by Rae Abileah
I arrived in Marrakech with bundles of climate ribbons carrying messages of loss and hope from all over the world. I was there for the COP 22 (official name: the 22nd Council of Parties), where last year’s historic Paris Accord would be hammered into concrete commitments to stop renegade climate chaos. Four days after my arrival, in the middle of negotiations, the US electoral map turned blood red before our eyes. What now? Our President-elect was a serial climate-denier who had also signed a letter with the business community acknowledging climate change as a very real and present threat. How could negotiations move forward with the US delegation now under such a cloud of uncertainty?
And at such a huge moment of grief, how could I imagine proceeding with our puny little Climate Ribbon ritual? Then I remembered that we created this ritual because of the need to grieve, not in spite of it. And so, despite wanting to curl up in bed morning after morning, I arose, and found ways to weave the Climate Ribbon into the Marrakech summit. Here are some snapshots from what became a surprisingly moving adventure.
The Climate Ribbon was featured at the Conference of Youth (COY) for the second year in a row. Before I could even finish setting up the lines of ribbon that we’d gathered at the Paris COY, students were already clustering around our table, clamoring to make ribbons. There is something irresistible about this project. Moroccan student groups from Casablanca, Agadir, and Marrakech made ribbons and strung them up as a group, exchanging ribbons and speaking aloud their stories. Organizers with the Moroccan chapter of Surfrider added their stories of love for the ocean. “The joy of sharing a smile with a stranger,” wrote 18 year old Marakshi student Mourad. “Espero que nunca perdamos nuestra paz, nuestra naturaleza, y que podemos agradecer a nuestro planeta por todo lo que nos da juntos [I hope that we never lose our peace, our nature, and that we are able to be grateful for our planet and all that it gives us.]” wrote one student from Argentina. Each ribbon told a unique and moving story: “I want to protect the future of my children and their children and the future of the earth” “Fresh air, trees, water, forests, bees, birds, nature, peace, space, liberty, possibility, justice, wildness…”
On the Saturday after the election, a 100-person-strong flash mob erupted in Jemaa el-Fna, in the heart of Marrakech calling for a 100% renewable future. At the rehearsal leading up to the action, I’d invited dancers to write on a ribbon a variation of the central Climate Ribbon question - “What do you love and hope to never lose to climate change?,” which was: “What are you dancing for?” During the flash mob, dancers raised their right hands into the sky to metaphorically point into the future, the bright yellow and orange ribbons shimmered in the sunlight: the collective answer: We are dancing for a world powered by the sun, not oil.
On Tuesday, I was invited to facilitate the ribbon ritual as part of the Episcopal Church’s daily meditation and prayer space inside the COP 22 green zone. Dozens of people flocked to the space to make, exchange, and read ribbons. Several student groups promised to start a Ribbon Tree on their campuses. I read aloud a ribbon from Hamid, who wrote, “I don’t want to lose beautiful nature because of shortage of rain in my home, Palestine. We have to fight against CO2 emissions and burning coal for power, and replace it with solar energy.” We closed the ritual with a reading on the day’s theme, sorrow, from Christian liturgy:
The holiness of lament... draws us into communion with all life. Today, how can we still our minds to meet our sadness with open hearts, courageously and faithfully venturing into the darkness before us?
We are now talking with several denominations about how to integrate the Climate Ribbon ritual into Sunday school activities, and make it a meaningful part of religious school curriculums across the world.
Throughout all these activities, I was reminded how the Climate Ribbon is a ritual of grief and loss, but also a ritual to reaffirm our hope and the possibility of renewal. A Berber activist shared with me that his family in the Atlas Mountains above Marrakech tie swaths of fabric to trees as a prayer for new mothers. In a similar fashion, could our Climate Ribbons help not just be present to hospice the rich diversity of life we are losing, but also painfully midwife into existence a new regenerative society, that plays well with nature and makes a home for all?
And how did negotiations move forward after the US election? US businesses urged Trump to stay the course with the global climate deal. Independent of the federal government, California, and other future-minded states and municipalities are moving forward with huge plans for transitioning to renewable energy. It’s helpful to remember that the US isn’t at the center of the world (though it may fancy itself as such). With or without Trump, the world is moving forward to solve the climate crisis. The Africa Renewable Energy Initiative could leapfrog the continent into renewables much as cell phones did for communications, skipping landlines altogether. But while some countries made meaningful financial commitments, there was nowhere near enough commitment made from rich countries to poorer nations.
During the final week of the COP22, Climate Action Network hosted an historic event that brought together governments, corporations, and organizations to advance a 100% renewable energy future, and a video of the flashmob was the finale of that event, sending a strong message to diplomats and CEOs that artists and cultural workers are also integral to this transformation.
One of my main takeaways from this (long, painful) election season, is about the power of story, myth-making, and cultural shift. For too long Democrats and “the left” have relied on facts and logic to try to win over voters. When was the last time you changed your mind about a big political issue because of rational reasoning? For many of us, it’s art, music, theater, novels, the stories our friends share, that help shift our thinking. And that’s why we created the Climate Ribbon to begin with – because we recognized the power of heart-centered story, of belonging, of connection, of communion.
Joe Hill said, “Don’t mourn, organize!” But this time around, I’m heartened to see that my fellow activists and friends are taking more of a “Mourn. Then organize!” approach. It will take both strong hearts and purposeful hands to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis and have a fighting chance at a habitable planet.
Donate to help us outreach to faith and organizing communities!
Download the DIY Climate Ribbon toolkit.
Make your own tree - here’s how.
Rae Abileah is a co-creator of the Climate Ribbon project. She lives in Denver, Colorado. @raeabileah