Protests OK in Paris? It’s complicated.

Dianne Peterson asked me to comment on this video about protest suppression in Paris during COP21:

(I’m having trouble embedding this video. You can watch it here: )

This event was mostly filmed at the Grand Palais, where they are having a relatively corporate-looking and corporate-sponsored public exhibition of solutions for climate change.

Inside the Grand Palais #COP21 exhibition hall. Quite grand indeed! (Photo: Mark Dixon)
Corporate sponsors at the Grand Palais exhibition. (Photo: Mark Dixon)

It is a very nice and fancy looking place that is open to the public. I didn’t see any signs about whether or not people were allowed to protest, but security was very heavy on the outside. I didn’t see that much of a presence on the inside but you figure they are there. In order to get in you have to have to go through two lines, first to get a pat-down and an initial bag check, and then another where you go through a metal detector and a second bag check. I saw some penguin-dressed people walking around with a sign for “adopt me” and an empty ice-cube tray, so unless they got explicit permission for the gig, it seems that some kind of “protest” action is possible. But those penguins weren’t raising much of a ruckus. Just walking around quietly. I never saw anybody get yanked out of the space, but the video doesn’t lie. I was most disturbed to see the reporter with the “golden ticket” official U.N. accredited press badge get tossed out. While that badge doesn’t give you any special privilege at the Grand Palais (it only means you can get into the blue zone at Le Bourget, the inner sanctum at the COP21 site, and even a subset of closed-to-the-public press-only events), it was very likely that the person had some credible reason to be covering the event and he somehow got swept up in it and tossed out. That is disturbing and I don’t know why that was done. (UPDATE: More details about how this whole event went down on Democracy Now’s insightful/detailed Monday report: ) On the other hand, when I arrived in Paris I thought that ALL protests and gatherings were banned (according to various press releases) but it is clear from what I’ve seen that all protests and gatherings are NOT banned. Even last weekend when the cops arrested 200 people, they didn’t do much for several hours while people milled around with signs and even marched in groups here and there, chanting and basically protesting.

Explicit protest art on Sunday, 11/29/15! (Photo: Mark Dixon)
So many protesters gathering! (Photo: Mark Dixon)
Dude is up in the tree shouting for veganism! He was up there for a while! (Photo: Mark Dixon)
A real live protest sign. Cops let it happen. (Photo: Mark Dixon)
Cops clearly not doing anything while protesters gather. (Photo: Mark Dixon)
I started thinking about when to leave when I saw this flag go up. (Photo: Mark Dixon)
How do they really feel? (Photo: Mark Dixon)
Cops finally started to move in on the protesters when they blocked a street by dancing in it. (Photo: Mark Dixon)

There was also an “Alternatiba” event that claimed to gather 15,000 people for a small-ish march on the outskirts of Paris.

Some of the 15k protesters at the Alternatiba event in Paris last weekend. #COP21 (Photo: Mark Dixon)
Some of the 15k protesters at the Alternatiba event in Paris last weekend. #COP21 (Photo: Mark Dixon)
One of the more creative protest signs at Alternatiba! (Photo: Mark Dixon)

I was there for the early moments of that and it had all the trappings of a protest march and I didn’t see ANY police presence. None. And I looked. Maybe they showed up later, but I had trouble finding them. There have also been countless other smaller events, concerts, and gatherings all over the place in town that I never expected to proceed after the original announcement. It is true, protest is very strictly limited in certain areas, but it is *much* less restricted than I thought it would be. I still feel that the lack of mass-protest (they expected 200k people a week ago Sunday) was a critical piece of the COP21 proceedings, but considering the terrorism and initial lockdown, things have definitely improved. We’ll see how it all nets out this Saturday, however, when there are plans in the works from a number of organizers for a very very large protest with mass civil disobedience that doesn’t appear to be sanctioned by the government.

One of the “red line” balloon cubes that will likely be used in Sunday’s civil disobedience. (Photo: Mark Dixon)

It makes me a little nervous just to think about it. Those are my thoughts for now. Thanks for asking, Dianne!


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