Activists, Officials Disagree Over Future of Massive Paris Climate March

The French prime minister says the demonstrations are off, while organizers say they will go ahead as planned

Climate activists are adament that the protests surrounding the COP21 will go on as planned. Credit: Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune/AP

In the wake of the worst terrorist attack on France since World War II, climate activists are vowing to forge ahead with plans to stage demonstrations during the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21), even as French officials have promised a crack down.

"COP21 can not take place without the participation or without the mobilizations of civil society in France," Coalition Climat 21, the umbrella organization for more than 130 groups planning to participate in the protests, said in a statement Monday.

In a radio interview earlier that day, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls asserted that the talks not only can go on without protest activity – they will. "A series of demonstrations planned will not take place and it will be reduced to the negotiations," Valls said. "A lot of concerts and festivities will be canceled."

After a hastily called cabinet meeting late Friday night, the French government rolled out expanded police powers for Paris and its suburbs, including the temporary closure of "places of public assembly." The same evening, Paris police announced public demonstrations were suspended until further notice.

Past reports forecasted that Paris would be the site of "non-violent direct action on a scale Europe has not seen before." Those plans have been thrown into disarray by the coordinated attacks that left more than 120 dead Friday.

Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, told Rolling Stone via email Tuesday, "Our staff and allies in Paris are still meeting with the French authorities to determine what large scale demonstrations we can pull off. We fully support the French government's focus on a safety--just as we oppose any unnecessary crackdowns on civil liberties and minority communities."

The long-planned climate march, in which some 200,000 people had been expected to snake through the streets of Paris the day before the climate talks begin on November 30, will go ahead as planned, Henn said.

Pathway to Paris, a concert 350.org is helping organize, featuring Thom Yorke, Patti Smith and Flea, as well as activists like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and Vandana Shiva, is also expected to take place as planned, on December 4 and 5.

"We feel the urgency to come together and build a global movement for climate justice, recognizing that climate change and its challenges interconnects us all,"Pathway to Paris co-founder Rebecca Foon said in an email.

One activist told The Guardian after meeting with the French foreign minister Monday that a scaled-down rally in the Paris suburbs "would not be acceptable."

The fate of smaller-scale demonstrations remains to be seen. On Monday, activists from a broad range for groups that had planned to participate in direct actions around the climate talks met to discuss the best way forward.

Alice Jay, campaign director for Avaaz, says the details are still being worked out after the meeting. "We reaffirmed our commitment to doing all we can to ensure that Paris will join cities around the world in hosting a safe, inspiring and open march on November 29th, and will be discussing possibilities with the authorities over the coming days," she tells Rolling Stone.

Coalition Climat 21 said in a statement its members will "implement all our efforts to hold all the mobilizations currently planned."