Protesters filled Paris’s streets on the eve of the United Nations Cop21 climate change summit–despite president Francois Hollande’s best attempts to keep them away.
Around 5,000 people marched around the Place de la Republique square this afternoon, Sunday. They defied an explicit ban and a hail of police teargas grenades and projectiles.
In the morning thousands of people gave their shoes to the Avaaz NGO to “march in our place” in a symbolic display at Place de la Republique.
Civil service worker Malvina, one of the marchers, told Socialist Worker, "It's our right to make our voices heard and the stakes for the climate are really high.
“We’re sick of the state and the big companies imposing their law, wrecking our planet and our human rights."
Prior to the Paris attacks earlier this month, hundreds of thousands had been set to march for action on climate change. But Hollande called a state of emergency and banned all protests in the region.
The police ramped up repression. First they raided activists and placed 28 under a form of house arrest, then "advised" citizens to avoid leaving their homes on the day.
Yet the streets were full of people. Demonstrations took place in other cities around France. And the NGOs and trade unions that had called the demonstration looked for other ways to mobilise.
Organisers say 10,000 people joined a human chain along what would have been the demonstrations’ route. "Change the system–not the climate" was one of the most popular slogans.
Engineer Aurore told Socialist Worker, "I was gutted when I heard about the ban. We made a commitment for the climate and we have to keep it."
Hundreds of organisations from all over France and the world came to give their input. Claudio was part of a delegation of indigenous people from the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.
He said, "What the multinational corporations are doing is economic terrorism. World leaders need to take serious action to stop them–to punish them. Otherwise what's the point of talking if we just keep polluting?"
Ousmane and Fouisseiny are part of an organisation of undocumented migrants in France. Ousmane told Socialist Worker, "In a way we're victims of climate change. Some 90 percent of Africans live off agriculture and climate change is affecting the harvests.
“So we have to try and make our way to the Italian coast for a better life."
Fouisseiny added, "Now we're staying here and fighting for our rights".
Many people were nervous at first. But the human chain took on a joyous atmosphere as people took confidence from taking to the streets.
That fed into dancing on the streets around Republique square as people gathered to defy the ban. They chanted "State of emergency, police state–you won't take away our right to demonstrate!"
Other demonstrations have defied bans since the emergency began, but nothing has been on this scale.
A banner reading "State of climate emergency" was hung from an adjoining building.
Cops blocked the avenue to stop the march going any further, then gassed and kettled the square.
They arrested around 100 people, including revolutionary left activists. Some 58 anti-racists could already face charges over a migrants' demonstration last week.
But the protest had already sent a clear message to Hollande and the polluters. Boris told Socialist Worker, "Previous generations fought for our right to protest, we're here to use it.
“More and more people are seeing that there has to be real change in society–the state needs to see that too."