The Solutions COP21 event at Grand Palais that I had visited the previous day was, thanks to its paucity of actual solutions, potentially liable to being sued under the French version of the Trades Descriptions Act. Anyone wandering its halls would have been hard put to find much that actually built resilient local economies, social justice, a more equal society, and one capable of living within anything approaching limits. Thank goodness then for the Alternatiba Village of Alternatives, taking place in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris.
Alternatiba has been an amazing initiative in the run up to COP21, with activists cycling across Europe, working with communities to set up solutions and to inspire them with the possibilities of COP21. Many Transition groups have got involved too. The Village of Alternatives was sufficiently far out of the city centre to have escaped the horrendous over-policing happening elsewhere. It created a vital space for those involved in the creation and promotion of actual solutions to celebrate, to meet and to breathe after the oppressive feeling of the first week. Here’s a video taste of what it was like to wander around there, with the Transition stall at the end…
Set out over a large area, the Village featured stalls, music, food, talks and workshops. It was laid out into a number of distinct areas: food and farming, climate and energy, education, transport, making/repairing/zero waste, culture and media, sustainable economy/meaningful work/responsible finance, commons/biodiversity/water, responsible consumption, human right/solidarity and migrations, habitat and a food market.
Those running stalls were asked to also run workshops, debates, everything possible to give the Village a sense of being a place of learning, action and sharing. Unlike the Grand Palais, the Village featured tried-and-tested stuff, responses that value and respect soil, community, biodiversity and culture. Solutions that are about returning power to the 99% rather than the 1%. Unlike Grand Palais, where the only conversations encouraged were those with trained salespeople and corporate representatives, where anything other than that, one felt, carried the risk of being literally carried out of the building by undercover police officers, the Village buzzed with the sound of laughter, conversation and the sharing of ideas.
Transition was represented with a stall showcasing some of the 120 Transition groups from across France. I spent some time walking around, dropped into the permaculture and Incredible Edible stalls, admired the food and beer on sale, and admired the number of polar bears walking around. Anyone who tells you the polar bears are unable to adapt to climate change really has no idea what they are talking about. Some of them have moved to Paris and taken up work as street entertainers:
…and some have even found employment as on-stage dangers!
Their powers of adaptation have clearly been underestimated…
Although we only got to spend a couple of hours at the Alternatiba village, it was much needed, in spite of the cold! Spaces where civil society can come together to share ideas and inspiration are vital, and due to the Special Measures imposed in France, have been in short supply this week.
We then went to La Villette, a great place which is the redevelopment of an old abattoir, now a venue for music and arts events and also featuring one of the best urban food gardens in France. The first event there was the launch of Terra Viva: A People’s Pact to Protect the Planet and Each Other, created by a coalition of groups, and presented by Dr Vandana Shiva. You can read the Pact here.
It was launched with the symbolic planting of a ‘Garden of Hope’, with a group of farmers planting seeds. After this, the Pact was read out by 10 different people representing different movements. I read one of them.
The evening event was called ‘C’est Possible’ (“It is possible”), co-presented by La Villette and Actes Sud, publisher of books by, or about all of the evening’s speakers: Emmanuel Druon, Lamya Essemlali and Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Vandana Shiva and me. The evening featured a short film about each of us and a five minute reflection each on the theme of “what makes you think that change is possible?” It then was built around questions from the audience and reflections from each of us on the panel. It was actually really good fun, and some great discussions were had. Here is the video of the event:
Afterwards, we each did a book signing, and the Transition team also sold out of all the copies of ’21 Stories of Transition’ that they had brought along. What was wonderful, as with the previous night’s event, and indeed most of the events during the week, was how many young people there were there, and how moved and inspired they were by it. It is hugely touching to see that, and just how many came up to say “thank you”. Eventually it got late, and all the books were sold, and the evening wound down with pizza and a beer. Very enjoyable.
The next morning required waking up again after just under 4 hours’ sleep before heading for home on the Eurostar, but that’s another day and another story. It will take a few days for the dust to settle in my brain and I will write some kind of a reflections piece. But right now I will be taking a couple of days to rest and refresh. Thanks for reading all these, I hope you have found them illuminating and useful.