa Enrico (the International Liberation Reference Person for Pacific Islanders and Pilipino/a-Heritage People) and Wytske Visser (the International Commonality Reference Person for the Care of the Environment)—led the delegation. Anne Helgedagsrud (an RC leader in Norway) and Marijke Wilmans (the Area Reference Person for Groningen, the Netherlands) were the incredible organizers.

We had little information to begin with, including about places to stay and work, whether we would be allowed in the Bonn Zone, what our delegation would look like, finances, and more. Did that stop us? No. From former COPs we knew that this was how it goes. Our determined decision to hold to our plan had worked before and would work again. And it did. COP23 was another unique success for SAL.

We met people from over a hundred countries, and every day was challenging, fun, and an incredible amount of work. We learned, listened to stories of heartbreak and success, and empowered ourselves and those who learned from and with us.


Our goal was to have a diverse delegation that would represent SAL well and strengthen European leadership in RC. Because finances were limited, we agreed that it would consist of twenty-five RCers, mostly from Europe.

We had seen for ourselves that participating in an RC project like SAL brings a stronger, more solid commitment to RC and its goals and a richer, more inclusive life. We wanted that for many but could ask only twenty-one people to join us.

A lot would be asked of each individual: to be available for ten days, to do a large amount of work, and to follow leadership and cooperate as a team. We also had to ask if participating was a good next step in each person’s re-emergence. Would it strengthen their leadership by giving them opportunities to succeed at new efforts?


In January and February of 2017, the leaders and organizers of the delegation held weekly Skype meetings to think, discharge, prepare, and build strength. Putting our own liberation first was crucial. From there we’d be able to be more real and have a bigger chance for success.

In March and April we found a Youth Hostel and reserved space for the delegation and volunteers. (Later on, no beds for a reasonable price could be found anywhere in or around Bonn.)

In May we invited our team, including young people and young adults, People of the Global Majority, Indigenous people, Jews, people of all class backgrounds, and heterosexual and LGBQT people. Many agreed to join us.

From June through August, delegation support groups met on Skype.

In July, Wytske led, and Jan Venderbos (from the Netherlands) organized, a European Care of the Environment Conference. The goal was to strengthen connections and environmental work both inside and outside RC. It was powerful, with lots of discharge, and led to good thinking about SAL at COP23.

Also in July, Anne, Marijke, and Wytske went to Bonn and checked out the Youth Hostel (food, bedrooms, the classroom, and so on), ways to travel in Bonn, and the locations of the Bonn Zone and the Bula Zone. That gave us more information for planning and organizing.

In August, at the World Conference of the RC Communities, a number of the delegates were able to counsel and think together, build relationships, and get many questions answered. The same was true in May at the Pre-World Conferences in Eastern and Western Europe.

Diane Shisk organized an event at Re-evaluation Counseling Community Resources, in Seattle, Washington, USA, to raise money for the SAL delegation. People shared beautiful art, lovely food, and great live music. We (Teresa and Wytske) did an introduction to RC and SAL. In the following months many more fundraisers would be held around the world.

Delegate support groups, based on our jobs at COP23, met on Skype. We began translating our handouts and fliers into German and French. And the United Nations gave approval for SAL to enter the Bonn Zone. Yay! But we were not allotted any spaces for our events.

By September, some of the delegates we’d invited had not yet decided to participate, and some had learned they would not be able to come. Putting the final team together was a puzzle, and we kept our fingers crossed [we kept hoping]. Eventually all the young people and young adults were able to come. All of the Jews were not, so we invited a Jew from the United States.

Artists in RC started to make art to support the work of SAL. There was too little time to include it at COP23, but you can see an example of it in the poster with the new RC care-of-the-environment goal on it [shown on the last page of this article].

Our organizers did lots of research and were able to find a location for our reception and maybe our workshops at the International School—twenty minutes’ walk from the Bonn Zone.

In October we learned that we’d been approved for a booth and that all of our traveling in Bonn would be free.

We also learned that only eighteen of our twenty-four delegates could get accreditation to enter the Bonn Zone. So we had to reorganize everything related to leadership and jobs. We revised the job lists eighteen times before we were done! (After we got to the conference, other organizations sponsored some of our delegates, and eventually all of them were admitted.)

The volunteers also did not get accreditation. They would do listening projects and hand out fliers for our workshops and forums outside of the Bonn Zone.


After months of preparation, we finally arrived at COP23, and we hit the ground running [started working immediately]!

Flexibility was our credo. We still had no space for our forums, our booth space kept moving, and we had to grab a corner for our workshops. Because the locations and times for our events kept changing, we had to make last-minute corrections to our fliers—on paper, on the RC and SAL websites, and on Twitter and Facebook.

On Thursday (November 9), before our activities at the COP, we held an RC workshop for the delegation. During the workshop, and throughout the following week, we worked together on ending racism, anti-Jewish oppression, young people’s oppression, women’s oppression, war, and more.

At times when the situation would become stressed, our fear would show in urgency and we’d act out oppressor distress at each other. Oops! But it was encouraging to watch how quickly we would recognize it and work on it in sessions. Overall, we showed our good intentions and apologized when we made mistakes.

Language Liberation

English was the dominant language at the conference. So in the introductions at our workshops and forums, we made sure all languages could be spoken. Hearing people speak their first language opened hearts and helped to build trust and relationships.

Marijke interpreted up-front from her third language (English) into her second language (French). Among our team members, languages spoken were Hindi, Papamiento, Surinamese, Mandarin, Romanian, Hungarian, Frisian, Gaelic, Spanish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, French, and German. People new to SAL were puzzled at how such a diverse group could work together so smoothly. For us it was so common that we were not aware of what we were modeling.

Live Streaming

On Monday (November 13), we were offered a bigger area, in the Talanoa Space, for our forum. It filled up, and we were live streamed! After that, the organizing staff told us that our work was exactly what they had hoped to see in the Talanoa Space.

Our next forum was live streamed on big screens and on Facebook and Twitter. All the world could watch us in action! Many enthusiastic responses came in our direction.

From then on, all our forums appeared live on our Facebook page. Our social media crew kept improving their skills and borrowing equipment to make the sound and picture clearer. All this gave our leaders and organizers totally new areas to work on in sessions!

Our Reception

On Tuesday, SAL held a reception at the International School. A beautiful international group of people came together and shared food, learned some RC fundamentals and SAL ideas, did mini-sessions, and watched a demonstration. Wytske talked about the care-of-the-environment work in RC that had led to the SAL project. The gathering was relaxed, and people took in [absorbed] all that we had to offer.

A grumpy person who had seemed suspicious of us said after a mini, “This is the best thing I have done at COP. You of SAL are a treasure.” In the closing circle, an African-heritage man said, ”The officials who do the negotiations should join a meeting like this. Here is where the United Nations is really happening! They could learn so much from you of SAL!”

Talking to the Press

A number of us talked to the press. Journalists were interested in the humanness of our project and program. Our youngest delegate was interviewed several times.

Sharing the Goals of SAL

In listening to activists, leaders of organizations, green-technology developers, government leaders, and workers inside and outside the Bonn Zone, we could see that all of them were motivated to work toward the best possible future for the world but that they also had a limited picture, because they lacked the awareness of oppression we have in RC.

When people heard about the SAL goals—of becoming fully aware of the total picture, giving people the tools they need to free minds, ending greed and all oppression, and working toward unity—it opened doors and windows in their minds. Some people, especially People of the Global Majority and Indigenous people, understood the goals immediately. And they showed where they felt discouraged about not reaching the humanness in the person inside the oppressor.


An African man we had met at the COP in Paris and seen again at the COP in Marrakech joined us for a number of days. In our evening RC class, he told us that he’d started RC in five different places in Cameroon since he’d learned about it from SAL in 2015. Our whole team got excited and hopeful about SAL, themselves, and the possibilities for the world. We also re-met women and men from other places, like the Philippines and Brazil, who were delighted to see us again.


At one point, one of us changed the words to part of a Bee Gees song from “Ah, ha, ha, ha, staying alive, staying alive” to “Ah, ha, ha, ha, Sustaining All Life, Sustaining All Life.” [The Bee Gees were an English popular-music group in the 1960s and 1970s.] We were a bit shy to sing it at the conference, but at the very end we did, while waiting for our delegation to stand together for a group photo. Immediately many people came to see and listen. Next time we‘ll be prepared and sing it with one of us leading, so we will all sing in tune and in rhythm!


Our delegation connected with hundreds of people. Some want to make (or have already made) contact with an RC Community near them. Some we will need to teach RC to, and help to build Co-Counseling Communities, one-on-one.

Our delegation is continuing to support each other in the report-backs we’ve been doing back home. We are also helping each other stay in contact with the people we met in Bonn. We were moved by what we heard and saw and how we got to be with people there. We are trying to remember the significance of what we did and that it matters that we made relationships with people.

At each climate conference, SAL has made relationships with the U.N. staff members, but this time we built more relationships with staff members who would be part of future climate change conferences—like COP24, in Poland—and we’ll be continuing the relationships in between the COPs.

From beginning to end, what we did in Germany gave us numerous opportunities to challenge our distresses, including the inaccurate pictures we had of ourselves and the early places where we’d given up. Some of us talked about our “little ones” [our young selves] getting to be fully themselves, fully excited and happy, at COP23. We gave ourselves, and others, a chance to change how we think about each other and interact as humans. Discharging on our experiences in Bonn will help us remember what is possible, what is hopeful, and what we can do toward ending oppression and the degradation of the environment—especially when we work together.

Teresa Enrico

International Liberation Reference Person For Pacific Islander & Pilipino/a Heritage People

Seattle, Washington, USA 

and Wytske Visser

International Commonality Reference Person for the Care of the Environment

Ljouwert, Fryslân, the Netherlands

(Present Time 190, January 2018)

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