Representatives of 196 nations will be meeting in Paris next month to forge an agreement reducing world-wide carbon emissions. Climate groups strategize about opportunities to hear grassroots voices of local people. Perhaps a rally and march December 12, the day after the conference is scheduled to conclude. Perhaps there should be a campaign leading up to that march. What should the campaign be called? Road to Paris? But I bet there will be things to do after Paris. What about Before and After Paris? Road through Paris? Roads imply cars. Path through Paris? Alliterative. But no. “Road through Paris” it is. So the campaign has a name. But the march… What should be part of that? Puppets? Flash mobs? Banners? Should there be a unifying message or should each group speak to its particular concerns – or both? If there were a unifying message, what would it be?
People meet in homes, churches, organizational offices, community centers. Maybe we should stress the connection between climate and issues of social justice: Climate Justice. What image might say, “Climate justice’?
Still many questions. Portland people’s energies are focused on fossil fuel-related hearings at the county commission and city council. But the date for the Paris conference is getting closer. If there are to be banners or signs at the march, someone has to make them. Maybe sunflowers are the image. They’ve been used before; people recognize them as a symbol. How could we make them recognizable but different? Maybe sunflower umbrellas. Maybe a flash mob doing some sort of choreography with sunflower umbrellas. No one seems to make such umbrellas. We order eighty in yellow; we can paint them. Barbara goes to SCRAP to get paint and brushes; she volunteers her basement as a work space. Jane makes a sunflower “climate justice” silkscreen. Bob designs a huge tree-spirit puppet. Neighborhood teams discuss banners, find paint, find brushes. We find a great song for the climate on YouTube and send people the site so everyone can learn it.
The emails are flying: “2-4 people needed for painting on Wednesday.” “Do you have what you need for the posters?” “I want to be part of the flash mob.” Barbara finds a huge empty space at 82nd and Division for a four-hour art build on Friday. The only rules are that we can’t put any paint in the sink or down the drain and the space must be clean when we leave it. We can make that happen. Another person puts the word out to volunteers, another makes snacks. Sawhorses get set up to support sheets of plywood, creating make-shift tables for silk screening and putting papier maché on the hands of the puppet. Tarps are spread out on the floor for all the items that need drying. People come and go, about fifteen of us in total, and work on whatever projects need hands at that moment. As time passes, the tarps get covered with umbrellas and puppet hands and colorful signs and silk screens. People look in through the windows and come it to find out what’s happening. We get a tremendous amount accomplished and even leave a clean space a bit early. Together, we are able to transform forty umbrellas into sunflowers!
Meanwhile, Mary makes a video of the choreography for umbrellas and flash mob. She stands in her driveway. Off camera we hear her son asking, “What do we do now?” and her husband says, “Now we watch Mommy.” Mommy explains how and when to operate the catches on the umbrella, sings the verses and does the choreography, opening, closing and twirling her umbrella. The video is posted on Vimeo so flash mob folks can learn the choreography.
The tree puppet isn’t yet finished. Another email goes out: “Need 2-4 people. If you have a glue gun, please bring it. Also fabric scissors (not your best ones) and 3-5 yogurt containers for paint.” We’ll work in Bob’s garage. Two young men show up with a portable sewing machine to make the puppet’s sleeves and costumes. Barbara and I paint the edges of the spinning arrows and attach the flaps that will say, when the arrows point down, “Keep it in the ground,” and when they point up the text flips over to read, “Turn on fossil-free energy.”
It’s December 12.
It’s windy and raining. The flash mob rehearsal begins at 10:30. We realize we probably won’t be able to open the umbrellas because of 20 mph predicted winds. We adjust the choreography for closed umbrellas. We find out that the band, LoveBomb Go-Go, can’t get their instruments wet so won’t be able to provide a beat for our singing and choreography. People bring buckets and drumsticks. We’ll have a drum corps. The wind is too strong for the Tree Puppet, but someone brings a huge puppet of Pope Francis to bless all our efforts. April, standing next to me at the rally, says, “He’s much bigger than I thought he’d be.” No kidding. He’s probably about 12’ tall, though I’m not a great judge of height at a distance. It’s also too windy for the huge 350 Climate Justice sunflower banner we hoped to hang from the bridge, so people lay it out on the ground to the south of Tillikum Crossing so we all could see it as we return to our starting point, still singing our song. The flash mob performed mid-span on our way westward, after which the winds died enough for us to open our umbrellas. We continued singing:
“We’re on a planet
That has a problem
We need to solve it
Get involved and do it now, now, now.
We need to build
A better future
And we need to start right now.”
Nothing was quite as we planned it and yet it all happened: a rally, a march, a climate agreement. Steps taken toward climate justice. Out in the open. No longer backstage.
by Kathleen Worley