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Climate Shame, Climate Hope

Posted by Jamie Henn at Dec 18, 2009 12:39 PM |
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Jamie Henn: Though many of the people that I have been talking to here in Copenhagen remain doggedly hopeful, their hope has little to do with our supposed “leaders." It has to do with all of you.

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Climate Shame, Climate Hope

On December 12, 100,000 people filled the streets of Copenhagen. Photo by Kris Krüg, flickr.com/people/kk/

It’s only 4:00 pm in Copenhagen, but the sun has already set and the cold night has set in. The general gloom could be a reflection of the faces of many activists here in Copenhagen, many of them huddled in the Oksnehallen warehouse in downtown Copenhagen, exiled from the Bella Center where the actual U.N. negotiations are taking place.

In the last few days, 99 percent of civil society participants have been denied access to the talks over supposed security concerns, forcing groups like ourselves to improvise (lucky for 350.org, we’ve got an incredible team still on the inside: Subhashni Raj, one of our 350.org organizers, who is now officially on the Fijian delegation, and Mike Tidwell, who has a press badge from his excellent show at Earth Beat radio and is leading a small media team that’s still working the press room).

Yet, despite a lack of direct access and a prevailing sense that developing countries are failing to provide real leadership, many of the people that I have been talking to here in Copenhagen remain doggedly hopeful. Not because they expect a miracle speech from Obama or a breakthrough between the U.S. and China. Not because they think the EU will come up with an innovative finance package or that Australia and others will stop bullying smaller countries. In fact, their hope has little to do with our supposed “leaders” at all. It has to do with all of you.

Last night, I took part in a candlelight vigil at the Osknehallen warehouse to solemnly mark a day of fasting around the world that thousands of you took part in. At the vigil, Gopal Dayeneni, an organizer with Movement Generation who’s been working for years with social movements around the world, told the crowd that in his eyes the movement for climate justice and global equity has never seemed more united. Over the past few weeks, said Gopal, we have seen unprecedented collaboration and solidarity not just between organizers here in Copenhagen, but between citizens all over the planet.

I know I feel that sense of unity here in Copenhagen and I hope you feel it wherever you are, as well.

“Climate Hope" is not a message for our leaders or for the media, it’s a message for our movement.

In less than an hour, hundreds of us will gather in a snowy courtyard outside the Osknehallen to stand with candles and torches and form the words “Climate Sham” and then transform into the words “Climate Shame” for an aerial photograph. The image will express the frustration and anger that we want to convey to the world leaders who are blocking progress here at the talks yet still trying to spin Copenhagen as some sort of success. We know that’s just greenwash and we need to get the world media to tell that story as well—AP, Reuters, and many other media outlets have confirmed that they’ll show to take the photo and send it around the world.

Yet, we’ll also be forming another message: “Climate Hope.” It’s not a message for our leaders or for the media, it’s a message for our movement. It’s a reminder that this fight isn’t over and that despite the odds stacked against us, we’re still keeping hope alive. Martin Luther King, Jr., who faced a lot of disappointments and setbacks in his life, once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

Copenhagen will be a disappointment, that’s for sure, but this movement has been a resounding success in so many ways. When I’m standing in the cold this evening, I’ll be thinking of all of the citizens around the world who braved cold, wind and rain, burning heat, and yes, numerous setbacks and disappointments, to take part in the actions and events we’ve done together this year, especially on October 24 and just last weekend.

I’m infinitely grateful for all the work that so many people have contributed to this effort. I’ll end now with another King quote that comes to mind: “Keep moving.”


Jamie Henn is a co-coordinator of 350.org. In 2007, he co-organized Step It Up, a campaign that pulled together over 2,000 climate rallies across the United States to push for strong climate action at the federal level.

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