An Askew View of COP17

Notes from the seaside

Daybreak in Durban was the usual muggy warmth that seems to seep into every pore of your skin just as perspiration is trying to seep out, leaving you feeling grubby and damp and taking three showers before 10am…but that is a waste of water (which is thankfully being recycled) so let’s not dwell here in this damp spot and rather move on to occupying Durban and more specifically occupying the climate change talks…

At 11am, bright and early saw the start of the Conference of People (CoP) General Assembly at Speaker’s Corner just across the street from the heavily barricaded International Convention Centre (ICC), site of the official, formal and much derided 17th Conference of Parties (COP17).

About a hundred people gathered here on this little triangular island and it took me about 10 minutes to work out that about half of them were media folk – obviously looking for something slightly higher up the heart rate monitor than the talks going on inside the International Conference Centre (ICC). I am not so sure they did in fact find it but at least the people here looked more colourful than the grey suited clones streaming into the ICC. I often wonder how people who have such a dull dress sense (and a clear lack of style) can even begin to think creatively about how we can build a just global climate treaty, but maybe that is a blog for another day.

At speakers corner, thankfully, there was no tie and dye to be seen, though there were a couple of headbands and some level of slightly dishevelled hair on people, and they did all smell remarkably clean and there was no shortage of designer labels on clothes and shoes or the cameras either…it is good to see occupy in Durban being led by well-dressed people with tidy hairstyles and a sense of good taste in their clothes too, though it would be awesome to see some real style in the dress sense. It was a wonderful relief to see some people from the ambush turn up in their pseudo prison garb and hopefully tomorrow they will ambush the space and plant some bright and useful plants to help occupy people to live off the land if they choose to stay in Speaker’s Corner for a few years.

So, what was said and done? Well pretty much what has been said for a while about the whole climate change debacle – too much emissions, too much reliance on fossil fuels, too much waste, too much corporate power, too much collusion of governments with corporations and of course, too much negation of traditional ways of living in harmony with the world and it’s people. All good then, and in reality, not stuff that many people walking past on their way to find jobs or get lunch or just meandering aimlessly would happily agree with…but and this is a but of rather large proportions – that virtually none of the people walking past bothered to stay and join the occupation… admittedly, some did stop and check out the occupy action – but given the lack of free t-shirts, lunch or other forms of simple but effective bribery – none stayed to occupy in solidarity with the occupiers...which is a pity.

So the main outcome of the assembly was to hold an assembly each day – in the same space and develop some sort of way of distributing more information about the occupation and hopefully gathering more people to the space. While it may look like a damp squib (and INGO heavy) start to a Durban occupation, there is hope that tomorrow, a whole bunch of slightly more excited people will rock up and help grow the occupy seedling in Speaker’s Corner.

I will do my best to stay on top of this rapidly changing and always on the go occupation and I hope you will follow this occupation and tell the two friends you know in Durban to come join us…it should at least be a great way to meet well dressed international NGO types, if nothing else...

- Rajesh Latchman is the Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum, Volunteer Convenor of GCAP South Africa, guerrilla gardener, cyclist and an unreformed recycler. He writes in his personal capacity.

Doo Bee Doo - Take a Stand.mp4

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