ed Helvetica, medications sans-serif; font-size: 12px;”>Reclaim Power Climate Justice Action at Cop15
On Wednesday the 16th of December the Reclaim Power! demo was due to hit the streets surrounding the Bella Centre (where the Cop15 was being held). The highlight of the Climate Justice Action calendar, it was towards this that the majority of British activists who had travelled as part of Climate Camp were working over the preceding days and with this in mind we retired to bed in a slightly wary frame of mind the night before. I’ve been the subject of a midnight raid before, and let me tell you, it’s pretty discombobulating to be woken by someone screaming in your ear “POLIIIIIIIIICE” as you scramble to take stock of the situation whilst pulling together some decent happy-to-be-arrested-in clothing (I was one of the 114 people arrested in the Iona School in Nottingham last April). This time I wasn’t so worried as we’d seen nothing of the police out at Voldparken, but when I awoke before daybreak and wandered bleary eyed betwixt bed and portaloo in my sexy checked pyjamas I was greeted by some friendly coppers at the exit, who had been sent to search everyone as they left the building. “Where are you going today?” “Oh, you know, just off to hang out in Copenhagen for a bit.” At 6am. There were plenty of ways we could have escaped without being checked if we’d wanted to, but it seems that coppers everywhere are, well, just a bit thick really.
It was a long cold ride into Copenhagen with my Bike Bloc affinity group (a trusted collective of people who have agreed to stick together and look after one another through an action), and from there onwards to the island where the Bella Centre is located. Unfortunately part of our group had decided to go on ahead without us and whilst we were waiting for them on a corner in a vaguely interest-arousing manner we were stopped and searched. This was not exactly unexpected, but one of our members had rather stupidly brought a map with him that had segments drawn onto it around the Centre, and for this he was detained immediately – a short day for him, straight to the holding cells.
The rest of us quickly cycled onwards and were soon turning in circuits around the residential backstreets near the Bella Centre, at first trying to evade the many many police vans patrolling the streets (a Netto supermarket proved a good venue to hide in at one point, the bemused staff unsure how to react), but eventually just giving ourselves up to the patrols – thereby delaying the police and hopefully preventing them from harassing other activists, particularly those in the Green Bloc who would be using more direct means to scale the fences of the centre. (So the theory went, we later learned they were all arrested long before they got anywhere near the perimeter.) One *lovely* officer even offered to kiss me, as you can hear in my audiocast here.
Just as the police decided that they had had enough of our tactics the Blue March drew up to the main gates and suddenly the Bike Bloc was there to get ahead of them and blockade the road, giving them space to breath on one side.
It’s quite hard to provide an overall analysis of what happened next as there was so much going on at once and even though I did my usual mad dashing about the place, of course I couldn’t cover it all. As the marchers formed a blockade (video here) and attempted to breach the gates we continued to hold the space on one side. I witnessed a man climb on top of a police van, only to be beaten with a baton then hauled down, and I repeatedly saw people being pulled from the crowd with reddened faces, weeping from the pepper spray that was being squirted with abandon at peaceful protestors on the front line.
At our end there was far less aggression from the police, who seemed fairly bemused by our tactics, especially the ‘Santa Block‘ who cycled in circles chanting “ho ho ho”. Here’s an especially good video of me wobbling along on my bike as I try to tour between the two, nearly crashing into someone in the process. Between this a group of Climate Camp activists launched what looked like a large inflatable lilo over their heads towards the Bella Centre perimeter and indeed there was soon a ‘lilo bridge‘ angled across the moat into the scrubland surrounding the Bella Centre. Unfortunately this highly inventive approach to getting inside was destined to be thwarted by circumstances, as those who reached the other side were promptly arrested by a squad of riot cops.
There was poetry, dancing in the street and even a call for the cops to give an activist a hug (amusing audioblog here) – all as we waited (since we couldn’t get in ourselves) to hear whether the delegates inside the Cop15 would be able to march out and join us for the planned People’s Assembly. It looked increasingly unlikely that they would be able to do so: we were later to find out the extreme lengths to which the police went to prevent them from leaving the Bella Centre – for shocking footage of the bassist in my band Green Kite Midnight being beaten with a baton see this Guardian video. At about 7 minutes in Tim can clearly be seen mouthing the words “peaceful protest” as he is whacked. He has had his fractured arm in a cast since then.
Instead activists from all over the world sat in circles on the cold road, discussing in groups of a dozen or so, how real life grassroots solutions could be applied to the crises that we face. For video footage of this see here. But the light was failing and all too soon it was over and the decision made to march back into central Copenhagen. By this point I was seriously cold and had a very wet foot due to running around in the scrubland and stepping into an icy cold bog. As the sky turned into a beautiful orange haze over the Bella Centre the Bike Bloc attempted to decide on a course of action, but a lack of clarity about how or what we should do led to a random diversion for some back onto the scrubland where we were immediately met by police on horseback. I decided to call it a day and together with Dave headed back towards the Klimaforum in search of a hot cup of tea and a radiator on which to dry my socks and shoes.
The following day a few Climate Campers decided that we should not leave Copenhagen without holding some kind of camp (since that’s what we’ve become so well known for), so in the evening about 50 of us rocked up to Hopenhagen, where we popped open a few tents (video here) and stood around chanting and thinking, ho hum, what shall we do next? Having been autonomously organised it wasn’t exactly the most considered of actions, but it was an interesting experiment in seeing how the police would react to a completely impromptu non-violent occupation. They started off on quite an aggressive footing, with one snatching a tent and ineffectually putting it into the bin, from whence it was speedily retrieved.
The brainchild of the action declared his ambition to stay put through the entire night (before popping open a can of beer) – not a desire shared by the majority present, what with the sub zero temperatures and lack of planning. However first there was some fun to be had in disrupting a television programme being broadcast from inside one of the alien green boxes – where a smarmy looking presenter caked in make up with slicked back hair (a man, I might add) steadfastly ignored the Caution: Greenwash banner being held up behind his head. I wasn’t sure what exactly this action was meant to achieve but was assured that this particular TV channel had been misrepresenting activists in its coverage, and that since they were talking about the Cop15 it was an ideal place to get our message across. By this point the cops had relaxed and we got into some entertaining conversations with them about the efficacy of our actions.
Suddenly Tim was at my shoulder, one-handedly suggesting that we do a ceilidh, since Green Kite Midnight has always held ceilidhs at Climate Camp actions. But, there was only the two of us out of a band of six, no instruments and no amplification. Not a problem. Tim whipped out his harmonica, and laughing, I managed to call several dances, yelling from atop a concrete pillar holding aloft the giant Hopenhagen balloon above our heads. You can see footage here, but be warned, I’m loud – filming whilst calling being an up close and personal affair.
It was then back to an amusing last evening at the Voldparken School, what with an impromptu music video shot in one of the disused laboratories and a full on rave held in one of the air-locked antechambers far into the night, where I espied our ambitious young activist in the wee hours. The police gave him a lift all the way back to the school, keen to see both him and his tents dispatched safely back to the far reaches of the suburbs!
One of the final things I did in Copenhagen was to visit their most famous landmark; the mermaid, of course. It was beyond bitingly cold, and as I admired her temporary cohorts, some frozen penguins, I considered the probability of losing both my fingers and my toes to frostbite. Visitors from all over the world clearly saw this spot as the most emblematic place to stage a protest and during the short time we were there they came in their dozens with placards held aloft, cameras at the ready. Behind the Little Mermaid another special Cop15 sculpture reared out of the grey waves, a grotesquely oversized woman sat astride the shoulders of a skinny little man – the ‘Survival of the Fattest’ by Jens Galschiot and Lars Calmar.
After cleaning up our accommodation (surreal audiocast of me peeling up the masking tape used to mark the fire lanes in our room here) as best we could the coach ride home from Copenhagen was, how shall I put it… interesting. Even though I decided early on (as we sat delayed, due to snow, in a traffic jam into Calais) to practice the art of zen, I, along with everyone else, was starting to lose the will to live by the time we had sat in a car park in Dover for several hours whilst our increasingly irate drivers tried to figure out where their relief drivers were to ferry us the last hour home to London, eventually both completely losing their rag and threatening to kill their employers.
Since I got home there has been plenty of editorial commentary on what happened inside the Cop15 summit and what exactly our actions did or didn’t achieve. From my point of view (and maybe I should keep this to myself), I didn’t ever for one moment think that we would actually get into the Bella Centre – it was immensely well fortified and we didn’t have the strength in numbers or ability to get inside – so I wasn’t exactly surprised when we didn’t. As a whole it was quite hard to take part in the Climate Justice Action pre-planning meetings because of the distance between activist venues, which I think resulted in many people thinking that others would be more organised than themselves and lead the way. The Bike Bloc felt a bit disparate – we lost half our affinity group, split up and regrouped several times – taking our lead from the people around us rather than from the pre-planned messages that I was expecting to be sent out via text. It was a shame that Double Trouble (confiscated earlier in the week by the police looking for our fictional “machine of resistance”) and the Sound Swarm never made it to the gates, (at least not to my knowledge). As usual we were underprepared to make fast decisions, which led to a confused ending to the Bike Bloc during the final march away from the Bella Centre. On the plus side the Bike Bloc was massively effective in blockading the street and confusing the police, and was a beautifully mobile way to take part in the action – I think it will lead to further creative direct action on bikes in the future.
On a wider scope, although many people were seriously disappointed that we were unable to get into the Bella Centre to hold the People’s Assembly as promised, I feel that our very presence served to highlight the inequality of the whole Cop15 process, which has only now begun to filter down to those disappointed NGOs who were so certain they could use the current ways of meeting to facilitate meaningful change. Because I never for one moment believed that any good decisions could come out of the Cop15 I felt more than vindicated by the dismal outcome, but for many of the NGOs who were excluded from the Bella Centre it must have been a wake up call and one can only hope they have been radicalised. We were there to show that there is a strong global grassroots movement ready to challenge the accepted status quo, and those relationships cultivated on the front line will be crucial in taking creative action in 2010. System Change Not Climate Change now feels firmly on the agenda. I feel as though this is just the beginning…
Read Part 1 of my trip to Copenhagen here: wherein I describe our journey over by coach.
Read Part 2 of my trip to Copenhagen here: wherein I attend lots of actions and fix up my bike.
- Climate Camp goes to COP15 in Copenhagen December 2009, Part 2
- Climate Camp goes to COP15 in Copenhagen December 2009, Part 1
- Operation Bike Bloc: Designing the Resistance Machine!
- Warm-up for Copenhagen!
- Climate Camp Regional Gatherings