Part 3: OPAL Joins International Delegates at Solidarity to Solutions

This article is part three of a series by Community Engagement Coordinator Shawn Fleek. Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here.

Day 6 – If We’re Not Prepared to Govern, We’re Not Prepared to Win

Today is the actual summit, Solidarity to Solutions, which is what’s printed on the yellow shirts we’ve been wearing since Saturday. We arrive at a park with rolling hills, and pop-up tents are everywhere. We receive an opening blessing from the Ohlone people, whose land we are on, which has (and should) become an expected way to start work in this (and any colonized) place. Opening plenaries feature experts from across the movement, telling of the work from frontline perspectives across the ITR community. There’s no way to capture all that can be gleaned from the voices of diverse people. I won’t even attempt it. It’s astonishing how much experience running campaigns, winning our priorities, and taking control of our futures the people in this movement brought to the space.

I was given a free ticket to eat a burrito stuffed with Filipino marinated meat, and it was incredible. I wish I were still eating it. I volunteered my team and I to pass out fliers for the action on the 13th – where I’ve determined I will risk arrest. I’d checked in with the team, and they seem alright with this decision.

The summit includes breakout panels on topics of our own choosing. Notably, a Black Caucus forms, inviting black organizers from around the movement into a Black-led space. I’ve got a long-standing interest in the session on land use reform and another on divestment, investment, and how the Climate Justice Alliance is funding visionary and oppositional, self-sustaining strategies to make ourselves ungovernable.

We were in the shade for the first session of group 4 and that space had great energy but it was chilly when the wind blew. We heard from groups working on land reform issues from the perspective of community-controlled housing. These groups provide political education and supportive services alongside one another, in their work obtaining community-held land and housing. It was a particularly interesting piece of the puzzle to me. It’s awesome to hear about Oakland-based victories keeping people housed and also encouraging them to become their own best advocates for more of the same, while taking direct control of land.

An organizer from Richmond-based Rich City Rides talks to the assembled Summit attendees about their experience financing their community's work.

An organizer from Richmond-based Rich City Rides talks to the assembled Summit attendees about their experience financing their community’s work.

The second session I attended was even more inspirational. It was also in group 4, but we moved into the sunshine, which was a blessing. This session revolved around financing the movement. I learned that through the use of community-controlled revolving loan funds, Just Transition organizers are developing alternative infrastructure that serves as a direct challenge to power structures in more than just housing (as in the previous session), but in food, in finance, and in sustaining new business models that fund the movement. As a session leader Gopal from Movement Generation put it, these models of controlling a “community-owned capital,” serve to “make debt subordinate to the community need fulfilled,” instead of existing solely to make money, as most banking models are. Ultimately these models may face a challenge from banking regulators – a challenge many in the movement would see as a way to demonstrate how grassroots solutions are inherently better for us than top-down models of decision-making. This is the type of “jurisdictional crisis” that many in the movement see as key to eroding the power of seemingly-monolithic institutions.

Some organizers decided to leave to grab a drink. We talked about music and the city and other things that weren’t of the intensity or tenor we’d been discussing at the summit just an hour before. Sometimes organizers can forget we are human. This helped remind us all. We talked about peoples’ experience with different informational sessions, and learned from each other. We discussed inspiration and idea generation. It was fruitful, certainly.

I had a great burrito for dinner that night, and ended up meeting up in the neighborhood of our home-away-from-home with nearly the entire PNW delegation. Jonny from Seattle had gotten his Passport in the mail, so finally everyone could get served at the bar. We had drinks and took pictures and even more inspiration and relationship building defined the spirit of the evening. It is amazing to grow close to people through an experience like this – where so much is happening, you’ll never get to meet everyone. But the people you do meet tend to be the people who you relate the entire experience to, moving ahead. These people I’m building with are going to be long-time movement allies.

Day 7 – Late Night Snack

Today is all about preparing for tomorrow. From the beginning to the end, we are making art, readying ourselves for the following day’s action. But before the OPAL team went to the art build, rehearsal, spokesperson training, direct action and legal trainings, we had a special invitation to visit with the Movement Generation family in Berkley, to see their space and meet with their staff, and enjoy a meal, and talk about what we’d been discussing.

MG is a big inspiration, and truly are thought leaders in the work for a Just Transition. It was their sessions I’d attended the day prior, on land reform and financing the revolution. I was ready to see more.

A cherry tomato from the MG gardenMG has two homes side by side. They tore down the fence and built a large garden. No grass lawn. A patio with chairs and an umbrella. A yurt they built with neighborhood children and elders’ help. A shed that serves as an office, with a bathroom fed by graywater from inside one house. The raspberries outside are aided by the use of the shower indoors, and so when more people come to visit, the berries grow taller – the people feed the land by virtue of their washing. They collect rainwater off their roofs, stored in large barrels. I had some cherry tomatoes that were incredible.

MG says they’re most interested in building relationships on the West Coast, so our visit was a precursor to ongoing organizing. They’re not doing as much national work as they are work in the West Coast bioregion. I got a glance at their strategic plan, and note the stated goal of creating crises of jurisdiction. Aligning what I learned the day prior about the work of seeding community loan funds, subordinating debt, and activating a common capital that isn’t driven by greed, I felt a great inspiration. Ideas are blooming every ten minutes this week, but none more than today.

We took transit from Berkley to the Greenpeace Warehouse. I had what I thought was a kindof gross meal, but perhaps I just got a cold and less-exciting portion. There was painting happening everywhere – big papier mache globes, huge banners, colorful signs. So many messy hands. People I’d seen in sterile indoor environments, except the farm, are here with all the décor of little kids in art class. The spokesperson training wasn’t one I was too excited for, but I’m glad I went. It was getting close to time to discuss de-escalation – the training where you yell in peoples’ faces and they need to stay cool. I decided not to be around for that – I attend plenty of actions in Portland where white supremacists yell in my face, and feel quite capable of not biting the bait to argue.

I’m planning to put myself at risk of arrest at the summit the following day, so I goo through the legal training to end the day. The decision was left to me, and local comrades insist it’s going to be fine. I had done my diligence to check in with everyone from the crew to ensure they were okay with the chance of my arrest.

As I went back to the hostel, I was caught up in the fact that tomorrow was the big day. It’s time to get moving. And it’s time to be mentally prepared for this. Everything I’ve done here up to this point is flooding my head. New ideas. New strategies. New connections. A hundred concrete wishes for my immediate future, some contradictory, all pull at me. I can’t sleep, and I’m practically sweating inspiration, a revolutionary fervor at a peak. I spend my late evening eating a leftover burrito. Unable to sleep, I write most of this reflection, and fill in gaps where my nightly writing missed important details.

I go to sleep at 3:35am, wake up at 5:45am, and pack most of my belongings up just in case I’m jailed for a long time and don’t have time to pack.

Day 8 – The Global Climate Action Summit

I arrive at the predetermined park at 6:36am. I join others who are prepared to risk arrest. We fill out legal paperwork in case we are taken in. We write the number on our arm for the National Lawyer’s Guild. Risk is actually quite low, but that doesn’t mean it is null. Those risking arrest are then selected and scattered into the crowd – we hold signs, banners, puppets, key positions on the corners of the march. I’m selected to grab a banner near the very front, at almost dead center, and do as I’m told. We lead chants to get our comrades excited. We are blessed by medicine in the air again – my sister Candi Brings Plenty is right behind me with sage and her eagle fan, and I’m blessed to have her present for this action.

We march to the entrance of the GCAS. It’s ridiculous. They’ve erected huge fake bushes made of plastic, and woodcuts of trees painted to look like trees, but made from wood. This is laughable to so many of us: the kind of environmentalism represented by these climate capitalists. “Fake shrubs, fake solutions,” as Jill Mangaliman from Got Green? in Seattle writes on a piece of paper. What kind of environmental summit needs trees made of oil? GCAS, that’s what kind.

Banners are raised. Street theater begins. A flash mob goes down. I’m not close enough to the front, but I’m at the back of the crowd, with the arrestables, creeping toward the entrance, holding space, arms locked. We move to escalate, to block off delegates from entering GCAS. It’s a simple enough action – hold space so the delegates to GCAS are inconvenienced, and know we don’t support their false solutions that commodify the planet and allow for poisoning frontline communities. As one chief from the Amazon said at the Monday morning action, “they want to pay us for our forests! But we don’t want their blood money!” The climate capitalists want to play frontline communities off of each other, offering rural and tribal people money to permit the poisoning of refinery communities elsewhere. But locked arm-in-arm with other frontline people from around the country and around the world, there’s nothing more clear about the power of solidarity.

Police then threaten us with arrest. We are “unlawfully assembled,” they say. This shows you who the police protect, when we are fighting to stop the poisoning of our communities while profiteers seek to make money off the devastation they cause. It’s always so real when the cops face the wrong people – just like when Portland shows up to stop alt-right protesters from demonstrating, and the cops routinely only face protesters who aren’t aligned with white supremacy.

The moment of confrontation between frontline and indigenous communities and the police

The moment of confrontation between frontline and indigenous communities and the police

The direct action coordinator tells us we’re highly at risk for arrest. We, arms locked, drop to our knees. We sing “people gonna rise like the water…,” the song we’d learned days ago that is now our anthem. And then Candi’s medicine, the sacred sage smoke, burns in my nostrils, and we begin to sing the Women Warrior song. The short, simple chorus of “yea” and “wah hee oh” is catchy, solemn, slow, powerful. Tears run down my face. The direct action coordinator tells us we might not get another warning. We are highly likely to face arrest. We pray, sing, and yell. My usually-middling voice breaks, and I push for higher notes. We are powerful, my eyes are closed, my palms face Creator, I am weeping as I sing, I open my eyes to police trading places, those with zip ties arriving just inches in front of us. I close my eyes. We continue to pray. I scream in song. I breathe smoke. I breathe fire. I open my eyes, and the cops are gone, moved to beyond a gate they’ve dragged between us.

The police have retreated!

I can barely catch my breath. To my right, members of Movement Generation, IEN, and dozens of other frontline groups from around the world, are locked in arms with us. At the center of all the blockade are indigenous youth wearing lock boxes (preventing them from being moved. On the boxes between the six youth are the words “WE ARE NOT FOR SALE” – something like that. I never got a good look, as I was further down the blockade.

After fifteen to twenty minutes, we’ve effectively shut this entrance to GCAS. We stand again, and move to more effectively block the gated arch. The risk is gone. We’ve won this front. It’s amazing how SFPD doesn’t escalate like Portland Police does. When Portland Police threaten to arrest you, it usually comes simultaneously with a concussion grenade or baton to the head of some innocent bystander. SFPD was strategic in use of force, and in not trying to take on this massive assembly with their less-armed, less-equipped presence.

This is victory. We’ve closed the gate. Inside the GCAS, Michael Bloomberg compares us protesting the summit to Trump supporters who want to build a wall between the US am Mexico, and uses ableist language to describe us. Also inside the building, demonstrators with It Takes Roots unveil a banner that says “Climate Capitalism is killing my community” and chant to oppose the summit’s trade show aesthetic. While I’m on the front line of the blockade, I’m interviewed by several news outlets, and thankful that I took the spokesperson training, at least enough to remember to say a few things that make it into the media. “GCAS is a trade show,” I said on Al Jazeera, repeating the first talking point I was given.

Eventually, after turning away delegates to GCAS, after being supported with water and coffee and burritos while I stood on the line (a cushy protest to say the least – at one point I joked I wanted a pillow), we were done. We led a round dance with the entire crowd, locked arm in arm, to the Women Warrior Song once more. The power of the music put me in a trance, and we may have round danced for 45 minutes, or maybe just five. But it was incredibly moving. When I finally let go of linking arms, and became just one man in a crowd again, I felt small, but powerful still.

We marched back to the park where the day began, we ate empanadas, and we debriefed. The crowd cheered everyone who made the week possible, from the Ohlone people, to the core organizers, to the many coalitions, and to the frontline warriors at the direct actions. A solid week of action was over. We’d marched (and I had hopped and yelled) miles. Moved tons of dirt, materials, and people across vast distances. Celebrated cultures from opposite ends of the planet. Eaten, drank, laughed, cried, sweat, and bled with one another. Grown closer, and expanded our horizons and connections across the globe. We’d come together from different backgrounds with a shared purpose: defending the sacred, protecting the sky, and keeping fossil fuels in the ground and out of our communities.

The frontline resistance to false solutions has never been more real in my mind than it is following this incredible journey. We’ll have a day to ourselves in the Bay and then hop back on board the Just Transition Express and head home. I can’t wait to share my excitement, and bring this energy back to OPAL and Oregon Just Transition Alliance. I can’t wait to tap these new relationships to make our community its very best. The most incredible part of this week is, this is only the beginning.

Watch the Democracy Now! recap of the final actions below:

Posted in Against Enclosure of Wealth and Power, Against Exploitation, Against Extraction, Against Militarization, Against White Supremacy, Build the New, Climate Justice, Housing Justice, Just Transitions.