I spent most of 2021 planning for COP in Glasgow, I helped to organise an interfaith pilgrimage from London and Bristol all the way to Glasgow. I stayed in Glasgow for the duration of the conference, along with many other activists peacefully holding space in the streets. On the last night of the conference I took part in an overnight interfaith vigil with many of the people I’d travelled with in the previous months. We lit candles and sat together and took turns to walk silently in small groups down to the conference centre with our placards and send our love to the people inside who were working on getting a deal. I remember being disconnected from everything in Glasgow – but I cried that night. I cried leaning against the chain link fence, where we had tied our ribbons with their messages of hope. I cried as dawn broke with all the anger I felt there being so little to show for our year of efforts.
It took me several months after coming back to recover from being away for so long, and from the heartbreak of another COP opportunity wasted. And life turned again, I had to find work, retrain, and reorientate my life. And so this year I’ve been far less aware of COP, and it’s taken me a while to find space to stop and breathe and allow myself the openness to engage a little with what is happening. COP is happening in Egypt this year from the 6-18th of November. And there will be vigils once again.
I go through cycles in my relationship with activism. Sometimes the scale of the challenge seems so vast, and the immediate results so vague and minimal that my motivation dwindles. But what I come back to is that just because I live in a world of complex political, social and economic systems – it doesn’t let me off the hook from engaging. I can’t control what happens in the outside world, but I can choose to turn towards suffering. To witness it. To be present for it. I can choose that.
There were emails fluttering into my inbox about COP, about vigils, and about political prisoners in Egypt and it’s taken me a while to turn towards that suffering. I was sent this article about COP by Naomi Klein about what it means to have COP in Egypt.
The Egyptian communities and organisations most affected by environmental pollution and rising temperatures will be nowhere to be found in Sharm el-Sheikh. There will be no toxic tours, or lively counter-summits, where locals get to school international delegates behind their government’s PR. Organising events like this would land Egyptians in prison for spreading “false news” or for violating the protest ban.Naomi Klein
In the article, she focuses on a British-Egyptian citizen Abd El-Fattah who is being held in prison in Egypt on terrorism charges for a post he made on social media about torture. He is a pro-democracy activist and figurehead of the 2011 uprising. A book of his writing, many of which were smuggled out of prison, has just been published. It is called You Have Not Yet Been Defeated (the title of this blog post). The title reminds me that I am not in prison, and I can speak out, and that there is still hope.
So I’ve bought the book. And I’ve signed up for some vigil slots. And so my COP this year is going to be less on the streets. But I do want to use this as an opportunity for myself to turn towards suffering, particularly the intersection of political struggle and climate. I’m grateful for all the activist work that is happening, often at much greater cost than I face when I go to the streets or even when I am arrested. This year I’m going to spend some time understanding more about what is happening in Egypt, and sharing that with people when I have the opportunity.
If you would like to take part in the daily vigils in London they will be outside the Carriage Gate entrance to Parliament between 1 and 2pm daily between 6th and 18th November – more information here. Sarah MacDonald is also organising a daily vigil between 1200 and 1300 on College Green in Bristol during COP and you can contact her at email@example.com for more information.