Contingents hundreds strong showed up from the fossil fuel divestment movement, from La Via Campesina, from 350.org, from nations’ youth delegations, from indigenous and First Nations groups. There were socialists and anti-capitalists, farmers and feminists. There were youth campaigns and Grandparents for Climate Action, dancers, singers, chanters, monks.
We stood in long lines holding 100-meter long banners that said, “It’s Up To Us To Keep It In The Ground.” We chanted new, simple chants like “People-Power, Climate Action,” and some of our old favorites: “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We embraced the connections drawn between the impacts of climate change and their ultimate sources: capitalism and colonization, joining the chants, “Ah- anti- anti-capitalista” and “Ah- anti- anti- colonista!” We marched with people calling for agrarian reform, who sang “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy, that’s why I’m a feminist, an activist, a socialist.” Perhaps the most well-known chant turned out to be a French one, “Et un, et deux, et trois degrés, c'est un crime contre l'humanité!” (translation: “And one, and two, and three degrees, it’s a crime against humanity!”)
After about an hour at the Arc de Triomphe, feeling both overwhelmed and empowered by the tens of thousands of people there, the mass shifted and started marching down the sidewalks of Paris. We’re glad we followed because they took us to the Eiffel Tower, where they joined even more activists waiting there (thousands and thousands of people). There, people power reverberated through Paris’ icon as our voices joined the chant. Several hundred sat down and held a “people’s assembly” in the shadow of the Tower and described what true solutions looked like to them.
The people who gathered there proved ourselves the true leaders. We owned the space as we called for climate justice, decolonization, and fast action toward a safe climate. We were so excited—we kept pointing at all of the new contingents of activists and losing each other in the crowd. We ran beneath the banner that said “It’s Up To Us” chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” Ten thousand people were high on the united power of hundreds of social movements.
And it didn’t stop there. We marched with the crowd to the other side of the Eiffel Tower and reached the Champs de Mars, where hundreds of activists in “ANV COP21” vests directed thousands of us to stand holding hands in three lines that stretched all the way between the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. ANV stands for "Action Non-Violent." Here, the theme was that national leaders have committed a crime against humanity by not reaching an agreement that puts us at livable levels of warming. Gradually, chanting, holding hands, we gathered around a huge concert stage, where we enjoyed some French songs that were presumably about climate action. It felt good. There was so much energy, so much positive, relentless, determined energy.
The entire protest, throughout all of the places we marched, chanted, and rallied was very peaceful—though all areas were bordered by hundreds of police with riot guards and tear gas. Fortunately, the people were organized and committed to non-violent direct action as a way to make change.
After weeks tracing updates in the negotiating text and following press releases, searching for a sign that our leaders would move in the right direction, it was a joyous relief to feel the center of power shift back to the people. We stood among a beautiful collection of tens of thousands of people who represented millions of people around the world. Many carried the photographs of those they were standing in for, including families, friends, and tribal groups. We all know that it is up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and it was an emotional relief to see all of these people who will not stop fighting. We feel accountable to the activists and communities who we stood with today, and you can bet that we will bring this renewed energy and commitment back home to our campaign.