This intervention unleashed a fantasy: A minister, a high level delegate or maybe even a world leader might have sat on the toilet of the Climate Change Conference in Paris (hopefully to take a shit), and at that very private and intimate moment, he or she might have found the roll of toilet paper with the IPCC report printed on it, with the subtle and explicit message to #giveashit and stop wiping his or her ass with the science.
It probably happened.
And if it didn’t, it doesn’t matter, because the fantasy in itself is a powerful form of protest.
(Clarification) I am a visual artist and my involvement with climate activism is recent. This was my first time inside a UN Climate Conference.
First lesson: Don’t become a party delegate.
I was granted an accreditation to the COP21 as a member of the Peruvian delegation. I got a pink badge, not yellow, not orange, not blue, pink. It’s not that I dislike pink, it’s just that I didn’t know that having a pink badge meant that if I did any action inside the conference I could damage the position of the entire Peruvian delegation. If I was from the USA or Saudi Arabia –countries obstructing the negotiations– I would have used those powers but Peru is a very vulnerable and poor country, so I decided to avoid the risk and carry out the action anonymously.
Second lesson: Avoid NGO’s.
Three hundred toilet paper rolls arrived at a friend’s address a week before the conference. No matter how, they had to be used inside. Since I became anonymous and invisible, I needed a partner to take the lead and carry out the action. So I got in touch with the biggest network of environmental NGO’s, also the coordinator of the NGO’s constituency to the UNFCCC. They proposed to organize an action at the doors of the bathrooms close to the main plenary rooms. When the negotiators would come out of a meeting, which normally last hours, and run to the bathrooms, a group of people would stand there and hand the rolls directly over to the negotiators.
We needed an official authorization of the UN secretary to do an action like that, and they didn’t want to apply for it. So after wasting the entire first week negotiating with NGO’s, I stopped pursuing the official channels, and decided to carry out the action without permission. After all, change never starts by asking permission.
Third lesson: Don’t ask for permission. Nothing good comes from it.
I decided to stick with my original plan and I knew that by doing that, the project will not have the same media impact and outreach. But it will preserve its artistic potential.
Fourth lesson: Create a myth. It builds up on expectation and participation.
I had been in contact with other networks, inside and outside the Conference. I talked about the toilet paper many times to different groups and individuals. The story started to spread out, which helped on building expectation and participation.
Fifth lesson: Join only circular assemblies.
I learned that the way an organization or a group gathers reveals its structure, hierarchies, and its fundamental objectives. Large and more established NGO’s gather in big halls, in a theater composition, the speaker on one side and the public on the other. Grassroots and activists groups always gather in circles, in a non-hierarchical way. At the end, these groups were the ones that got the toilet rolls inside.
The plan was to anonymously and disobediently sneak as many rolls as possible inside the Climate Conference and flood the toilets with them.
This had to be done with the help of many participants. The toilet paper roll was an unauthorized object of protest, and was not allowed inside. So people had to take the risk of putting one or more rolls into their bags and bringing them inside, through high security controls.
About 60 people came one morning to pick up the rolls outside the conference center. Together, we sneaked about 150 rolls and at 12:30 exactly we put them inside the bathrooms, all at the same time.
Seventh lesson: Art has an incredibly important role in the way we shape our resistance.
The climate change conference ended. What we heard from the mainstream media was that Paris delivered an historic agreement that would change the world. But if you look at the science and look at the agreement there’s no correlation. The agreement is full of promises and no concrete actions, and there’s no way to make governments legally accountable for not delivering their promises. The agreement is a sleazy way to keep people soothed and confident that the world would be saved, while governments keep doing what they’ve been doing so far: feeding frantic capitalism.
Politicians are still wiping their ass with the science, like they’ve been doing all the way through.
The world is now more than ever in need for creative, artistic and innovative ways to resist the failing political and economic system.