Filming climate activists ahead of the start of the United Nations climate change summit on Monday has been a somewhat healing experience after the terrorist attacks in Paris, my adopted hometown. The activists’ message was simple and clear—we would still take it to the streets despite the state of emergency, but we would not call for civil disobedience, as we could not afford to offend Parisians reeling from the massacres. But we want to remind the world that climate change is no less dangerous than terrorism.
Not everybody, though, shared that sentiment Sunday afternoon. Violent agitators whom the French call “the autonomous” targeted one police barricade after another during an otherwise peaceful demonstration by climate activists. They got tear gas in response, massive clouds of which covered the nonviolent protesters camping around the statue of Marianne. To push the protesters out of the square, the French riot police had to climb to Marianne’s pedestal, smashing flowers, candles, and postcards placed there in the memory of the victims, smashing also the message that the climate activists, who were preparing for the march for months, carefully tailored following the terrorist attacks.
I come from Russia, where “forbidden” means forbidden for real. If a march has been banned, you can get arrested once you step out your front door with anything remotely resembling a banner. I was astonished to see the limits of “forbidden” in Paris today, witnessing people with inflatable barricades and orchestras marching along the boulevard leading from Bataclan to the Place de la République. Police were protecting them, not arresting them. Now, thanks to the people in black hoodies, the French government has yet more reason to limit peaceful protests by climate activists. —Olga Kravets