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More about Sustaining All Life at COP23

The following reports were written while the Sustaining All Life (SAL) team was at COP23, in Bonn, Germany, last November [see previous article]. They were written by Violeta Vajda (from Hungary and England) and Davita Flowers-Shanklin and Brian Lavendel (from the United States), with help from the entire SAL team. They are reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion lists for leaders of wide world change and for leaders in the care of the environment.

Sunday, 12 November

We made friends on the train on our way to the Bonn Zone, which is where the “civil society” groups meet. Nearby, in another area, government climate negotiations are taking place. We met a couple of young people from Fiji (Fiji is the host for COP23) and invited them to our events the next day. Guess what? They came!

Our forum “Young People Leading Climate Change Now and into the Future” was led by Liam Geary Baulch (from England), Rob Venderbos (from the Netherlands), and Davita Flowers-Shanklin (from the United States), with support from the other young adults and a few allies. The leaders tailored every aspect of a beginning RC class to activists and young people. After experiencing their first mini-session, the group was eager for more. At the end of the forum a few young activists proclaimed that it had changed their lives—that they’d never known that white people and People of the Global Majority could become “family.”

We’d started the forum with a lively game. Not only had it gotten people excited, it had helped them connect to each other and have fun. It had also attracted more people to the space. The forum was packed, and as each person spoke, more found their stories to share. Below are some examples.

  • A young man from the Fiji youth delegation: “My mother’s house was completely demolished in the hurricane. How often have you seen a tropical cyclone make a U-turn?!”
  • A young person from France: “I came to COP to see what was happening at the political level with the negotiations, to see why it was so hard to achieve a pretty [quite] simple aim—that is, to save the earth. I’m discovering that the negotiations are always about business and not about changing people’s points of view. They’re about how we can maintain our current way of life, not about whether we can change our way of life.”
  • A second youth delegate from Fiji: “Youth are stronger than we think. I believe that together we can change things, even without the government and the negotiations.”
  • A young woman from Costa Rica: “Very few negotiators are young people. I think that’s important to keep in mind. Stop saying that we are the future, because we are the present.”

Monday, 13 November

“I found it very different from other events—powerful and insightful to hear everyone’s stories, from different parts of the world.” Those are the words of a young adult COP volunteer from Spain who e-mailed us after attending our forum. We had met her on the train to the Bonn Zone. As she left the forum today, she laughed and said that she had shed tears and that she would be back tomorrow!

Today we had contact with individuals from over sixty countries.

We were given the use of a large area here in the Bonn Zone. The staff said that what we were doing was “very important for the Bonn Zone,” because there were so many events at which people had to listen to a couple of speakers up front but very few in which people got to speak. That was a big success, since we hadn’t been sure we would find space in the Bonn Zone to hold our events.

Wednesday, 15 November

Last night we held a reception in an international school that was a gorgeous short walk from the Bonn Zone, along the River Rhine. New people heard about basic RC theory and got to experience a support group and several mini-sessions.

This morning, for the third time, young people met in a support group. There were seven people—from Nigeria, Taiwan, Brazil, Germany, and the United States. The group has grown every day. The young people and young adults on the SAL team rotate leadership, so they each get to be at the center of the project and so the young COP attendees get to experience the different ways we lead.

The main event of the day was our forum “Indigenous Voices.” We heard powerful stories from Indigenous people from Kiribati, Nepal, Namibia, Uganda, Tibet, Panama, South Africa, French Guiana, and other places.

Our workshop “War and Climate Change” was our biggest and most diverse workshop yet.

We have formed relationships with many people. Several keep appearing at our events, eager to learn more about our methods.

A Ugandan who leads an environmental organization that works at multiple levels across East Africa said that he thought that SAL was just what the COPs need. He had a vision of us offering pre-conference events, not only for the activists but also for the official delegates, and being at the United Nations conference to make sure that all the delegates had access to talking and discharging about the content of the negotiations.

Thursday, 16 November

Today Alima Adams (from England) and Marlene Melfor (from Curacao and the Netherlands) led our forum “African Voices.” (You can view the recorded live stream on the SAL Facebook page <>.) Many African people came and spoke passionately about what needs to happen here at COP23. Marlene’s highlights were seeing the African people connect with each other and hearing them speak about themselves, their people, and how they are responding to climate change. A woman from Nigeria at first declined to speak. Later she was asked again and said that she would like to. Afterward she said that it was the first time she had spoken in public.

A young adult from Uganda spoke about his people being agriculturalists and living without borders. Not only did they have to deal with climate change—grass drying up, cattle dying—but with having to get permission to cross borders to have places to graze their cattle.

Goof Buijs (from the Netherlands) and Johannes Dietrich (from Germany) led our workshop “Gaining Momentum: Strengthening Activists and Groups.” People shared stories of activism. Some said things they’d never said before, because it was a good place to share.

Friday, 17 November

COP security staff require that any “protests” (broadly defined) receive twenty-four-hour-in-advance “permission” or the protesters can be ejected from the COP. This applies to our people having signs at our listening projects. We haven’t wanted to take the risk. Yet even without carrying signs, we’ve had no problem engaging people and attracting them to our events.

Back at the hostel, the SAL delegates had a ten-minute-each-way mini-session. Ten minutes seemed like forever, because we’d become accustomed to shorter mini-sessions, which we’d learned to use effectively. After the mini-session, we briefly reviewed our time together—what we’d been able to do, and hadn’t been able to do, over the past eight days. To close, we said our names and in no more than two words what our time together had meant to us.

(Present Time 190, January 2018)

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