French activists lead March of Portraits to challenge empty rhetoric on climate action

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Press conference at the end of the #MarcheDesPortraits in Bayonne. Image: Alternatiba_/Twitter

Here's an inspiring idea to think about in the lead-up to the October 21 federal election.

Several activist groups in France began a months-long civil disobedience campaign last February and saw the culmination of their efforts at the G7 summit this past weekend.

Their campaign involved removing portraits of the French president from city halls across the country and then marching with them -- held upside down -- near the summit venue with the chant: "Climate and social justice: Macron is failing, let's take him down!"

The #MarcheDesPortraits, as it is known on Twitter, was organized by ANV Action non-violente COP21, Bizi and Alternatiba.

Activists affiliated with those groups walked into city halls -- beginning in Paris, Lyon, Ustaritz and Biarritz -- and took down official portraits of French President Emmanuel Macron.

By the time of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, the Décrochons Macron! (Take Down Macron!) movement had taken down at least 128 portraits of Macron from across the country.

Then on August 25, activists marched with the portraits held upside down in Bayonne, located about 8 kilometres by bicycle from the luxury resort where the leaders were meeting.

Apart from the clever word play of "taking down" Macron, the blank spaces where the portraits had hung also symbolized the emptiness of Macron's rhetoric on environmental action and the absence of actual policies to address the climate crisis.

That's an emptiness that will feel familiar to people in this country who have read statements by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

When the portraits were removed, they were replaced with messages including, "Climate, social justice, where is Macron? CETA: no thank you."

CETA refers to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement that both Macron and Trudeau support.

On its webpage describing the "Opportunities and Benefits of CETA for Canada's Oil and Gas Exporters," Global Affairs Canada has highlighted, "The EU is the world's largest importer of oil and gas products, with imports totalling $336 billion in 2016."

In terms of fossil fuel subsidies, there is of course the Trudeau government's $4.5-billion purchase of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline, but let's not forget its federal election pledge in 2015 based on a G20 pledge from 2009.

In the lead-up to the October 2015 election, the Liberals promised, "We will fulfill our G20 commitment and phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium-term."

Just a few months later, in March 2016, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr stated that now is "not the moment" to ramp back subsidies given a global glut in supply and a drop in per-barrel price.

Then in May 2017 the National Observer reported, "Finance Canada has no plan to keep Canada's international promise to phase out inefficient oil and gas industry subsidies by 2025."

By July 2018, the Huffington Post was reporting that, "The Overseas Development Institute, a U.K. think tank, published a report last month showing Canada leads the G7 in subsidies for oil and gas industries as a share of the country's economy."

And this past March, now that we are in an election year, Environment Canada stirred our souls with this important announcement: "Canada has made important progress on that commitment with the rationalization of eight tax expenditures for the fossil fuel sector to date that eliminate preferential tax treatment for the sector."

The media release does not specify how much of a reduction, if any, that "rationalization" means for its annual $3.3-billion subsidy to big oil and gas.

Nor does it even begin to tackle the $10 billion provided to oil and gas companies every year by Export Development Canada, an enterprise wholly owned by the Government of Canada.

If we are to avert further climate breakdown, it would seem that we first have to pierce the lies that governments spin to even get to the point of meaningful action being possible.

Our friends in France helped to do that in a creative way.

ANV-COP 21 says that 85 activists have been arrested for portrait theft, with 45 of them set to stand trial in the coming months.

To  see more photos and short videos of the march on the ANV-COP 21 Twitter feed, please click here.

Brent Patterson is an activist-blogger who writes this monthly column on inspiring stories of global resistance to neoliberalism and climate change.

Image: Alternatiba_/Twitter

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