Thursday, December 24, 2009

Copenhagen: Final thoughts... for now.

Hello dear friends, and happy christmas eve to those celebrating this day!

The other day I went to Solstice on the beach, where I was reunited with my commuity for the first time since returning from Copenhagen. It felt so wonderfully warm, even plunging into the December waters of Ocean Beach, to be so held and received with kind words and attention. People were careful not to overwhelm me (we’d just gotten off of the plane at midnight the day before), but overall, there was one question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind: what did I think about the summit, going forward? Was it a success or a failure?

The question kinda stumped me at first, not because I haven’t been thinking about it incessantly since the end of the summit, but because I think there are so many people more qualified to give that diagnosis than I am. I’m not a political expert, and there are many people in this community who are much more informed than I am. I listen to my Democracy Now in the mornings are read the Nation now and again, but I don’t feel like politics is something that I study. Beyond that, I rather feel, for the most part, that its impossible to really know how one moment in time fits into the larger web until we look back decades later. All of that aside, getting the question again and again helped me refine how I was feeling about the whole thing, going forward.

A friend of mine posted on my Facebook page, “I hope you enjoyed the sites in Copenhagen, since the rest of what happened there was a complete flop,” or something to that effect. This friend, actually, is one of the people I mentioned above – someone who is much more informed than I am. But, even so, I must respectfully disagree. I don’t feel like it was a total flop, nor do I feel the overwhelming disappointment many of my fellow American activist brothers and sisters seem to feel in Obama. Perhaps that’s because I never believed he would go to Copenhagen there are promise a reduction to pre-1995 levels of CO2 emissions or that he’d promise hundreds of billions in reparations to the G-77 nations.

What happened in Copenhagen seems to me to be what usually happens at any major negotiation: a bunch of people got together with a common goal that they want to achieve while each attempts to maintain their place (or advance it) in the pecking order as a whole. Obama, like all the leaders of the world, wants to help heal climate change, but not at the cost of the financial wellbeing of his country, which in our current model is completely relational to the financial wellbeing of other countries.

There’s both the happy and the sad in the final outcome of the conference. The happy is that they don’t seem to be talking about Cap & Trade as the end-all-be-all solution anymore, and the industrialized nations do seem to understand that they have a role to play in paying for the developing nations to skip all of those dirty technologies that we employed while rising to the top. The quickly-developing nations seem to realize that their growth must be tempered by what the planet can sustain. America, the grossest polluter in the world, is finally taking a role in the international negotiations around climate change – rather than continuing to deny the science behind it. And yours truly had the opportunity to march with an amazing samba band for hours every day, learn about European political organizing, and be a part of something that overall was personally very fulfilling and amazing to witness.

The sad is that although we could be well on our way to solving the problem tomorrow if we wanted to, we’re not going to (if the US, for example, simply reallocated its defense budget for one year, we’d have all of the clean technologies we need and the money to pay people to install it all). It’s also sad that our global leaders have decided that a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature is acceptable. Perhaps they simply found it inevitable at this point. Who can say?

Although I make myself out to be rational and realistic, there was a part of me that dreamed that Obama would go in there and say something truly revolutionary to protect the earth, make grandiose promises in line with my own dreams for the earth. But even if he had, he’d be lying. He doesn’t have the power to fulfill those kinds of promises just by saying that’s what will be – its our congress that makes those kinds of decisions, at least, for now. He could promise the world, but in the end, without congress on board, it would all be just a lot of hot air.

Here’s the part that you might not like.

When Obama was elected, he was very clear: there are a lot of changes that we need to make on the horizon, changes that he wanted to make, but in order to make them happen he needed us “to make him do it.” Although some would argue that the rhetoric around Obama’s victory being a win that came from grassroots organizing was simply that – rhetoric – I think there was something undeniable about the way that he mobilized people to work for creating the change they wanted to see in the world. But since then, especially around the issue of climate change, what have we done? Are we “making him” address this crisis the way we want him to?

I don’t think that we are. Two weeks ago I went to two supporting actions leading up to the Copenhagen summit in the Bay Area: one in San Francisco on November 30th, the anniversary of the shutdown of the WTO in Seattle, and one a week later at the Chevron corporate offices in San Ramon. Although spritely and passionate, neither action was notably well-attended. In fact, they were both much smaller than I had envisioned, especially the one in San Francisco. San Francisco, where were you when we were out in the streets, trying to let the Powers That Be know how deeply concerned we are about climate change, how much we want our nation to do its part in the global dialogue about it? In London, 20,000 people came out (a conservative estimate – it was 40,000 by some estimates) the day that Copenhagen started. There were more people who live in our area and who went to Seattle ten years ago then the number that came out to voice their desire and conviction in the streets.

I know that direct action isn’t the only want to act for climate justice (or any other issue) and that many of us do different things all the time to try and be a part of the healing of this earth. What I want us to ask ourselves, however, is whether or not the things we are doing are things that Obama could in any way know about. If I go to the store and buy energy-efficient light bulbs, is that something that is likely to be a part of “public outcry” about climate change? If I donate to the Sierra Club, how sure am I that some of that money goes to a campaign out climate change? In other words, how are our actions “making” Obama and our congresspeople address this issue in a way that will be truly transformational, powerful, ground-breaking -- in other words, effective?

One of the things I realized in Europe is how repressed we in the United States are, certainly by our police forces, but also by our culture. In Europe, the radical left is not nearly as marginalized and disregarded as it is here. It is regarded as a valid political force, just as any other. When I’m here, I often hear a lot of questions about political action and its value, such as “Why would I bother going out there in the streets? It doesn’t make a difference, anyway. It’s just a bunch of vain, futile yelling.” I can’t imagine that anyone would question whether or not the civil rights movement or the suffragists were wasting their time out there in the streets. So I don’t understand why its so different with climate change? The only thing that I can come up with is remembering the way the oil companies and other big corporations were able to manufacture doubt about climate change for years, calling it a “controversy” when there was none, and I wonder if the same thing is happening with civil disobedience as a whole.

I know many people think to themselves, “But, I’m not an activist like Riyana.” The truth of the matter is, it’s only in the last couple of months that I’ve begun to feel any comfort at all with that label as a part of my identity. For a long time, I didn’t consider myself an activist even when everyone else was referring to me that way, and I certainly don’t see myself doing anything that everyone else couldn’t do. But beyond that, I don’t need others to do what I’m doing. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground – and to fight for climate justice. Many of them are much less glamorous and much more effective than going to a big protest once or twice a year. I totally salute the people that work tirelessly, day in and day out, for what they believe in – at nonprofits, through political art, as teachers and organizers. I think the many ways we engage in this issue, as long as they are effective, passionate, and most of all, conspicuous, fold together and merge into one thing – into one movement, a powerful and diverse force for change.

I heard a story recently about a woman who started to take one day off a week to make soup for homeless people in her community. At some point, people started to hear about what she was doing, and they began sending in donations to help her with her work. Every time, she sat down and took the time to handwrite the person a letter in response. They’d come home and find it in the mail, and when they opened it, their own check would fall into their laps, along with a short note: “Make your own damn soup.”

Now, that’s a bit more harsh than how I’m feeling, and believe me, we very much appreciate the many people who contributed financially and energetically to our work. But I do hope that my posts about Copenhagen have helped to activate some of you to find your own way to be a part of this movement, because I think that what we need in these times is public outcry. Next year, when the COP 16 (UN Climate Change Summit) will be held in Mexico City. What will you do in the next 365 days that will help “make” Obama speak more powerfully, with the true authority that comes with being backed fully by his people, about what we’re willing to do to help save the earth and her people? What will we as a people do? Who will join us in the streets, and write letters, and sign petitions, and fundraise for non-profits that actively work for climate justice, and boycott Chevron, and all of the things that need to be done now? And when it comes to that time, will you join us in Mexico City? Will you rise up in the streets of San Francisco, or wherever you live? What will you do to be part of the earth rising?

Rising, rising, the earth is rising;
Turning, turning the tide is turning.

In love and solidarity,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear Leaders of the World: From the COP15 website

It's okay. The younger generation does not need you.  There is no need to seal the deal since you are inherently incapable of doing so.

We will fight our own wars.
Decades later, you will be long gone.
So when the ultimate doom comes, we will fight on our own.

We will never let go of hope, and for every living second we will struggle on, until we perish as Earth does.  And we will remember it's your generation that failed us all. 

--JY Abron

(PS - Just in case it's not obvious, yours truly did not write this. I was simply touched by it and decided to pass it along. In love and solidarity, R)

Pushing for Climate Justice

The night before last malignant forces attempted to sabotage our big action yesterday. Jason and I went over to the Rag space for the Rhythms of Resistance meeting, having fully assimilated ourselves into their group for this week and finally accepting that fate. We'd been invited to their evening meeting various times during the week, but weren't necessarily as excited to meet as we were to drum; but now, with the most critical demonstration of our entire time out here, it seemed like we couldn't resist any longer. And really, all joking aside, we wanted to be involved in the planning of what our group was going to be doing -- not only because we wanted to help co-create it, but in my case, because I needed to know what level of confrontation the sambatistas were planning to go for.

Here's my little secret, one that by admitting I will forever degrade any reputation I had of being a hardcore activist: when things get hot, I can't handle it. I'm afraid of fighting with the cops: I don't want to have my arm, or wrist, or ankle broken by a billy club. I'm afraid of being pepper sprayed: every time I've seen it happen to someone, it looks like its really terribly painful. And, I'm afraid of finding myself in some cloud of chaos that invovles tear gas and crowds of stampeding people, and falling down and being trampled. Over all, the whole energy of that kind of intensity is just too much for me.

So, now you know. I'm actually not hardcore. I'm softcore. I like to go out to these things, play a drum, chant, even yell a bit, and then go back to where its safe and warm and police free.

In the past, this has made it occasionally difficult for Jason and I to be buddies at actions, because Jason is actually hardcore. He doesn't get afraid. He is always calm, strong, and present to what's happening, just like he looks. He wants to stay in the fray when the fray happens (up to a point), not to be violent, but also not willing to back down in the face of tactics that involve pain and terror to get us to comply. The Samba band, this week, has shown a similar attitude towards their interactions with the police, which is tempered by the large surdu drums that some drummers carry that make it fairly hard to run away at the last minute.

Anyway, I was very interested to see what level of confrontation the sambatistas were planning for the Reclaim the Power Action. The action was going to be divided into several "blocs" of people, roughly categorized by the kinds of things they'd be doing during the action, which has a connection to the kind of violence from the police you might be subject to but does not directly translate as such.

The Blue Bloc was those people who were marching along the police approved route, including a large contingent of folks from the Global South at the front who were going to push through the police line, a wave of tightly pressed together folks right behind them to continue pushing, a line of various affinity groups chained together by interlocked arms around the edge of the entire thing, a truck with a sound system to issue instructions to the crowd, and, potentially, the samba band. The Green Bloc was a mobile group leaving from a nearby train station that would move down a different route towards the Bella Center, and enter it by some other means. There was a bloc of autonomous groups that were planning to attempt to tear down the fences, create distracting actions for the police, and swim across the canals. There was a Bike Bloc that would be offering support to the other blocs, going were needed. There was also a group from Chistania, which had been brutally raided by the police the night before, who were planning on going into downtown in the morning and breaking lots of crap as retribution. The Chistania group wasn't really a part of the action; they were just a bunch of angry kids trying to get back at the police, loosely affiliated with us.

After much discussion, the Sambas decided to agree to the request by the action organizers to join the Blue Bloc and help direct the energy of people there. They also agreed to stay on the police-approved route unless the cops stopped the march prematurely, at which point they were holding the option of breaking off and heading to the BC by an alternate open route.

The whole time we were at the meeting, I kept looking out the window, waiting for the police to show up. As I mentioned, the night before they had raided Chistania and held everyone inside for hours, using tear gas and dogs while residents threw glass bottles at them and barricaded the gates. Once in a while, we'd see one or two blue Politi trucks pull up, but they’d just leave again.

Eventually, Jason and I headed back to the hostel. We took Lisa with us, as some of the other more public organizers were having their homes raided or had been arrested, and she was worried they’d show up at her place and drag her away if she stayed there that night.

That’s when the malignant forces struck, taking us entirely by surprise. The first was a fellow in the bed across the room from us, who snored loudly. I keep trying to think of a way to tell you how loudly, but can’t think of anything. Loud enough that there was no way to sleep, at any rate. Possibly loud enough to be heard several rooms over. We took turns going over to him and nudging him gently, but all that did was provide a couple of minutes respite before the barrage began again. Just as I’d be falling into the drugged-feeling doze that was substituting for real sleep that night, he’d begin again. SNORE. SNORE. SNOOOOOOR-RE-RE.

The second malignant force is the doddering old man in the bed nearest ours that stayed up until after midnight packing and repacking his small duffle bag, and then who woke up again sometime around four to do it yet again, before going back to sleep. He claimed to need to be up early for a flight, but we found him at breakfast the next morning when we went down, so it obviously wasn’t all that early.

The lack of sleep was killing us. We grumbled, we groaned, we heard our frustration echoing in the tossing and turning of our other hostel-mates. Tomorrow was the biggest action of the week, and we were being subtly undone by two hapless roommates.

At some point, while Jason and I were quietly trying to convince one another that it was the other person’s turn to get up and deal with the snorer (what also didn’t help the potential for sleep was the fact that we were sharing the lower part of a twin-sized bunk bed, so Lisa could have the top bunk), he suddenly jumped out of bed, strode over to the snorer, and said loudly, “You. Have. Got. To. Stop. Snoring. NOW.”

I wanted to groan outloud. Everyone knows that snorers can’t help their snoring… that’s what makes the whole situation so terrible. All he’d done, I thought, was to further irritate our roommates.

But the snoring stopped.

Jason sank back into bed beside me. I couldn’t believe it. I laid there with my eyes open, waiting for the snoring to begin again. It did, but more quietly. And soon after it began, the snorer woke himself up and turned over. Just like that. I tell you what, that man is magic. I couldn’t believe it had worked.

We were nonetheless all very groggy the next morning when we woke up at 5:30AM to head down to Tanby station, where the Samba band was meeting the rest of the Blue Block. Tom had volunteered to be one of the Samba “Angels” or “Engines,” two equally illogical words to describe the people marching alongside the samba band with linked arms to protect the band from cops and other interloping elements.

I drank a mocha in the morning to help me with my sleepiness, and that, couple with the fact that I was still feeling quite nervous about the potential for police violence this day, made for a jumpy and antsy Riyana that had to take frequent (and growingly more and more inconvenient) trips to the little activists’s room. Jason seemed simply excited, like most of the band. We gathered together and formed our lines, and sooner than I would have thought possible, we were marching down the street with a couple hundred more folks… perhaps just under one thousand.

The police marched next to us, a line of cops and a line of trucks on the side facing the Bella Center, like a wall. We just kept going. They were clearly intent on stopping any break away marches going off in that direction. We just kept going. The sound system truck, with Lisa on it, was behind us. They were the ones who were going to direct the push when it was time. Until then, it was just drumming and chanting and cops, like usual.

We got down to the Bella Center quickly, but I couldn’t see much of it or what was going on up ahead. I knew that the Green Bloc, the more mobile of the two large blocs of activist, was supposed to be doing something somewhere near us, but I hadn’t seen one glimpse or heard anything about them the entire morning. I also knew that Via Campesina and many of the more militant European activsts were up at the front of the march preparing to head the push through the police lines into the Bella Center, and that there were hundreds of NGO and other delegates inside that were going to be pushing out to meet us, but I couldn’t see any of that. All I could see was the band around me surrounded by the police, and all I could feel was the pulsing of the samba music matching beats with the strong erratic stammering of my heart. There seemed to be no Green Bloc, and no flood of Bella Center attendees coming out to meet us.

A woman got on the mike and told us it was time for us to push for Climate Justice, and that we were going to be moving slightly to the left and forward, through the police lines. I tried to imagine this happening – both to visualize our success, and to get a sense of what she meant. I imagined people pushing through the lines of the cops and ducking under their arms as I had in the march the other day, easily, like salmon flowing through the rocks in the riverbeds as they move upstream.

Jason frowned, watching the cops, who had heard the woman and were now moving to buffer the left side of the march in response. “Why on earth are they announcing it over the loud system?” he asked. “That’s no way to get this done.”

I didn’t understand, either, unless they simply thought that getting everyone on the same page was worth a few extra cops in the way. Still, it didn’t really make sense. At these big events, our biggest assets are our unpredictability and ability to move without waiting for commands, without leaders, like swarming fish. But we weren’t doing that – we were packing in tightly, creating a wedge, and we were also announcing it to the police.

“Get ready – it’s almost time!” the woman yelled. “We’re going to push! Push! PUSH!”

I prepared myself to move forward, towards the gate – but suddenly, I wasn’t moving forward but to the left, very much to the left, propelled forward by all of the people behind me. Jason was next to me. He grabbed my shoulder so that we wouldn’t be separated with an iron grip, and we both flowed forward with the crowd, straight into the line of cops. My drum was crushed up against me in the tide of people, and there were bodies up against me, too, so much so that I knew it wouldn’t be long before breathing became more difficult. The pressure was like a birthing wave, the contraction that is also the beginning of the opening. I knew that either the dam would burst or that we’d flow back again, flow open. It wasn’t the kind of energy that could be sustained.

And then there was a cry, and a surge, and a person was staggering backwards while other people called all around, “Make way! Make way!” Seconds later, more people were staggering back against the crowd, closing their eyes or covering them. A fine mist rose up from the front ranks where we intersected with them. The cops were using pepper spray.

My heartrate went up again. I hate pepper spray, have hated it ever since I first saw someone rolling around on the ground who’d been hit in St. Paul.

The crowd surged forward again, threatening to pull Jason and I apart, but he continued to grasp my jacket sleeve tightly. “Don’t fall!” he said. “Watch your feet! I’ve got you.”

Still the crowd pushed in on all sides, and the rim of my drum cut into my leg. I raised it higher so that it would help create some space around me, taking tiny little steps in order to keep my balance in the tumultuous surge of people. The cops were still holding firm, and as we got closer, I could see that they were pressed up against the trucks that had been behind them, and that behind that, there was a fence. A line of cops, a line of police trucks, and a fence. How on earth were we going to do this?

In fact, I realized, I couldn’t do it. It simply was too much.

I leaned over to Jason and told him that this wasn’t the place for me. He nodded, “This is where we are, though, so this is where I’m staying,” he said.

It used to be that I absolutely couldn’t leave Jason during these heated moments. After the RNC, the idea of leaving him and having something happen to him was too terrible. But just before coming here to Copenhagen, I had a dream where an ancient grandmother came to me and told me that Jason and I had important, yet separate, work to do here. Since then, I’ve been much more able to do what I need and let him have whatever experience he needs.

So, he let me go. Another pepper spray victim was weaving through the crowd, and I took him by the shoulder and started yelling, “Make way!” to help him through, following him out as I did so.

I met up with some more sambatistas at the edge of the crowd, and from this perspective, could see what was happening much better: those people at the front, who had wanted to be in confrontational positions with the cops, were coming up from the right to try and get in to the wedge, while the bulk of the march continued to press in from the left. It was like two rivers streaming into one dammed reservoir, filling it up with people. Still no Green Bloc people, and no one from the inside, though cheers from that direction told me that there were definitely people there trying to get out.

In the end, the police line held. The cops had locked the Bella Center gates and refused to let the delegates walk out, at first threatening them with arrest and then beating them when they still tried to get to us. The Green Bloc people hadn’t even gotten past the train station doors before getting arrested. It was left to only us Blue Block people, and it simply didn’t happen.

The energy was quite intense still, and I had to fall back again, this time wetly crossing one of the canals as the police kettled in the bulk of the crowd. I couldn’t leave Jason, though. We had set up an emergency meeting point nearby, but even that seemed too far away. Instead, I simply waited at the bank of the canal, moving from here to there any time the cops insisted that I do so, but keeping my eye on what was going on the entire time.

After awhile it seemed safe enough to go join up again with the samba group and Jason and Tom, who had never left. The People’s Assembly – a meeting of people from every continent – began, to discuss the issues of global warming and the solutions that we desire. Slowly, the people from inside the Bella Center who had wanted to come out started to join us, having taken a long journey to a train station blocks away and walked over.

Because my feet had gotten wet in the canal crossing, however, I couldn’t stay long. I felt disheartened and disappointed, anyway: disheartened because yet again I found that I wasn’t able to stick it out when the going got tough and disappointed because I had really, really wanted us to be able to get through the gates and meet the people from inside. It felt like it could have been a Rosa Parks kinda moment, one with that kind of historical power. I wasn’t able to see, in that moment, that had we actually gotten into the Bella Center, things might have been much worse. The police never would have let us stay there, and their determination to get us out might have made things much more violent. At the very least, there would have been no People’s Assembly. Only a very significant, yet purely symbolic, act.

I went back to the hostel and took a "nap" that turned into an all-nighter. I was exhausted, and I didn’t know what to think anymore. All over the news, the reports were claiming that the entire Copenhagen Climate Summit was falling apart: not only the massive protests in and out, but also that the head of the summit was resigning and more and more countries were walking out and such. As sleep claimed me, my last thoughts were, “Why on earth did I come here again?”

I'm so exhausted...

Trying to get caught up with writing, but really falling-down-sleepy right now.

To tide you over, I give you Amy Goodman's report on what's happening out here.

In better news, many of the CNN and AP stories I've seen about the protests here have actually been incredibly even handed and good about expressing what our message actually is, rather than some sort of butchered, stupified version of it.  I've been pleased.

Good night!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Request for Magical Support and Prayers

Hello everyone!

I'm sorry to have been silent the last day or two -- its been very intense here, and I look forward to filling you in as soon as I can. Unfortunately, its simply been impossible for me to sit down and write to you all as much as I'd like.

Tomorrow (which is tonight for you!) we have the potential for a truly magnificent, magical, historical moment (and I don't say that lightly). The action that's planned involves bringing together the earth-loving activists outside the gates and delegates and honoraries from inside the convention hall, mostly from the Global South, activated youth delegates, and earth-loving NGOs with influence with the negotiators from industrialized nations. It could be the most amazing thing in my life. Or, the moment could pass us by because of obstructions, violence, distraction, or just bad luck.

Why are all these people planning to walk out of the conference hall and / or disrupt the convention if they are as earth-loving as I claim? After all, don't we want a treaty to come out of Copenhagen? This is a question I've struggled with for a few days. I came here fully intending to support the strongest, most legally binding agreement that could possibly come out of this thing, and I still feel that way. The issue is that what's happening in there is not that. There are without a doubt many people more qualified to discuss this issue than I am, people who understand it more fully (Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein immediately come to mind, I'm sure they've got stuff on their webpages about it), but I'll try my best to explain what's going on as I understand it just to give you an idea of what's going on.

The gist of it is this: right now, the industrialized nations and corporations are really pushing for market-based solutions at their worst are unlikely to do anything at all to help our planet survive, and at best would slightly help reduce CO2 pollution but at the expense of those nations most likely to be harmed by climate change and that have already felt the brunt of our economic policies. There are countries out there that are in danger of literally being underwater soon, and having their food supplies completely destroyed by climate change issues, and these nations have been repeatedly ignored, lied to, and condescended to during the last several weeks while those with money and power try to find ways to maximize their profits with carbon markets and carbon sinks. These are the people that will join us at the People's Assembly tomorrow, when we bring the voices of those in the streets together with theirs inside the Bella Center.

It's a powerful working, and one that will involve thousands of people putting their bodies on the line with creative, non-violent civil disobedience including myself, Jason, Bird (Tom) and Lisa. Our hope is that you'll send us your energy and magic tonight (your time) at 12am-5am, which is 9am-2pm our time. If you can't do that, since we all know magic doesn't work linearly anyway, do it whenever you can. We have three images that might help you line up with the magic we're doing here, so if you can use one or more of them, that might help bring our magic together in the most potent way..

-- The "Portal" Rune that was developed a couple of years ago at California Witchcamp, which essential looks like an "x" with a longer line running through the axis of it. That extra line is the third road, the mysterious way that opens all potential and possibilities. We need these portals to open up in fences, in lines of obstructions, in the minds and hearts of the people inside the Bella Center.

-- This part is from Jason, bear with my construction oriented perspective on magical imagery. I am envisioning a stone foundation wall standing apparently strong and prepared-- call this the cops. Earth will pour into the dug out area around this wall-- this the activists (the earth moving) coming toward and filling the gap up to the wall. The stones are a part of the earth too, although when used as a wall they no longer move as the earth moves. When the pressure is added only from the outside, perhaps the wall will break and earth will pour through to the inside. Tomorrow, bless the goddess, earth will pour into both sides (imagine the basement also filling with soil). Representatives and delegates will come from inside to meet our efforts (also earth moving). When earth fills both sides of the stone, it no longer matters if it holds strong. It will become instantly a part of the earth. When the activists from outside meet the allies from within, the cops will transform into holding space for the peoples forum to exist, regardless of intent or orders. All will be earth together. I ask that this image be held and fed with what ever earth loving energy or magic you will. Blessings. j

-- A silver spiderweb of protection over the four of us, connecting us to all of you.

Thanks again and again for all that you do. We're so happy to be a part of a magical community that cares for us in this way, and to be with you at this amazing point in history.

Lotsa love,
Riyana, Jason, Lisa, and Bird

Out of the Kettle, Into the FIre...

Yesterday was the most powerful day yet for me here at Copenhagen.  Jason and Tom left early to go on a scouting mission at the Bella Center and take a peak at the fences surrounding her, while I stayed home and wrote to you, dear readers.  ;-)  I’ve started to feel like I have a responsibility to let y’all know what’s happening here, as much as I can.  There’s so much I don’t know and don’t see, because there’s simply so much happening every moment of the day.  Aside from that (and let’s be honest here) I really don’t have the kind of skills that Jason and Tom do regarding fences and the like.  If you want to take down a fence, they’re really the ones for your team. 

After a rather long, meandering walk all over downtown Copenhagen where I seemed to run into every “Politi” in city but couldn’t find a group of a couple thousand drumming, chanting, yelling, dancing people, I was finally directed where I needed to go by an kindly old reporter.  (I was getting so desperate, I almost asked the police where I could find my comrades.  I figured, out of anyone, they must know.  Luckily it didn’t come to that… I mean, please.  How embarrassing.  “Excuse me, officer.  Can you tell me where the protesters are?”).

I found Jason with the Samba band, dancing and helping to hold the line around them, who had linked arms and had formed a barrier of people around the entire march in front of the column of police officers that walked along side.  A couple of moments later, Tom arrived with Jason’s drum and soon we were drumming down the street.  The hand signals and rhythms are finally getting more familiar, and I’m starting to really enjoy playing around with how I hold the drumstick to get different sounds on the drum without dropping the thing every ten minutes.  We were behind a large sound system on a truck, so we alternated playing and pausing to allow the speakers and music to be heard.  Eventually, we made our way to a plaza near the Defense Ministry. 

Copenhagen has been all dolled up in its anti-climate change finery, some of which seems genuine by genuine environmental organizations, and some of which is greenwashing for very destructive businesses (kind of like those Chevron billboards back home that say things like, “I will unplug stuff more” while they work to convert their Richmond refinery to process the most toxic stuff on the planet).  I’m not sure what was planned for the rally point, but what was very soon happening was that an enormous orange balloon – maybe a story tall and as much around – that had been tied to the ground as a measure of how large one ton of CO2 is, courtesy of some heinous European corporation that I’m not really that familiar with, was rolling down the street.  The police and the samba band, both equally laden down, went running after the crowd of people that were playing with it.  We managed to catch up before they did, and started playing a jaunty tune as the enormous orange ball rolled off onto a major byway of cars, followed by the crowd, the band, and the cops.

After that moment, I felt the energy shift.  As usual, Jason picked up on it a moment or two before I did.  

He was already looking around for an exit route.  “We should get out of here,” he said.

“Do you want to leave?”

He didn’t answer, and that, coupled with the fact that he said “should” instead of simply, “Let’s go,” told me he didn’t.  I didn’t, either.  I knew that this was a potentially arrestable situation, but it was hard to ditch out on the band in the midst of things.  And clearly, at this point, the band was directing the energy.  Folks were crowding around us, following us wherever we went.

After awhile, the police managed to get the enormous orange balloon away from the folks and turned us back to the plaza, where we circled up and tried jamming for a bit.  But the police weren’t having it.  They kept pressing us into a tighter and tighter area, and then out of the plaza and down the street towards the bridge.

Bridges are classic places for “kettling,” which is a sweet sounding word to describe closing in on you on both ends of a march and then arresting everybody within.  Jason looked at me again, and said, “We should leave.”

“Do you want to go?” I asked again.

He frowned.  I knew that he was feeling the same way I was – we still really didn’t want to go, even though we were clearly surrounded on three sides and being pushed towards more cops at the other end of the bridge.  I knew that most likely if we left at that moment we could find away for two of us to escape – but not the whole band.  It was either ditch them to stay safe, or stay and take the risks.

that moment I realized that I felt remarkably okay about being arrested.  I’ve heard a few horror stories, as you always do, but overall the police have been remarkably chill here compared to the US cops.  At one point during one of the marches earlier in the week, a line of cop cars came screeching directly into the Samba band in an attempt to split us in two.  I kept thinking they would stop before they got to us, but they kept coming, straight into the drummers.  I tried to skedaddle out of the way, but around me, the other drummers were pushing back at the cop cars, yelling at the drivers.  A couple of police officers jumped out and pulled the drummers off of their cars, tossing them into the street with slightly annoyed expressions.  Then they got back into the cars and left.  They didn’t beat anyone, or tear gas anyone, or even arrest anyone.  They just tossed us to the side as if dislodging a vine that got stuck to your shoe and then found someone else to pester.

Let me just tell you, if we’d tried anything even close to that in Pittsburgh, it would have become PepperSprayBurgh.  You just can’t do that kind of thing with American cops without them going apeshit on you.  And, in fact, they might go apeshit on you even if you don’t do anything like that (although, in my experience, San Francisco police tend to be more mellow).

At another march, the samba band moved off of the approved route into traffic on the other side of the street, and a line of cops filed in to the middle to stop those of us who hadn’t yet made it into the street from following.  As they filed in, drummers pushed past them –literally pushing them out of the way – to stay with the rest of the band.  Jason got through, and then Kiki, this really sweet sambatista from Italy who’s been very friendly with us for the last couple of days.  As I tried to follow, more cops came, blocking the way.  I stopped, but on the other side of the street, Jason waved to me to come with.  Without thinking, I ducked under the cop’s arm and then through, wondering if at any second I’d feel his arms pulling me back.  But I didn’t.  Suddenly, there were more sambatistas following me through, and then we were all together again, weaving among the cars drumming and chanting.  Again, no one was attacked.

So, as we were getting kettled in and my arrest seemed inevitable, I found a strange calm came over me and decided to just keep drumming and enjoying the music making for as long as it happened.  Alright, I was probably going to be arrested, and it was probably going to be cold for the eight or twelve hours or whatever they were detaining people.  But, there are much worse things.  I don’t mind getting arrested, as long as I don’t get chemicaled and beaten, too. 

We kept marching, out of the downtown area.  At one point, Jason came up next to me and expressed some concern – we were headed right towards Christania, and he was afraid that the peaceful behavior of both cops and activists might end if they came onto that already contested little piece of land.  Still, that’s where one of our major homebases is, and I’m sure that the warm lunch that would be waiting for us there if we did manage to make it held some appeal.  Aside from which, we were only half of the decision making power, at most.  The cops continued to block off many of the streets, allowing us some measure of choice, but not much. 

And then, suddenly, they were gone.  They just turned around and left.

We were at the gates of Christania, at least two hundred of us, samba band and dancers and people carrying signs and probably many of those who had unleashed the giant orange balloon and sent it floating off into the streets, and the cops opened up the kettle and disappeared.  A huge cheer went up among the crowd, and the band flowed into a circle and began jamming right there in the intersection of the street, much to the chagrin of the drivers of the cars around us, I’m sure.  People were dancing like mad and cheering and laughing, celebrating their freedom.  Relief, exultation, joy, and victory permeated the crowd. 

Later that night, Naomi Klein and two other speakers came to Christania to talk about the next day’s action, “Reclaim the Power.”  This is the big one, the one where we try to disrupt the conference for a time.  It seems like at every major action we try to do this, ever since Seattle.  It’s a tradition that no mass mobilization is complete without it, kind of like turkey at Thanksgiving.  And yet, I felt conflicted.  The whole reason that I came here is that I want the Copenhagen Climate Talks to be a success, to bring about a world-changing powerful treaty.  Disrupting the talks seemed antithetical to that goal. 

Listening to Naomi and Tadzio (an activist from London that I found very inspiring) reframed the issues for me, though. The gist of it is this: right now, the industrialized nations and
corporations are really pushing for market-based solutions at their worst are unlikely to do anything at all to help our planet survive, and at best would slightly help reduce CO2 pollution but at the expense of those nations most likely to be harmed by climate change and that have already felt the brunt of our economic policies. There are countries out there that are in danger of literally being underwater soon, or having their food supplies completely destroyed by climate change issues, and these nations have been repeatedly ignored, lied to, and condescended to during the last several weeks while those with money and power try to find ways to maximize their profits with carbon markets and carbon sinks. The idea of the People’s Assembly tomorrow is to bring together the people in the streets with the delegates, heads of states, and NGOs from the Bella Center that desire a very powerful treaty to truly address the issue of climate change without the influence of those with wealth who hold a deep desire to retain that wealth at all cost.
The meeting with Naomi and Tadzio and Michael Hart, which Lisa facilitated, was completely packed.  There were hundreds of people in the large tent at Christania, sitting on each other’s laps, on the floor, standing, on the rails of the bleachers, on the other side of the partitions.  And everyone seemed to hold their breath as suddenly, someone in the crowd, called out, “What about the police?  They’ll attack us if we try this.  Why should we let them?”

After a moment, murmurs all around.  Then, another voice called out, “No!  We have to stay calm.  We can’t do that!”

Oh great, I thought.  I can’t wait until the undercovers bring this back to their bosses.

Now, lots of murmuring, mixed with boos and cheers and a variety of guttural, indecipherable to the non-European ear responses.  Lisa grabbed the mike.  “Alright, alright!  Hold on just a second, everyone.  Let’s just hold on a sec.”

The power and conviction in her voice seemed to work, at least for the moment.  People did quiet down.  Naomi Klein spoke next, her voice passionate.  “I know you’re angry,” she said. “We all have every right to be angry.  People are being hurt, and that’s enough to make anyone angry.  But in this moment, we have to talk about what our intention really is here.  We have an opportunity here, a historic opportunity, to bring together delegates from the climate conference with the people.  And they won’t come if it’s not safe.  They won’t be able to.”

There was a round of applause, but beneath that, still plenty of angry murmuring.  Most people, it seemed, agreed with her.  But there were still those that wanted to break windows, break cops, break all barriers. 

Lisa told us later that its partly the denial of the role that violent forms of protest have played in revolutionary movements that makes people who want to engage in these forms of protest so obstinate when we have these sorts of “tactical” conversations.  The non-violent among us deny that the other forms ever have merit, and that’s frustrating to them.  At the same time, in this case more than ever, it was clear that we could not have a riot on our hands if we stood any chance of success.  We couldn’t even have a window-breaking kind of day, because there was no way that delegates and heads of states would allow themselves to be affiliated with that kind of thing.  We needed everyone on the same page.
In this moment, what she said was, “Tomorrow, we need to do what’s smart.  We need to find creative ways to protest.  This isn’t about diversity of tactics, though there is a time and a place for that kind of model.   We’re not trying to say that one way is right and another way is wrong.  We’re just trying to find a way that we can make this really happen.”

Tadzio stood up now.  “Listen, we have a codex,” he said.  “It’s not a concensus, I know, that everyone has agreed to.  It’s a codex that says how we will and how we won’t do things here in Copenhagen, and now is the time to understand what that means.”

The murmurs slowly died away.  It was clear to me that most people there wanted to stick to strictly creative, non-violent forms of action, but that some simply didn’t agree.  And I found it hard to believe that some sort of “code of honor” would keep them in check.

Which made me wonder, at this potentially amazing moment in history, are we going to screw it all up simply because we don’t have our own shit together?  Because we are still using ego-driven, violent modes of thinking?

Lisa, however, didn’t seem daunted by my worries.  “Historically, the black bloc honors these kinds of agreements,” she told us later.  “If there’s a codex, that’s what they’ll do.”

I hadn’t been always impressed by the black bloc in Pittsburgh, and found myself skeptical.  But she went on to say that in Europe, the radical Left is different.  There are those that break things and those that don’t, and they all have legitimacy here (unlike in the States, where people who engage in property destruction and / or fight back against the cops tend to be seen as total wackos that do nothing but put us back twenty years).  Some of that legitimacy, however, comes from the fact that they do honor their agreements.  “Just look at the actions over the last couple of days.  There have been plenty of chances to get into rumbles with the cops and destroy all kinds of things.  There may have been a couple of broken windows on one day, but no riots.”

As Jason, Tom and I headed off to dinner, just across the street from Christania at a little gyro place, I mulled over her words.  As we ate, I’m not sure who – either Jason or the Indian fellows sitting at the table next to us – noticed a couple of blue Politi trucks pull up and turn down the road towards Christania.  Then a few more.

I was a little worried about Lisa, who was still there, but the others told me not to be.  After all, Christania is a huge compound of not only activists but also many radical residents, who would not take kindly to the police coming uninvited onto their property.  Certainly they weren’t going to try to raid the place with three or four trucks of cops.

But then we saw another truck go by, a much larger one.  It was the water cannon.

We jumped up and went to the door.  Soon truck after blue-sirened truck of cops was turning down the road, lining the one we were on, everywhere.  Cops with dogs, cops on bikes, cops in riot gear.  They closed off the street that led towards Christania, but a side street still remained open, and after a while of standing around watching the tear gas rise from several blocks away, Jason, Bird and I decided to move closer in to see what was happening.  We ended up right up at the front gates with the press, which actually, the cops didn’t mind at all.  They had ceased to lob cannisters of tear gas inside and were now bringing in the dogs (dogs and gas don’t mix, its either one or the other).  The rumor was that there had been some people -- whether the residents or activists, no one seemed to know – who had begun to lob glass bottles at the cops as soon as the raid began.  The rest of the activists, many of whom had soon been in the tent dancing to a DJ, stayed where they were – many of them just kept dancing, refusing to let the police ruin their night. 

We waited around for a couple of hours until Lisa was released, then went off to bed.  It had been a long day, and tomorrow didn’t seem like it would be any more relaxed.  We really were out of the kettle and into the fire.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hot and Cold in Copenhagen

Christania is like a place out of a anarchist-collective fairy tale: it spans both sides of the canal running through the city, living spaces on one side, the other side housing several cafes, the large tent that serves as both temporary mess hall and workshop / speaker space, an art space, a playground – just about everything you can think of, all communally created and owned.  Last night, when we first walked the grounds lit by candles and small yellow lanterns and watched the dark, mysterious reflections of the trees reflecting in the black water, it seemed to utopian to be believed.  This morning when we headed over there for breakfast, the trash strewed about and disrepair of many of the graffiti-covered buildings, brought it down to reality – in a good way.  This place is not a fairy tale, but really, a work-in-progress on this plane, in this world.  Right in the middle of the biggest city in Denmark, a colony of arts and sustainability (they’re working on it) and shared ownership; a world unto itself.  As you’re leaving the compound -- which must be a couple of blocks square – the archway reads, “Now entering the EU.”

A couple of days ago, when Lisa was briefing us about what was happening here and where, she told us, “Copenhagen is like a post-apocalyptic city. When the shit hits the fan, these are the people that I want to be with me.” 

We headed down to Chistania for breakfast in the tent, which, like all off the collective kitchens, is completely donation-based no-one-turned-away-for-lack-of-funds (to get a sense of the generosity of that, consider that our hostel charges 65 dkk, the equivalent of about $13, for a continental-like breakfast.  And that’s cheap.  Getting a hamburger and fries at the little restaurant next door is about $20 US dollars, after it’s all said and done).  As we ate, a fellow from Chistania was giving a talk about their efforts to green the place in the workshop space next door, followed by a Sunday morning sermon by a Unitarian-sort of  preacher about the oneness of all people and faiths, at their core.  We listened for a while and then Jason and I headed off to the Farmer’s Rally while Tom broke off to go to the Bella Center for a scouting mission on his bike.

I didn’t realize we were looking for Rhythms of resistance – the samba drumming group we were with the day before – until I realized, with disappointment, that they weren’t there.  The farmer’s action that we were at, with speakers from agricultural people and indigenous folks from all over the world but especially the global south, was one of two major actions that day – the other was “Stop the Production,” an anti-capitalist action that aimed to blockade and shut down Copenhagen’s harbor.  Although potentially quite exciting, in my mind, any attempt to shut down a major port with civil disobedience sounds a bit like walking into a pepper spray shower.  Aside from which, I’m personally very interested in food justice activism and working with folks from developing nations.  Jason, it turned out, felt the same, and so we had both forgone the blockade in favor or the march.  But, alas, it seemed we were the only drummers who had.  There was a large, very static-y, sound system on a truck for the rally, but nothing for the march.  In fact we soon discovered that there was no march happening at all.  The speakers spoke, and then we were all standing around in the park, all dressed up and with no place to go and no drummers to drum with.  We didn’t know how many of them had been arrested the day before after we left them, but we knew that some definitely had been.

Just as we had grabbed our stuff to leave, a tiny whisper of sound – a pulsing, if you will – started to tickle my ears, kind of like when someone is talking about you nearby but you don’t see them.  I looked up.  Jason apparently didn’t hear it yet: he was watching the cops at the side of the rally, who seemed for the most part pretty bored and certainly very few compared to how many US police would have been at a rally that size in Pittsburgh or St. Paul.  I wandered over to the edge of the plaza, and as I did, I noticed the sound was definitely growing louder.  It sounded like drums.

Sure enough, as I got to the street I could see a fuchsia-tinged raucous headed towards us.  It was the band – and, from the looks of it, the whole 50 or 60 person band, making their way towards us in full festivity and intensity.  The police seemed to notice it at about the same time: the samba band was headed right towards us, taking over the street in spite of whatever traffic had wanted to get through, lively and drawing quite a crowd.  Jason and I smiled in relief, strapped our drums on, and fell into step with our tom-tom compatriots as they passed. 

And then the march was happening.  People just came – some of them particpants from the farmer’s rally, some of them people from the street – and followed us.  They were willing to go where we were going, wherever that was.  In front of us, samba dancers were dancing in the streets to clear the way for the band.  Behind us streamed people with flags of all colors and causes and nations.  And, of course, the cops were activated.  The grabbed their shit and started following along side us on foot and then by van.
They blocked the road in front of us with their vans, and like the sardines in the ocean move like one creature, the samba band inverted in upon itself to turn around and went the other way, and all the people followed.  Down the streets we marched, dancing and drumming, shouting for justice for the campesinos and food for all, food that cannot be grown if our soils are dried-out by rising temperatures and our water poisoned.  At one point, the police blocked the way again, and the person who was acting “maestro” (band leader) at the time put her hands in an “O” abover her head to signal it was time for a huddle.  So we all huddled together in the street, with the cops around us and the people waiting patiently.  It’s really quite amazing, really.  Here we are, leading a parade, when suddenly someone has news that requires a decision to be made.  So, because we operate by consensus, we all huddle up to make a decision while everyone – including the cops, apparently – waits.

The news was that the cops would allow us to go to the Klima Forum, that is, the Climate Forum for the People, but no further.  They were worried, it seemed, that we were going to try to go down to the Harbor to support the Stop the Production People.  And indeed, some of the drummers did want to do that.  Others felt that it was pointless, as the word on the street was that that action had already been kettled in and arrests were happening. 

We decided to go down to the Klima Forum and stop for lunch.  After lunch (another communal kitchen experience, but this one not as peachy – we waited in two different lines for food that kept running out on us, outside, in the freezing cold, for about an hour before finally getting lucky and getting a bowl of soup) we gathered back up with the Rhythms of Resistance band, who were planning a solidarity action for the people in the jail.  Because the people who had attempted to do a solidarity action the day before had been stopped at a bridge quite far from the temporary prison, we decided to form two bands – one to meet with the main bulk of activists and go to the normal way down to the prison and probably be stopped at the bridge again, and another that would go to a different metro stop and walk around another way, hopefully to get within earshot of the prison so that our compatriots inside would be able to hear us.

Remembering how disheartening and depressing it can be to be in jail, I decided that I really wanted to be a part of the smaller band, even though it seemed more likely that band would run into trouble.  Jason felt the same, and so in spite of our rather mediocre samba skills (we still don’t really have any idea what those hand signals mean) we headed out with them to the further Metro station to try and sneak around the side.

Unfortunately, we ended up at the wrong Metro station – not just Jason and I, but the whole second half of the samba band.  It started to snow.  We gathered in our huddle on the train platform, trying to figure out if we should head back to the main station and get on the train that would take us to where we really wanted to go, or just join up with the main band, who were only one stop away.  Our scouts, sadly, were nowhere to be found but word was that they were coming to meet us where we were.  Some people wanted to leave without them, to get as quickly as possible to where we were originally supposed to go.  Others wanted to wait for the scouts and walk to our destination, even though no one really knew how to do that, and it seemed likely that we’d just end up stopped with the first group at the bridge.  Consensus started to break down.  People started to get crabby in the cold.  And then the cops showed up out of nowhere and completely surrounded us, shouting for us to keep our hands up where they could see them.

In Denmark, cops can search you even there’s no evidence of any sort of crime or misdeed.  They separated us by gender and frisked us, went through our bags, checked our IDs, and took our addresses.  (Luckily, they didn’t also check to see if we had train tickets, because none of us did.)

The police showing up only made people more crabby and uncertain.  After quite a long while with more huddling, we decided to head back to the main march.  By the time we got there, though, everyone was heading back.  A group of activists had been kettled in by the cops, and everyone else (including the first half of the samba band) was going home.  It felt like a long, cold, frustrating night – distinctly different from our Utopian morning at Christania.

Jason and I went back to the Rag Center – short for Ragnhildgade – which is another compound of activists and communal kitchens and the main meeting space (it supposedly can house between 1000-2000 activists).  We grabbed another bowl of soup and headed into the Spokescouncil, which was meeting to discuss Wednesday’s “Reclaim the Power” action – the biggest action of the conference, in some ways.  In some ways, Saturday’s action with its 100,000 people was and is the biggest thing we could do.  But the Reclaim the Power action is big in its confrontation of the Climate Change Summit.   The meeting brought up all kinds of questions for me, like, what is really my intention being here?  What kind of actions do I want to support  -- those that attempt to cultivate and nourish the work being done at the Summit, or those that seek to disrupt it in order to bring more voices to the table?  What is my ultimate goal, that is, what would “success” look like?

With these heavy questions, I went to bed.  It was a long day, one full of both the good and the bad, and I felt more than ready to close my eyes and open myself to the wisdom and rejuvenation of the dreamworld for awhile.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I’m being blown wide open.  Alphonsus warned me that this would happen if I came to Europe to protest: “It will blow your mind,” he said.  He didn’t mention that it might blow my heart and soul and sense of purpose apart, leaving veins of brightness shining among the shards.

I was at a gathering a couple of weeks ago and had a little tiny glimpse of what I’m feeling now.   Someone I knew was performing “It’s a Wonderful World,” and something about that song, so unpretentious and heartfelt, and the fact that I was just beginning my moon blood, sunk into me in a way that it cracked the shell of my cynicism.  How often, these days, do I let myself think or see that it’s a wonderful world?  The skies of blue are clouded with gray smog, the red robins are dying.  It’s hard.  And yet, it’s still a wonderful world.  In spite of all that is so very wrong with this world, and in spite of all that will continue to fester and deteriorate in the coming years even if we do sign a Climate Change treaty at Copenhagen and move powerfully and unhesitantly towards the solutions.  This world is a miracle, and humans, too.   I began to cry when I felt my heart cracking open, cry with both the beauty of the truth that I was hearing and the realization of how deeply I’d been feeling hopeless.

Tonight, sitting in a huge tent at Christiana listening to a circle of women create a song of birds and ancestors, humans and fey, the land and something otherworldly too, I felt my heart crack open just as it did that day that I allowed myself to see that the world was still wonderful.  Using only Tibetan singing bowls and their voices, without words in any language known at this time, they filled the room with ancient beyond- time music who’s truth was all the more palpable because it could not be understood by my verbal-talking-self mind.  I had just finished eating a bowl of (free!) couscous and lentil curry with Lisa, Tom, and Jason, who were already trying to figure out what action tomorrow’s action.  Part of me knew it would be a good idea to start getting ready for all of that, but another part of me knew that I needed this immersion in song, needed it as much as anything that might happen in the streets.

It wasn’t only the bird-ancestor-land music that broke me open to possibility and hope, though – that was really simply the last unraveled stitch of my mask, you know, that one you wear sometimes that almost hides you from yourself.  The whole day was Initiation, going bright instead of deep in too the depths of depression and despair. 

The magic started with a crowd of hot pink drummers from Germany.  We stumbled upon them early in the day, gathering on the side of the road like a ragtag magenta army armed with snares and toms and bass drums.  Shyly, Jason and I approached and asked if we could drum with them.  Our shyness turned out to be completely unnecessary: the band of twelve or so was part of a larger group called Rhythms of Resistance, a non-hierarchical drum troupe that spans many different countries in Europe and Africa.  Their main premise is pretty simple: everyone can do anything in the troupe: play any drum, lead or follow patterns and marching periods, and everyone switches off.    As we’d march down the street, someone in front would lead the troupe with a series of hand signals seemingly more complex than ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.   Just when I thought that I had it, someone would step up and start leading with a whole new series of signals, often incorporating the ones that I thought I had, and I’d realize that I still had no idea what was going on.

It was in one of these moments of self-doubt and frustration that a young blonde woman with dreds wandered over to talk to Jason and me, her demeanor notably friendly in spite of the destruction I was currently wrecking on the poor song we were playing.  I felt like an ass, and asked if it was really okay that we continue drumming with them.  “Of course!” she said, not even thinking about it.  “You’re with the band now.”

Your with the band now.  That’s amazing.  Simply because you show up with a drum you just bought a couple of days ago and a desire to play. 

I looked at Jason, and she caught the look between us. “This is nothing.  Just you wait until the rest of the band shows up… they’re so professional.”

“The rest of the band?” I looked around at the band of drummers, which by this point had swelled to about fifteen or so.  “Where are they?”

“They’re at another action, but they’re on their way.  There’s… I dunno… maybe fifty more?  Oh, here they come.  See?”

I looked up.  Sure enough, a group of hot pink and silver was loudly headed our way.  Very loudly.  In a couple of moments, our group doubled, then tripled.   The rest of the march, all around us, was doing the same.  We pulled off into a plaza next to the road that the march was going down and circled up so that we could all see one another as we played, and as we did so, thousands and thousands of people continued to pass us by:  young women dressed as cows and pigs with signs that read, alternately, “fart,” “burp,” and “vegetarians against climate change;” a group of five or six people in khaki colored “bubble for one” costumes sponsored by Exxon and Chevron and the like; a group of clowns complaining that it was too cold anyhow; an amazing slate grey dragon carried by six people that danced dancing in the streets. 

That’s when I first started to feel it: the cracking.  Vandana Shiva was standing on the stage, though I couldn’t see her – I could only hear her voice echoing through the massive intersection the march had filled.  “Welcome to Copenhagen!” her stately voice rang out, echoing across the cobblestone streets.  “How does it feel to be marching with 100,000 people?  Look around.  These people care about the earth just as you do.”

I couldn’t see 100,000 people: I’m just one little human, and all I could see, everywhere I looked, were people.  Crowds of communists with black and red flags, Friends of the Earth with blue flags, people carrying life jackets and cardboard cut outs of rescue tubes for when the waters rise – everywhere, people.  The Rhythms of Resistance group began to weave through the crowd, using their signals and the power of their loud drums to get from one end of the plaza to the other, and still there were more and more people, with so many with creative expressions of their passion and anger and desire for earth healing that even listing all of the ones that I can think of doesn’t do it justice.  I still don’t know if I can answer Vandana Shiva’s question.  How does it feel to march with 100,000 people who love the earth, who care passionately about protecting her? 

It feels like cracking open, I guess.  Cracking open to hope – not light, fluffy, sweet hope but the serious kind, the kind that whispers, we might actually be able to do this.  That’s the scary kind of hope – the kind that’s sort of like disillusion, except that instead of losing my idealism (a word so often confused with naivetĂ©), I’m losing the cynicism that makes it okay to drive instead of ride my bike, and okay to sit home and zone out on the internet, and okay to put myself forward somewhat but not all the way, which I prefer, because if I don’t put myself out totally than I can’t fail totally and I also don’t have to fear being totally rejected by you or anyone else.

I’m tearing up as I write this.  I’m not kidding.  So much in our lives tells us that we’re doomed, or that we may as well not bother, or that we’re crazy for thinking we need to do anything at all, or that the only real heroes are the ones in storybooks or made-for-TV-movies.  But let me tell you, I saw 100,000 heroes in the streets today, wearing super-hero capes that read “Climate Justice” and drums held together by duct tape and puffy bubble-for-one suits and black masks.  I saw them march peacefully, but fiercely, from downtown to the Bella Center to have their voices heard.  And I know, because Jason and I being here represents such a tiny percentage of the people in my community that care deeply about this issue, that the 100,000 people that I saw represent just a fraction of the people on the planet that believe that climate change is an issue that threatens the survival and wellness of all beings on this planet and who want to create sweeping changes to protect life on earth.

Eventually, it came down to us through the rumor mill that some of the march had been separated by the police and corralled onto a side street, and were being held there and possibly arrested.  The fellow leading the troupe made an “O” over his head with both hands, and we circled up to talk about what to do next.  As quickly as possible, he relayed the information and we broke up into affinity groups to discuss what we wanted to do.  The results were surprisingly unanimous: we wanted to go there to support those being arrested. 

We continued marching with the main march a little ways longer, and then as subtly as possible (considering the seventy-odd drummers and drums, some the size of a Great Dane) broke off down a side street and ran a block or two over, then cut back again and found ourselves – as we had hoped – on the other side of the police line.  There were already some people there, watching and calling out for their friends to be let go.  We circled up again, the sounds of our drums and our voices filling the air with a new vibrancy and authority. 




More people started to come, drawn by the drumming and the thick energy of the space.  Their voices joined ours.  “Let them go!  Let them go!”

But as we continued to drum and play, the police presence also started to get thicker.  At some point, I can’t say exactly when, I felt the energy shift – its something that happens at these mass demonstrations, I’ve noticed, ever since the RNC in St. Paul: I can feel the energy shift in a way that feels unambiguous, as clear to me as reading a street sign or sensing a car speeding up beside me on the road.  Something is different now.  Something is about to happen.

Jason came over to me just at that moment.  “I think its time for us to leave,” he said.

I nodded.  We grabbed Tom and headed off down towards the end of the street just as a police car drove up, then away.  It seemed very likely they were about to “kettle” in the crowd that had gathered to support those in their first corral.  Which almost made it harder, for me, to leave.  I didn’t want to leave those I’d been drumming and making magic in the street with all day; but at the same time, I didn’t want to be arrested.  Not here, now, for such a minor reason.

(We found out later that they arrested nearly 1,000 people today, including many of our drum troupe.  Some have been released, but others are still detained, chained to benches and being denied food, etc.). 

We joined back up with the rest of the march, where we stumbled upon a drum circle of a much different sort: a group of Native Americans, holding a sweat lodge in the open area next to the Bella Center, drumming and chanting.  There’s more about today, but I’m about to be thrown out of the cafĂ©, so this is what I’m going to leave you with: tonight, in Copenhagen at the end of a long night of protesting, I found myself immersed in the indigenous wisdom of the land I live on being used for the good of the earth, for the healing of this beautiful garden-planet.  I don’t think you’ll see it reported anywhere else, these tribes that have come thousands of miles to speak for Her.  But they are here.   They came and spoke at Christania, too: but that’s another story, perhaps one I’ll be able to tell you about tomorrow.  Until then, thank you so much for reading this, and please know how very grateful I am for all the love that you send and the work you’re doing at home.

Copenhagen: Arrival Part Two. The Church.

It’s late, way too late for us, we who have been traveling for twenty three hours and who’s biological clocks believe that its close to dawn, rather than a misty and cold evening.  Our dinner weighs heavy in our bellies, the first real food we’ve eaten, and walking feels good in spite of how exhausted we are.  Besides, Copenhagen almost feels like an overgrown and even-more-charming Santa’s village, fully dark at four o’clock, streets crowded with bikes and pedestrians but only a car or two, who’s headlights seem out of place among the crumbling stone buildings and cobbled brick streets.  So many bikes!  They whiz by in breathtaking bunches, swarm on sidewalks, throng in the streets like tribes.  

Beyond its natural charm, Copenhagen has put on its eco-finest for the Climate Summit, with signs that read “Hopenhagen” and catchphrases urging a powerful change at the conference everywhere and large, beautiful demonstrations of alternative energies. It’s tempting to feel like we’ve stumbled into utopia.  The occasional sirens and blue-lit “Politico” cars rushing by, followed by ambulances, reveal that there is also something fierce beneath the sweet surface.  Most of the people here seem oblivious to it, wandering with hearty druken cheer down the cold street, enjoying their Friday night.  There is a man playing bagpipes in front of an Irish bar for tips, surrounded by pale-skinned, slight Danish women, and a motley crew of rowdy young men hauling Christmas trees down the street and swinging them at each other. It feels sweet to be surrounded by their liveliness, even though my exhaustion makes it hard for me to feel much of my own.

Jason and I follow a trail of golden lights to an old church, one that has sat here for hundreds of years, remaining quietly stately and powerful even as the cosmetic stores and clothing boutiques and bars edge ever closer, their neon signs whispering that someday the candles that light our way will be forgotten, overpowered. The candles, flickering magically in the dark night, seem uninterested in such mundane matters.   We follow them through the wide double doors and into the ancient chapel to an altar to Jesus, who’s head is ringed like Buddha’s with the golden halo of enlightenment.  Without a word, we both kneel down, breath deeply, and begin to pray to him and to Mary Magdelene, who seems to have been forgotten in this church but who’s presence is so intimately, innately tied to his.   I’ve never prayed to Jesus before, but here in this ancient church, I can feel his power and purity and the way he inspires so many to desire goodness and justice.  It simply feels right.  

We ask them to come into us, to bring compassion and forgiveness and strength in the face of adversity to us during this week.  And love.  The love they felt for one another, the love they feel for their people, who are the people we will be in the streets with during the next seven days and the police as well, and many of the politicians and policy makers… Throughout the last couple of hundred years, so many have called upon these two loving bodhisattvas during their deepest times of need.   Well, this is the eleventh hour and we must all come together to solve the troubles that we face – that’s what this summit, in its essence, is about.  Even good Jewitch girls like myself.  I’ve had issues in the past with the things that Jesus’s followers have done in his name, but now, in this time, I feel peace and love and unity praying in his church.

After our prayers to Mary Magdelene and Jesus slowly ebb to silence, we get to our feet and I slip a candle from a bucket near the altar into my purse, getting an intuitive hit that at some point this week it will become a major part of our work.  Then we wander back to our hostel and make our way up the stairs to our room, which is a dorm we’re sharing with four other activists: a man from Germany, one from Canada, one from England, and one who slept the whole time.  All men, except for me.  The German fellow, who never told us his name, talked about working with the Black Bloc in Europe and gave us an anti-fascist flag from his homeland, “because you came all the way from America.”

“Fighting the nazis and fighting the corporations isn’t really that different,” he says. “Perhaps the corporations have a nicer face, but really, they do the same things – they kill so many, they suppress our freedom, the turn harshly against you if you try to speak out against them.   We still have so many problems with fascists, even today.  You still have problems with racism.  It’s all the same.”

I tried to resist writing tonight, but its simply too exciting and too magical to put it off. We haven’t “officially” begun, and yet, its all happening.  So much so, that I simply must go to sleep.  I’m filled with curiosity and excitement for what lays ahead… and I really want to be over my jetlag so that I can be present for it.

Lotsa love,