Light shining in at #COP26 Global Day of Action march!!!
I didn’t know if I should go.
For a long time, I didn't go to global actions, especially if they meant travel.
All politics is local, every garden, every action, every blockade, every struggle for public space.
But they are also transnational.
A virus in a small town can find its way around the globe, impacting all of us.
Bodies move. They cross borders.
So does capital, moving through banks and financial institutions, funding projects which hinder, extracting coal, heating the planet, bringing rising tides to our shores, floods to our basements.
I started texting around. Some of my activist comrades were going, Greg and Andy and Wendy and Christine. Todd Fernandez couldn’t make it. He couldn’t get housing, although he told me if he could go he would be pushing for a new greenhouse Gas treaty to phase out of greenhouse gases altogether. “My conclusion is lately - we're going over the cliff. We need a PLAN B!”
From Koyoto to Copenhagen to Paris, each new climate meeting produces more promises to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions to zero by some timeframe, by 2030 or 50 so that temperatures do not rise above 1.5 Celsius. Yet, most of the subsequent pledges from individual nations fall short of the Paris 2015 goal of holding “global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or...if possible, stop at 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
All the while companies are talk about innovative ways they can reach emissions while maintaining the conveniences of global capitalism. Others would denounce such thinking as Greenwashing.
As Extinction Rebellion points:
“We are in a state of planetary emergency… we need you.
The global climate conference, COP26, is the next chapter in a story of broken promises, reckless greed and catastrophic failure, that goes all the way back to 1995.
25 meetings have failed to prevent us heading for extinction as emissions continue to rise.”
It would be up to the people in the streets, not the delegates inside, to make it happen.
So, I decided to go. The contradictions are many, increasing my carbon footprint to fly to a climate conference.
Greg and Andrew texted me, asking me to
pick up the wires for the climate clock, “counting down to irreversible climate change” before I jumped on my flight to Glasgow for the COP26.
Between this errand and that, I biked to Dumbo and made my way to the airport.
A negative covid test in hand and passenger locator forms for Ireland, i headed out.
Travel is stressful.
The information they require, the forms, tests, vaccination records are many.
Passwords and information are not always forthcoming.
Neither are the forms and phones we need, the wires or connections, the WIFI or links to the internet we are increasingly dependent upon.
No one really knows what is needed.
Do you have a passenger locator form for Scotland, says the lady at Aer Lingus.
No, I just did one for the 45 minute layover in Dublin.
I fill out the forms.
But I’m still missing a COVID appointment test for England.
I have a take home test I brought, I tell them.
And they give me my boarding pass.
Arriving in Dublin, the customs agent wants to know what I am doing going to Glasgow.
Going to the COP26, I tell him.
I imagine you are?
Do you travel to England much?
When was the last time?
2015 or 2016.
That's not right, he tells me.
It's turning into an interrogation.
Are you speaking at the conference?
Under what capacity are you going?
Representing the United States.
In what capacity.
As an individual.
What are you doing there?
I am part of a civil society delegation.
Trying to push the delegates to do the right thing.
According to whom?
According to science.
Protesting I say.
The word poured out of my mouth.
That was bad.
The words just tricked out.
As Dan Quayle one said, you can’t get them back once they are out.
Its like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.
He looks at me, a raised eyebrow.
Are you part of a group?
No, I say.
Lets go back to the protest part that you didn’t really explain.
I’m here to screen people, he says.
I want to better understand why you mentioned that aspect.
Look I am not a soccer hooligan, I say.
I have kids at home.
I don’t want to spend the weekend in a Scottish jail cell.
I am looking at him, glaring at me and starting to think I may not make it.
Don’t let me down, he says and stamps my passport, finishing the interrogation in Dublin.
I walk through the doors, to my gate.
Boy you got flagged, says the man beside me.
Is this a democracy, I wonder.
Didn’t want to say that.
I’ve had an easier time moving in and out of Hong Kong, doing protests.
Well, that was before they used COVID as an excuse to crack down on it.
You are the guy who said you were going to a protest, says another woman, walking with me to the plane.
Next time, I’ll lead with being a researcher, not a protester.
Good idea Mr Civil Society delegate.
What do you research?
Better not say that.
We arrive in Glasgow in an hour.
Before I do anything, I go to the COVID testing area.
It's the definition of bureaucracy.
No one knows what the requirements are.
But everyone is getting tested.
PCR or antigen.
My friend got turned away a month prior because she had a test not accepted by her airline.
Check the airlines.
The airlines don’t have updated information.
No one answers the phone.
But the airport charges for tests.
Lots of tests.
Lots of payments.
How are you? I ask the woman offering information.
How do I get to Kelvingrove Park?
Take the 500 to the Buchanan Bus station and the 77 to the Park.
Are you a proster, she asks.
I can’t say, I reply.
No problem, she says. Its ok.
We’re not going to take you to the wall and shoot you, she chuckles.
The main streets around here are blocked. I wanted you to know that.
You’ll be walking.
Have a lovely day.
Maybe the tide is changing.
I grab the bus, taking it as far as i can get, before I have to jump out and walk past the university to Kelvingrove Park.
Walking through overcast Glasgow, it's hard not to think about God Save the Girl, the Belle and Sebastian film about a girl in Glasgow who escapes a mental hospital to form a band.
My instagram feed shows a picture of Claire Grogan, the Scottish singer for Altered Images, everyone’s favorite 1980’s crush.
Grey skies and industrial streets, the whole city feels familiar.
Everyone is helpful, offering directions.
Everywhere, people are wearing plaid, plaid pants, kilts, scarves, shirts.
I have never seem to much plaid.
I love it.
Lots and lots of kilts, great fashion at #cop26 Fridays for the Future demo.
Yet, unlike the US where people are often dour, the students on the way to the demo are dressed like the Bay City Rollers, platform shoes, looking like they are on their way to a Belle and Sebastian gig.
“Boris and Biden are asleep,” one young man tells me; his friend carries a sign declaring,
“You can shove your climate crisis up your arse!”
I kinda love it here.
I guess its up to us to tilt the power.
The International Socialists are out selling their newspapers.
Remember, capitalism is killing the planet, one man declares.
Few are buying the paper, yet the tactic remains.
Others are on their phones.
Another man grabs a bullhorn and screams.
“World leaders at #COP26, your inaction makes us sick!!!”
He leads the group in chants:
“Our planet, not their profits!”
“They say climate change, we say system change!”
Everyone is fired up.
I love the chant leaders here.
“Funk the police,” says the flyer a man passes me standing by the marching bands.
“What is this?” I ask.
“It's about our abundance,” he says. “We have to have a better party. We have to make the current world more livable. That doesn’t mean being a modern primitive as the Environmental Movement is often seen as aspiring to. We can make this work. We talked about gardens and non polluting transportation and urban agriculture and renewables in our recipe books for sustainable urbanism.
Keep it in the ground. Keep the banks from lending to fossil fuel projects.
Walk more, he says to me, referring to his 500 mile hike to the conference.
How long did it take?
So many good folks are here, trying to demonstrate a better way.
I look at the card he gave me:
“Funk the Police… join us now… Extinction Rebellion….
“Drumming for Degrowth!”
“We drum for peace.”
A woman passes out a flyer:
“The era of injustice is over.
Global Day for Climate Justice.
World Leaders are coming to Glasgow for the UN Climate Talks - COP26.
The Climate crisis affects those who are worse off the most, throughout Glasgow, Scotland and the world. Justice won’t be handed to us by world leaders or corporations. We need to fill the streets of Glasgow to call them out and fight for a safe, just future for the people of Scotland and around the world.”
At the Fridays for the Future Action, the sartorial signs are short and to the point:
“We are skipping our lessons to teach you one!”
“The destruction of nature will mean more pandemics.”
“Stop greenwashing our future!”
“Time is running out, act up!”
“I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA!”
“2030 is too late!”
“Don’t COP out!”
“The climates changing so why arn’t we?”
“The wrong amazon is burning”
“Make earth cool again.”
“I really care. Why won’t you?”
“This is not what we meant by hot girl summer!” said one woman with her friends, playing “Dancing Queen!”
No one wants to hear more talk.
“Pledges, promises, blah, blah, blah…” says another flyer.
“Whatever is promised at the COP26, we’ll need new UK climate and nature law to back up our international commitments. The UK positions itself as a climate leader, but if the world adopted our emissions approach, we’d have just a 50% chance of staying under 1.5c… we need a new law now… the Climate and Emergency Bill would change that…”
Greenmap Wendy is standing by the band vegans.
We start chatting about the green maps extending from the Gowanus to this park, the secret roads and maps to something else.
I”m thinking about Borges’ trips around Scotland, searching for Nessie, singing for Grendal.
Wendy tells me about her time at the conference, linking the work here with the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice.
And East River Park and the need for the 30% principle, that ⅓ of urban space needs to be green, with sponge like dirt to collect flood water.
To succeed, we need to look out for each other.
We have to do more.
Wendy becomes my protest buddy, much like Marc Herbst was at the COP21 in Paris six years prior.
Those stories became the basis for Sustainable Urbanism.
I wonder where these will take me.
One story at a time, but this feels abundant.
We drop off the wires at St George Park.
One of my New York Extinction Rebellion buddies picks it up.
Indenous people are speaking.
Kida are hanging off statues.
Thousands are people are here, as far as the eye can see.
Surrounded with people at all sides, it feels like 1989 in Wenceslas Square.
Abundant, voices sharing ideas.
There is no planet B says the signs.
Some think we are going to go off the cliff, that this might be our last chance to get it right.
Others think we can find a better road, finding our way toward a more sustainable future.
Kids scattered about, climbing the statues, displaying their signs.
Women are dancing, screaming, cheering.
No one wants us to go back to the stone age.
They want to save us.
My home stay is in Edinburgh, Scotland's hilly capital.
On the bus there, I find myself thinking about it all.
Where does activism take us?
Where do our trails connect us?
Danny, my host, helped us out of a rough spot on the way to Rome from Assisi, years ago on the trail of St Frances.
And he’s hosting me now.
He meets me for a pint, chatting about kids and dogs and work and the trails he’s taken around the country, the five hills, the missteps he’s seen, the fun, the Rugby matches between Scotland and Wales, he attends.
On we chat into the night, eating Indian food, drinking red wine, before I stumble into bed.
Saturday, I jumped on a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, chatting with Surfers against Sewage, going to the Global Day of Action, the demo of the day at Kelvingrove Park.
Stepping out the train station, it's pouring.
Still, I stroll, looking at a flyer for the International Fringe Festival.
Inside they are selling coffee, chatting away.
Outside its raining. I stop for a coffee at a poetry book shop by the art school, chatting with the amicable host about poems and the weather.
“Its a gorgeous day,” I say, looking out the rain, gushing from the sky.
“You have a real Glasgow day,” she smiles, chatting away with me. She’s a bit of a poet I think.
Fortified with a coffee and an umbrella Danny lent me, I step out into the day, walking across town.
At the park, I am struck by the trees, reaching in all directions, out into the sky.
“I can’t believe this tree,” I said to a young man standing under it.
“Welcome to my gym,” he says, pulling out rings he uses to do pull ups and exercises there.
“On a rainy day she provides cover; on a sunny day, shade,” he says to me.
I look in front of me.
There is a woman with a Black Lives Matter sign.
Its the only I’ve seen for this nascent movement.
Windy is behind the information table chatting with a few activists.
This is her forte, chatting it up, networking, extending the green map from the Lower East Side, throughout the world.
We chat about my crazy interrogation back in Ireland.
Sounds like you might need this, says a young woman from Buffalo at the info table, passing me a card for Scottish Legal Info.
“You have only to give your name, address, date of birth & nationality to the police if you are suspected of committing or witnessing a crime.
So far world leaders at the COP26 have focused on moving off coal.
The US won’t support this, despite Biden’s talk, says Wendy.
Despite this, the city of New York is planning to kill 1000 mature trees in East River Park, says Wendy. We each tweet out about the seeming hypocrisy of the Mayor supporting the COP agenda and undermining it simultaneously.
Walking we stumble upon the Greenwashing Busters, out to rid the world of companies saying they can meet zero emissions goals while emitting away.
Our means of production, thats what killing us.
We fetishize growth.
“This is what 1.5 degrees celsius looks like,” says a man carrying a skeletron on his back.
Great sign, says Wendy, ever cheering and supporting others.
Ida happened while we were at 1.5 and look at how that went, says a man from Extinction Rebellion.
1.5 growth, that will be dire straits, another activist tells me.
Thats what Sandy looked like, flooding Brooklyn and Queens.
That meant flooded subways, leaks and flooding in our homes.
The city is not up for more.
Its not up for this.
That's why we’re here.
We chat about it all.
On we walk waiting for the march to start, despite the rain.
Andrew and Wendy are texting.
He’s starting to look like Orson Wells in the Third Man, planning something with the climate clock.
We can’t quite run into him.
Walking to the Scottish Greens meeting place, we look for Ariane, our New York garden comrad turned politician here, but can’t find her.
Winds are blowing, rain hitting us in the face.
I need to move, I say to Wendy.
The chilling is making its way deep into my body.
Wendy and I start.
On we march, through the afternoon, three miles between parks.
The socialists are chanting.
The communists are surrounded by cops.
People are dressed as birds, joking, cheering.
Theres a distinct Scottish optimism that I didn’t feel in Paris.
We can do this.
I feel it.
We’re not going to send up the white flag for humans.
No one thinks the delegates at the conference are going to do this.
It's up to us.
One funny sign after another.
I stop for a coffee with Wendy, sitting watching it all.
And Ariane steps out, greeting us at the coffee shop.
We found her.
Ariane is the one who helped me see the possibilities of a garden, of a demo built around prefiguration, a demo she, we could pull off.
Her last action in New York was with us on Broadway in 2010, fighting to save the community gardens, holding up a banner during a tree climb, which shifted the conversation about the gardens.
She was recently elected to office.
Today, she’s allocating millions to spend on reforestation in Scotland as a member of Scottish Parliament for the Highlands and Islands, as a member of the Scottish Greens.
We talk about ways of living, supporting biodiversity, and our most abundant selves.
She’s marching with her brother, family and friends with the Greens, teenage kids carrying flags, horsing around.
A ray of light starts to pour out, from between the clouds, a rainbow in the afternoon.
Maybe we can do it?
Walking to the Green, we finally see the climate clock, projecting.
People around the world are noticing.
Unlike Paris, the day of action is unfolding the week before the COP is over, so the delegates see it all. The whole world sees us,
The New York Times is covering us.
So is the sun.
Gretta is in the paper the next day saying the real leaders are the people in the street.
The world needs to listen to them.
On the flight home, I read the Sunday Times:
“Summit City Streets Swamped… 100,00 brave rain at green demo. … 3-mile march in “act on climate” call… COP TILL YOU DROP…” says the Scottish Sun.
Back home, Wendy summed up her month in Scotland:
“My month in Scotland was filled with deep green experiences,” saysWendy on her way home. “Synergies that filled me with positive energy to face tomorrow together. I slept in 10 teds, worked with 5 greenmap projects, and hopefully kindled some more, met with scores of incredibly focused people, and marched through the beautiful streets with 100,000 friends, readily to join hands with 10,000,000,000 more, #TogetherforourPlanet.”
I run into Christine on the plane on the way home.
She talks about the indegenous groups and the work they did at the conference, finding a place.
Back home, the family meets for the Penel’s funeral.
I take the little one back to Queens to make her way back to Los Angeles.
It's a sunny day, but the bay is overflowing onto the concrete, into the streets.
Dead End, says a sign, standing out in the water.
This is what climate change looks like, flooding everywhere, even on the sunniest of days.
Says Wendy Brawer:
“All that concrete is part of the problem, too. We need to create more green spaces for the water to flow and be stored to reduce 'nuisance flooding'. #COP26 will hopefully help mitigate but coastal communities need to work with #MotherNature and adapt too.”
Dead End. The Rockaways on a sunny day. Flooding everywhere. Hasn't been rain in days. #climatechange is real. #dotherightthing at the #COP26