In a basement auditorium in a quiet Parisian neighborhood, writer Naomi Klein and fellow organizers held a free event to talk about their newly crafted “Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another.” The document was composed by more than 100 Canadians with wide-ranging affiliations and spells out a specific policy plan for how Canada can begin to address issues of environmental and climate, economic and social justice, now.
The speakers at yesterday’s event reflect the wide and diverse coalition they’ve been able to assemble: Crystal Laneman from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians, Hassan Yussuff from the Canadian Labour Congress, Christian Poll of the Danish Parliament for The Alternative and others from the This Changes Everything team.
The Leap Manifesto activists placed themselves squarely in the field of environmental and climate justice that recognizes the overlapping oppressive systems of patriarchy, racism, capitalism and environmental degradation. They explained that in crafting their manifesto, they attempted to build broad coalitions to reflect the intersectional nature of the issue of climate change.
“Living in a time of multiple, even overlapping crises,” says Klein, “means that the onus is on us to create better societies.”
The manifesto calls for a variety of goals and tactics: low-income communities should be the first to receive clean energy technology, an end to damaging and unfair global trade deals, open doors for refugees and migrants, development of local and ecological agriculture, among many other aims. How to fund these lofty objectives? The manifesto is blunt: an end to public fossil fuel investments, a progressive income tax on the rich, higher corporate taxes and cuts in military spending.
Climate change, Klein said, is the catalyst to transformative change in all kinds of struggles – indigenous, class, anti-racist, among many others. She called for addressing climate change in a way that is “based on justice and redressing historical wrongs,” and for an intersectional coalition to do this work. Klein said, “We are weak when we are divided.”
The most interactive portion of the three hour session came at the end when the speakers opened the floor to the audience. Attendees came from all over the world to observe the happenings around COP21. Many participants expressed gratitude for the plan and spoke about how they might bring it back to their communities, while others used the open mic to push the conversation into a more critical space.
One participant asked why Klein and friends focused solely on electoral and representative politics (that is, petitioning and working to get the attention of high level officials) rather than trying to build power from the ground up through directly democratic and participatory models (working and engaging at the community level). An elderly woman stood at the front of the auditorium and looked squarely at the speakers, demanding to know why they hadn’t consulted youth activists and organizers on this document. She cited The Conference of Youth, a gathering of young people that takes place every year before the UN COP meetings to talk about how to model new just and sustainable societies.
Audience participants kept the speaker’s accountable and asked difficult questions that the speakers tended to avoid in long-winded responses. Indigenous Canadian Crystal Laneman, for example, responded that she was offended that the woman didn’t consider her young and that she counted her own participation as youth engagement. Klein responded that grassroots movements did indeed play some role in the crafting of a document, but credited anarchist struggles with crafting more participatory and democratic models of change. The audience participation made it clear that people wanted to have a greater say in decisions, theories of change and visions for the future. To me it highlighted an important principle for the environmental justice movement: “nothing about us without us.”
The group crucially, though, stressed time and again how the climate change movement suffered from a “crisis of silos” in which different social movements become so sectarian that they lose sight of their common struggle: averting climate catastrophe. The Leap Manifesto drove home their belief that we cannot begin to address climate change without first addressing racism, colonialism, global capitalism, patriarchy and the many other ways that humans divide and categorize themselves and each other, and ultimately plunder the planet on which we depend.
Clara B. Perez