Vulnerability is Strength

by Kaydrianne Young

I’m in Chapeaux sitting in this room whose stone lined interior was laid by altruism and I’m looking around at a sea of inquisitive faces and I think to myself, damn, I made it! I learned about the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change years ago, but I never envisioned myself actually being able to participate in a convention. I never envisioned myself being courageous enough to hear about an amazing opportunity like the Gulf South Rising Delegation to COP 21, make a cold call into the office and then hop on a flight to make the mandatory training 4 days later. I never thought I would be in this room on the receiving end of smiles like sunshine and hugs that feel like returning home. But there I was, pretending that the whole experience didn’t feel like déjà vu.

I quickly learned that this group plays no games as we dove into a loaded conversation about safety in Paris after citizens were killed in a terrorist attack. It is undeniable that across the globe people of color are disproportionately affected by systemic oppression and individual aggression without impunity. Again, un-dis-put-able fact. With that in mind, we discussed how members of our delegation would be unduly targeted by law enforcement in the event that we participated in direct actions which, at the time, were counteracted with varying levels of force because of the terrorist attack on Paris. The underlying assumption of this conversation was that POC were defenselessly vulnerable in the face of racial profiling. Brother Eric challenged that assumption by pointing out that as a result of a surviving a lifetime of racial profiling POC are stronger and extremely capable of navigating escalating situations. The sentiment echoed and we decided that we need not let fear confine our experience in Paris. We should feel free. Although, it was decided that our group would not participate in any rogue direct actions, highlighting our strength in the face of violence was deep. Vulnerability is resilience. It is a reservoir of strength.

Throughout COP 21 (and my life as an angsty 25 year old), I experienced several moments of extreme cognitive dissonance. Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director for the Center for Science and the Environment, India was speaking about his work and how the ongoing negotiations would impact his community. Speaking truth to power he said that as negotiators push for the political (not scientific) goal of curtailing global warming under 2 degrees, the South Indian city of Chennai is being flooded by a devastating downpour. He said that this 2 degrees is a death sentence that cements the Global South as a sacrifice zone and upholds the privilege of the Global North. As the severity of his statement set in, it sucked the air out of the room. And rightfully so.

At that moment, I felt so helpless. Here I was at what is supposed to be one of the pinnacles of the environmental movement, but there were so many aspects of COP 21 experience that were disempowering. I was not a part of the official negotiation process, I could not safely demonstrate, the climate generations area (which was sponsored by a huge energy company) wasn’t conducive to genuine and deep connection despite the fact that it attracted passionate people from all over the world. As someone who believes in the intrinsic beauty and importance of nature, but organizes for climate justice, what was I supposed to do with this information other than be angsty and disaffected? It was at that moment that I realized that I wasn’t at COP 21 to have my fears about how the changing climate disproportionately affects my people assuaged by the signing of an accord, I went to get fired up.