Here are our daily updates from the innerworkings of the Climate Ribbon arts and ritual team in Paris during the COP 21, November-December 2015. You can also check out news coverage of the Ribbon Tree at these links: Democracy Now!, AJ+ , The Irish Times, The French Ministry of Culture, Buzzfeed.
Opening post by LJ Amsterdam, daily updates by Rae Abileah, Andrew Boyd, Kate McNeeley
Before leaving for Paris, I asked many of the young people from my organizing community in upstate NY what they loved and hoped to never lose to climate chaos. Here’s what some of them wrote:
The smell of the grass at dawn after it has rained – David, 21, Kampala, Uganda
Going to my grandpa’s house and taking the canoes through the miles of swamps – Collin, 25, North Adams, MA
My home country and all its history – Matteo, 17,Naples, Italy
As the protector of these ribbons, I wrapped their climate cares to my wrists and carried them in my pockets across the ocean, grounded by the gravity (even as I’m buoyed by the levity) of what they, as young people walking into this world, stand to lose.
They stand to lose their future. I stand to lose them. We are linked together on this mission.
These were just a few of the thousands and thousands of ribbons that made their way to Paris last November and December, as part of the Climate Ribbon effort, a global storytelling project that uses art and ritual to help us move from climate grief to climate action.
Ribbons came from all over the world, in assorted boxes, envelopes, and hand-deliveries. There was the box from a school in Finland, a Priority Mail package from a church in Michigan, a box of hundreds used in a streaming banner in a Seattle march, little envelopes from children and families across three continents. My compatriots on the project, who’d been receiving ribbons for almost a year and half, stuffed thousands of them into air compression bags and packed their knapsacks to the gills to get them through airline security as they flew in from New York. Not to mention the 25,000 blank ribbons that awaited us in Paris. One week before the UN Climate Summit, the COP21, began, the ribbons, and their human caretakers, converged in Paris to build a giant tree, the container for the ribbons and ritual, and to put up Climate Ribbon displays throughout the city.
November 26-28 - The 11th Conference of Youth, Parc des Expositions de Villepinte
by Kate McNeeley
Upon arriving in Paris, the Climate Ribbon’s first installation was at The Conference of Youth (COY 11) – an international gathering of young leaders designed as a counterpoint to the official UN Climate Summit. Rae and Kate installed a low-fi, but high-impact, iteration of a climate ribbon “wall” composed of rope and wire. Located just beyond the entry to the conference, the collection of ribbons invited participants to connect first with their hearts and to ask themselves why they were there, before heading into the various spaces of the conference. COY11 ran 6,000-strong, and by the end of the four-day gathering, the Climate Ribbon wall was adorned with messages from young people from Philippines, Chad, Tahiti, Haiti, and the world over.
Rachel, Walter, and I met Carl, 14, a young activist from Syria currently living in Orleans, France, who proffered a climate ribbon that highlighted the deep connection between conflict and climate chaos. What Carl loves and is afraid of losing is his home country, because of "all the pollution of the bombs that fall in Syria." For many families in Syria, he explained, the risk comes with every breath: "Syria is a very hot country and it’s cold in the winter… with the bombs there is no electricity and with the pollution the people can't breathe." Carl used his ribbon to make his struggle visible. He told us, "nobody has really written about Syria and maybe in COP they [the UN] will see this and think about Syria too."
November 29 - The Human Chain, Place de la Republique
by LJ Amsterdam
In the wake of the recent attacks and the ensuing police repression, activists worked overtime to connect the dots between climate change and violence, transforming France's declared state of emergency into a global state of climate urgency. The mass climate march scheduled for November 29, the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit, was called off by French authorities and accompanied by threats that two or more people gathering with “a political message” were subject to arrest. Despite this state-sponsored fear, thousands of people gathered together and locked arms, forming a two-kilometer human chain along the intended march route that "broke" in front of the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people were killed on November 13. People of all ages gathered in La Place de la Republique, and around the nearby sites of attack, creating a constellation of presence and absence – connecting those who were present, with those who had been lost.
My compatriots on the project, artist-organizers from the USA, Andrew, Kate, Ariel, and Rae, joined by Sandrine and David, las Ribbonistas Francaise, led bi-lingual volunteers on the streets, inviting people in the Human Chain to write ribbons for the trees growing across Paris.
After the Human Chain action, activists converged on Place de la Republique, the central hub filled with memorials for the people violently killed in Paris less than two weeks prior (is this correct?). While in some corners, creative flashmobs and live music created a festive feel, the media swarmed around the black bloc and the riot police encroached on the peaceful demonstrators, firing tear gas. Later that day, Sandrine called the whole Ribbon crew together to process some of the dissonance we were encountering. Sandrine shared with us how politicizing the experience was for her, how having this beautiful experience on the streets and then seeing what was represented in the media was really upsetting to her, and how much the Climate Ribbon felt even more needed than ever. For many of us, sifting through photos of riot cops crushing candles and trampling flowers only reinforced our commitment to holding a heart space throughout the climate convergence in Paris.
November 30 – The Tree at the UN Climate Summit, Climate Generations, Le Bourget
by Andrew Boyd
The Climate Ribbon wasn’t just in the streets, we took the thousands of messages written on ribbons from around the world into the halls of power, or at least right next to the halls of power, as we had secured a coveted spot at the Climate Generations public exhibition hall adjacent to the UN negotiation hall at Le Bourget where 20,000 delegates were about to debate the future of the planet. Or at least we were supposed to be there, and had the email confirmation and a couple of picture ID cards to prove it. But UN bureaucracy and post-attack French State security being what it was, it was very, very, very hard (like, Kafkaesque-ian hard) to actually get in and install our little climate tree and ribbon-making station in our designated spot.
With bags of ribbons and the five limbs of a mysterious, gangly, die-cut plywood tree tucked under their arms, Andrew and Rae trudged from one end of the sprawling converted-airport-to-corporate-conference-center to the other, from parking lot to receiving line to security check-point and back (have you ever had to put a Tree through a metal detector?—twice? Well, we have.), only to fall through some crack between UN bureaucracy and French security, and finally be told that the place they needed to get into was some indeterminate combination of closed, outside of notre jurisdiction, or temporarily under security lockdown, or, actuallement, all three. And they’d have to come back (yet again) tomorrow, or, um, never!
But my compatriots were damned if they were going to haul everything home again and then haul it back the next day to maybe be turned away yet again. Putting their years of guerrilla action experience charming bureaucrats, blustering their way past security guards, and sneaking into tightly guarded spaces to good use, they retraced their steps one more time, and then flipping on their best “we are not the droids you are looking for” jedi-mind trick (see this principle from the Beautiful Trouble toolbox), nodded casually (in spite of the strange packages and, um, Tree, under their arms) to three gendarmes guarding the key building, and walked right into the secure zone around the site. One perimeter breached! Check. But what now? All the doors were locked, and peering in the windows, the place looked dead inside. If we put all the stuff down, it’ll be easier to walk around and try all the doors. Um… in a city on post-terror-attack high-alert, abandoning packages at the exact spot where 24 hours later 200 heads of state are going to show up, is, well, in a word, ill-advised.
And it was then that things started to all happened at once. At the fourth door Rae saw someone -- in civilian garb -- far in the cavernous reaches of the exhibition hall, and started banging hard on the glass to get their attention. They turned their puzzled heads, and with several security guards in tow, made their way towards the crazy woman reenacting the “Elaine!” church scene from The Graduate. Meanwhile, a black-clad security detail, all heavily armed and body-armored -- evidently France’s equivalent of a SWAT team -- espied the suspicious packages. Without missing a beat, Andrew hailed them in his broken French: “merci vous get me want help the stuff inside s’il vous plait, oui, d’accord?” The SWAT team went on high alert: Pushy Americain? Or eco-terroriste caught red-handed avec un Tree? Finally, as with any good action movie, there came a standoff: civilians & security guards cracked open the door to franglish it out with the SWAT team and their suspected eco-terrorist. Eventually, simply to end the madness, the two of them — suspicious packages, Tree, and all — were escorted into the cavernous hall, directed to their exact exhibition station — objective achieved! — then hurriedly back out again just as the bomb-sniffing German Shepherds came by and the place was totally, absolutely, even-to-the-pushiest-of-American-crazy-lady-eco-terrorists, locked down. Later that night, we ate 10 desserts and went to a cool jazz club.
December 1 - First day at Climate Generations
by LJ Amsterdam
Rae, Ariel, Walter, Rachel, Premo, and I made it past three levels of security and a massive crowd to the COP 21 Climate Generations as it was opening its doors to the public on the first morning. I saw the future—and the future, according to the UN, will be powered by bicycles! From juice bars to boom boxes, the vision presented at Climate Generations was all about civil society pedaling itself all the way to an immaculate green future. Despite the greenwashing and the general absurdity of the exhibitions, the Climate Generations space marked an important step forward for UN convergences. Never before has COP held a space explicitly dedicated to civil projects addressing climate change and open to the public.
At Climate Generations, we connected with delegates, observers, climate campaigners, and media outlets from across the globe, many of whom were immediately drawn to the uniqueness of the tree. With Rae at the helm, the small tree created a profound presence, inviting people to step out of the splashy promo booths and into their hearts.
I met M’ohd Jawad, an environmental activist and classically trained oud player who studied at the Cairo Conservatoire. Sitting under the Ribbon Tree, M’ohd played his oud for us, singing songs about his village,Ma’ameer, in Bahrain, and about the children who attend school adjacent to factories, exposed daily to pollution.
Our invitations to passersby yielded a collection of ribbons from diverse places and spaces. We heard stories from a Chinese couple, a French-American mother-daughter activist team, and a mother from Scotland who was already using storytelling ribbons to engage her community around climate change. And, Ariel slipped through President Hollande’s security detail, handed the President a ribbon, and snapped a selfie. How’s that for delivering your stories directly to the hands of power? Pretty epic, if you ask me.
I also met a Parisian artist who told me that he was immediately drawn to the Climate Ribbon installation because “in this entire space, the tree is the only opportunity for people to express themselves.” And proving that the French don’t think Americans are all bad, he added: “This project is so American – you just put love right out there. The French are more sneaky with it.”
Building The Tree of Solidarity
by the Climate Ribbon Team
With one ribbon manifestation already hung at A Place 2 B, the COP21 activist home-base, and “the small tree” growing in the Climate Generations area at Le Bourget, the team geared up for the final push of “big tree” construction. Having set up shop at La Villa Mais D’ici, an artists' warehouse in a working class neighborhood of Paris, Gan bottom-lined the construction of the soon-to-be-named Tree of Solidarity. Sandrine, David, and a rotating crew of French carpenters and volunteers were throwing down to build the beautiful interlocking branches that would soon hold thousands of interconnected stories. The whole Ribbon crew passed through La Villa over the next week: Rachel and Premo interviewed Sandrine on a break from working in the cold, Kate made epic mobiles, Rae organized endless bags ribbons, Raquel arranged the ropes of ribbons, and Gan basically worked his ass off. Walter came through in the clutch—not just with amazing time lapse videos of assembly and disassembly, but most importantly with the construction of the back branches, the detail Gan says he loves most. Andrew, the under-sung hero of emergency fundraising, even took a break from hustling to join us, after Sandrine quipped, “You don’t need wi-fi to sand!”
November 30 - Climate Strike Ritual
by Rae Abileah
Emerging from the subway and walking through an office building, Kate and Rae arrived at Climate Strike. As the daylong summit, featuring video conferencing with youth activists gathering all around the world, drew to a close, Kate and Rae convened everyone around a table and led the group of students in a Climate Ribbon ritual. Students exchanged ribbons, read each other’s aloud, made a commitment to “have each other’s backs” and continue their work post-Paris. One young woman was moved to tears. Another planned to bring the ritual back to her organizing community in India.
December 2 - Eroles Project Ribbon Ritual
by Rae Abileah
In a four-story squat on the Parisian outskirts, a group of artist activists set up an organizing hub, complete with a mass kitchen to serve hundreds, a bicycle-making shop, a dining table seating dozens, and bunks for weary protesters. The Eroles Project was born. Ariel, Rae, and Eroles Project co-creator Kesem, co-led the Climate Ribbon ritual there for an intimate evening circle of dedicated activists. The ritual opened and closed with music, song and meditation, and ended with a shared meal. One Dutch organizer shared that on the verge of burnout, the ritual brought him back to the reason he became a climate campaigner in the first place.
December Ongoing - Collecting ribbons all over town
by Rae Abileah
A group of us attended Naomi Klein’s LEAP event and gathered ribbons from people eagerly waiting in a long snaking line to get in. Another group connected with indigenous women at a water ceremony by the Seine and shared ribbons to be carried into actions. Wherever we went, ribbons were in hand, always ready to share stories.
December 4 - Mass Ritual at the Eiffel Tower
by Rae Abileah
“Let’s make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest time possible through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage to anyone.” - R. Buckminster Fuller
On Sunday, 325 people of all ages and cultures united between the Peace Wall and the Military College, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, to spell out a powerful message to UN negotiators: 100% Renewable!
As people entered the large square, they were greeted by Climate Ribbon volunteers Irene and Regina, holding large baskets of ribbons, and invited to write their story of love and loss onto a ribbon. On stage, Rae invited people to step up and read their ribbons in French or English, and the growing crowd responded to each person, “We are with you!” Hundreds of participants exchanged ribbons with each other, helping tie them onto each other’s wrists. One woman told us she exchanged ribbons five times throughout the event, each time hearing another person’s story. In this way, the Climate Ribbon invited people into their hearts and set the mood for the event - reflective, somber, but also vibrantly unified and contagiously friendly.
The resulting aerial image became a front page photo on newspapers around the world and a viral meme on social media. Read more about how Magalie Bonneau-Marcil and John Quigley, and a host of global climate organizations, pulled off this epic feat, here. The Climate Ribbon was deeply grateful to take part in this awe-inspiring action, that culminated in an indigenous women’s speak out.
December 5-6 - Global Village of Alternatives and People’s Climate Summit, Montreuil
by Andrew Boyd
A small crew rolled out of bed and into a taxi in the early-morning darkness to head over to the Village of Global Alternatives in Montreuil, organized by Alternatiba, the largest — and one of the most radical — grassroots climate organizations in France. Andrew and Rae drove the tree, packed into a big truck, to the site, and met up with Gan, Walter, and I and once assembled, we were told that the Ribbon Tree would no longer be in the center in the town square, as we had planned. Andrew, always ready to wrangle, and Gan, always envisioning creative possibilities, entered tense negotiations. Walter saw an opening, and an area on the perimeter of the town square. Oui, c’est possible! Thierry, Vincent, Antoine, Jean, Stephane, Jules, Pierre-Yves, Pierre—an amazing crew of Parisian volunteer builders—went to work on assembling the tree, in defiance of the slope of the ground! As Raquel and I draped the tree in ribbons, David and Sandrine carried the ribbon mobiles at the front of the processional that marched around the village square, and opened the space for the weekend. And in the end, shout out to the universe for rooting the Climate Ribbon tree on the perimeter. On Saturday, with the streets bustling with families grocery shopping and running errands, the tree received a steady stream of parents, grandparents, young people, and little ones all day.
Families and children, in particular, have been affected by the Tree. One of our volunteers guided 3 young French-Algerian children through the ritual. Too young to read, they picked out a ribbon just based on its color, and untied it from the Tree. The volunteer read the ribbon to them: Sean, 26, in London, does not want to lose “very big cats, and very small fish.” The three children listened intently. And then she asked them: “Do you want to help Sean?” Oui, yes, they all said, nodding decisively.
Thousands of people visited the Tree at the Global Village that weekend, passersby who may not have been festival-goers already attuned to the urgencies of the climate crisis. The giant tree at Montreiul proved that rather than a central spectacle at an activist gig, the Climate Ribbon can serve as a meaningful entry point to engage a community to make climate change tangible and personal. .
December 7-11 – The Climate Action Zone or “Le ZAC”, Le CentQuatre
The Tree of Solidarity, dis-assembled, untied, re-assembled, and re-tied, all in a night’s work, made its final appearance in Paris throughout the second week of the UN negotiations. Le CentrQuatre, a large art and exhibition space in the 19th arrondissement, was transformed into Le ZAC – The Climate Action Zone, drawing activists, media makers, and tech innovators from across the world for five days. Conscious of the passage of time, Rae sent out a much needed grounded message to the Ribbon team:
Dears, ribboneers, it occurs to me that this is the end of the first day of the second and last week of the climate negotiations. The talks are not going well. Fate of humanity hangs in the balance. We've been going strong and as Kate said in the Irish Times, it's we the civil society that will make the change, lead the way, not the govs. As they talk, we've been building spaces all over this city for people to feel and remember, reflect and commit. And we are fkn doing it!!... Beyond the numbers, something magical is happening at the tree. It has been difficult and beautiful and challenging and amazing… I'm reflecting on how wildly awesome it is that we get to be here in this uprising at this time.
We took it up a notch. All of us took some time to support our comrades and plug into the matrix of actions and activities happening all around us. We were present with Beka and A Fossil Free Culture performance art intervention in and outside the Louvre. We were present with Mark and The Illuminator as they projected on the Arc du Triomph and the Eiffel Tower. We were present at the Peace Wall with the It Takes Roots Delegation. Raquel and Kate visited the Calais Refugee camp and listened to people narrate their lived experiences of borders and boundaries. Katie arrived and Andrew stole away some time to realize what he wrote on his ribbon. We celebrated Gan’s birthday and Gan (finally!) got a break. We attended the Compton Foundation Soire at Le Generale, a volunteer-run art and performance space, where we hung some our favorite ribbons as an example of the need to ground our movements in culture, stories, and art. We listened to spoken word artists from the Bay Area who reminded us of the sheer privilege of hope, and the privilege of having a home that we came from, a home that remains intact, a home that we can return to.
Amidst action briefings, our last day at Le 104 was abundant with intention and care. Andrew read excerpts from his manuscript on climate change and grief. Rae and Ariel renewed their commitment to each other inside the tree, shrouded by thousands of colorful ribbons. We met Jemel who told us that when he looks at the ribbon tree, he sees “the crying tree, that is crying messages of love.”
At the Tree of Solidarity’s closing ritual, led by Kate, we were joined by friends and comrades, including John Sellers and family (Genevieve, Sam & Hazel), our super volunteers and Sandrine and David. We took turns reading ribbons and affirming our commitments to each other, and to what we love and hope to never lose.
The trees found new homes. One of the small trees will be with a group "Foresters without Borders" who are planting hundreds of thousands of trees across France and the other remained with our team in Les Lilas as they host ribbon events in 2016.
The large tree was taken to Southern France where a Utopian community, Village Emmaüs Lescar-Pau, has adopted it. Mind you, this is not-your-father's-hippy-dropout-commune. This is a high functioning village with 300 residents, many of whom are expert builders and craftsmen. They are going to retrofit and weatherproof the tree for permanent installation at the very center of their village. It is being unveiled early this Spring.
December 12 - Action Day
by Rae Abileah
As negotiations carried on throughout Saturday, activists took to the streets, lining the wide avenue sprawling from the Arc du Triomphe with a massive red line, symbolizing the red lines negotiators musn’t cross to preserve a habitable planet for life as we know it. As one slogan read, “We are nature defending itself.” In a beautifully choreographed mass action, people popped up red umbrellas and then layed down red tulips, symbolizing the lives lost to climate injustice.
Rae was interviewed on Democracy Now! reading ribbons she draped over the long red line of tulips, in what became a live street art altar.
A spontaneous march broke out and snaked through the streets to the Eiffel Tower, as giant inflatable red lines bounced through the crowd.
While the jubilant and defiant march was claiming the streets, the UN negotiators were sealing the deal. A deal that, while heralded by many news headlines as a victory, fell short of the meaningful, binding commitments needed to keep the planet cool enough. Amid chanting and exhaustion, there was side-stabbing pain too, at realizing the fate written by global leaders. We imagined so many images written on ribbons -- from a granddaughter’s first apples to the SOMETHING HERE -- all blowing away in the wind, disappeared forever. But the world will be led by the people, and our fate determined by our actions, and we knew this before setting foot in Paris.
We returned to NYC not only weary and sick, but also determined, and with a heavy responsibility to carry on the messages of love and loss gathered in Paris. Stay tuned for the next installation, coming to a city near you, and perhaps even curated by you!
“The tree i planted in my grandmother’s garden when I was four.”
—Stavros Patras, 17, Macedonia