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Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo

Posted: December 23, 2009 05:39 PM

The Red Carpet Four

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Tonight four of my friends sit in a Danish jail, in isolation, detained without trial over Christmas and New Year. I've had friends in jail before, but never under circumstances quite as ludicrous as these. On Thursday December 19, Juan Lopez de Uralde, Nora Christiansen and Christian Schmutz's three-vehicle convoy was ushered through police lines, past sharpshooters and up to the Danish Parliament where Queen Margrethe II was hosting a banquet for Heads of State attending the UN climate conference.

Surprising, really, as this was anything but a sophisticated operation. It relied entirely on simple, readily available materials and had elements of farce about it. 'Greenpeace' signs displayed on the windscreens of limousines hired by the activists were in one case wedged in place by a pair of socks. One of the car number plates included "007" -- a reference to James Bond. Blue 'police' lights on top of another vehicle were purchased for Danish Kroner 50 (around US$ 9.60) off the internet.

Juan, dressed in a tuxedo, and Nora, decked out in a red silk floor-length gown, walked up the red carpet as "Head of State of the Natural Kingdom, and his wife". Christian entered behind them playing their official help. The trio was followed by Hillary Clinton. Once inside the great hall they unfurled two yellow banners reading "Politicians Talk, Leaders Act". Guards were so taken aback that it took them a few seconds to gather their wits and arrest my Greenpeace colleagues. Police later arrested Joris Thijssen, a Greenpeace climate campaigner, while he was eating in a restaurant the following day for alleged involvement in the activity.

Nora, 35, Juan, 46 and Christian, 37 had one goal when they set out to crash the Queen's banquet: to send a friendly reminder to Heads of State that there was precious little time left to secure a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal for the climate -- and that they should use their time over dinner wisely. These world leaders were gathered in Copenhagen for the UN climate conference -- but failed utterly to lead, and did nothing to stop global warming.

The "Red Carpet Four" activity is in line with a long history of Greenpeace protests. The first occurred in 1971, when a small group of concerned men and women felt it was in the best interest of the planet to stop the US from carrying out underground atomic bomb tests on the earthquake-prone island of Amchitka, off the coast of Canada. They decided to sail to the island to bear witness. Their journey -- in an old boat over dangerous waters -- was left unfinished but captured admiration and attention from around the globe. Nuclear testing on Amchitka ended that same year.

Many would argue as I do, that climate change poses the same level of threat to life on this planet that nuclear bombs did some 40 years ago. According to Kofi Annan's Global Humanitarian Forum, 300,000 people died from results of climate change this year alone.

In the run-up to Copenhagen, civil society spent the year trying to make politicians understand that the time has come to act. That they can not play dice with the future of our children. That nature does not negotiate. More than 15 million people joined in the call from the tcktcktck campaign (which includes partners such as Amnesty, Avaaz, Greenpeace, 350, Oxfam, and WWF) to demand a FAB "fair, ambitious, binding" treaty to stop climate change. We did achieve some small victories, not least of which was that we made climate justice an issue so big and so important that neither media, nor politicians could chose to avoid the conference.

Unfortunately, it was not enough to stop the Copenhagen talks from turning to farce and delivering only an empty shell of a document called the "Copenhagen Accord". This does not mean our actions were not without impact. No, I am convinced that if we as a united civil society persist in making our voices heard, politicians will feel enough pressure that they will take the steps necessary to avert catastrophic climate change. Let's just hope it's not too late.

In the meantime, four of my friends sit in Danish prison cells. A judge has ordered their detainment until the next hearing scheduled for Jan 7th. They face three charges: trespassing, falsifying documents and impersonating a police officer (the charges are aggravated because the activists were in the vicinity of the Queen). The Red Carpet Four gave up their freedom to get a message out calling for action against climate. Don't let in be in vain. Please support our new campaign to keep the pressure on world leaders for a real climate deal in 2010.

In the close to 40-year history of Greenpeace I am not aware of a single activist trying to avoid the legal consequences of his or her actions. Between the four of them, the "Red Carpet" group has five children, aged two to thirteen, and one pregnant partner. Denying these people release, thus keeping them away from their families over the holidays, for the crime of peaceful protest is a travesty of justice -- especially when world leaders who failed to stand up for the climate have been comfortably back home for days.

Let us hope that people will be inspired by these four brave souls who were not afraid to risk their freedom to demand real action against climate change. That people will make their own efforts to act against the greatest single threat we face and join the call for the prompt release of the Red Carpet Four and other peaceful climate protesters who are still detained.


 
 
 

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