Copenhagen Review: The Outside Story

Monday, 28th December 2009 at 9:59 UTC Leave a comment

So I guess I should tell something of the outside story. Its not really my story, but rather an attempt to give a bigger picture based in part on what I saw myself. Copenhagen was a coming-out ceremony for the Global Climate Justice Movement, and presented its own challenges, even without the ridiculous intervention of the police.

I arrived on Thursday 10th, and by that point, the text of the KlimaForum Declaration (pdf) had been finalised, and they were collecting up signatures of groups and individuals who would support it. There hadn’t been much in the way of demonstrations, but a couple of police raids had already taken place and people were nervous.

I spent part of Friday watching a bit of the “Our Climate, Not Your Business” demonstration, which basically seemed to be being corralled on a bridge between Norrebro and Norreport, the main transport hub and modern shopping area. I actually located the demonstration using the time-honoured, “follow that chopper” method. Kind of like the Wise Men, I guess.

I ran over to the KlimaForum, and was met with the familiar sight of a Social Forum in full swing; stalls, leaflets and activists everywhere and total chaos, in the midst of which raged tough political debate. Around 8 rooms hosted timetabled sessions, a sports hall hosted 50 stalls, some of which I believe were occupied by more than one group across the two week period. Newspapers, such as the COP 15 Post and the Climate Herald (I think?) appeared whenever published – we were not short of news or views. Debates covered every facet of the climate debate, including a few ruled unsuitable for the official process in the Bella Centre just 6km away.

On Saturday, along with 35 members of the Time to Turn network (the Dutch part of the SPEAK network) I joined “The Flood”. Friends of the Earth do seem to have a thing about making a special case out of themselves, and so had to organise a separate event prior to the main march to the Bella Centre, the site of the negotiations. Rather than telling people to “Wear Blue”, the blue was attained by handing out hundreds of cheap blue waterproof ponchos, actually very effective. Someone even had an inflatable dingy in which they crowd surfed, occasionally sinking beneath the waves; it made the whole thing more surreal.

We arrived on Slotsplads (aka Parliament Square) to be greeted by an even bigger crowd. The demonstration was divided into blocs, with blocs supposed to have registered themselves so they could be given a number. This was good, because it was such a huge demonstration with so many different understandings of a “good march”, it was quite helpful to ensure everyone stayed with people who roughly agreed with them, and could thus enjoy “a good march” together! This would have worked better had people who showed up on the day been better informed in advance of the bloc options, with a few clearly perplexed by the bloc they found themselves in.

We headed out to the Cathedral Square to meet the rest of bloc 23, “The Countdown Bloc”, made of groups following Christian Aid’s  “Countdown to Copenhagen” pledge, and blessed by Archbishop Rowan Williams no less. Time to Turn had brought a 6 meter wide banner, much bigger than any Countdown group, so were asked to head up the block, giving a perfect marker for the width we should form. They brought a load of empty cans and barrels converted to play Junkyard Samba. They also brought some brilliantly selected songs, mostly vocal-heavy songs crying for justice, many from Africa.

Just as we finally managed to move through the square, we realised the “System Change Not Climate Change” sound trucks were behind us, so we let them past. The trucks, though in the wrong place to start with, were well managed, presented a clear message incorporating a call to non-violence amongst protesters and some brilliant speakers from Via Campesina, the peasants network who would play a large role throughout the week.

At about the same time, a largish group of Black Bloc appeared and so we stopped our bloc to let them past. Barely 100meters ahead of us, we heard the ominous booms of improvised sound grenades. I spun round, being quite exposed ahead of our front banner, but took a deep breath and announced very loudly that this was “only fireworks”, no need to panic, and we’d stay put whilst the group moved on. The grenades were thrown towards the police, who ran for cover, letting other members of the black bloc smash the windows of the stock exchange. By all means, loathe the tactic, but one has to admit the precision and coordination is embarrassingly good when compared to, say, Climate Camp UK’s best efforts.

The march wound on for 4 miles, and I shall save you all the tales except the least pleasant. As we reached the start of the Island on which the Bella Centre stands, suddenly a bunch of police vans flashed into view, cutting off the demonstration. We pulled to a halt at the junction where the police had appeared, and became witnesses to what would be one of the biggest and most sinister mass arrests in European history. Every single one of the 750 people in the stretch of road was handcuffed and removed on coaches. Shock and Awe policing sums it up nicely.

After seeing Archbishop Desmond Tutu and attending the service in the cathedral, I took a bunch of people over to the forum to look around, whilst others visited Christiania and the Climate Bottom (opposite to a Climate Summit). I went the next day, and enjoyed hearing some contributions and presentations, some of which were a bit nuts, but most of which made reasonable sense.

During Monday there was a large and very successful No Borders demonstration, in which a very large Siemens branded inflatable globe was dragged through the streets and dumped in the harbour. The demonstration was harassed by police all day, but eventually got where it was headed.

Wednesday saw the “Reclaim Power: Pushing for Climate Justice” demonstration, the focal point of the protest series. After failing to enter, and a period in which I ended up outside the police cordon, thinking everyone else would be arrested (its not paranoia if you’ve seen it 4 days earlier!) and then a quick maneouver and we were dragging people across an impromptu bridge in the swamp, then another shift and we were eating food at the food van. All very bizarre.

Eventually it became clear the protest was going no where and so we clambered back through the bog to join the “People’s Assembly”. We managed to mix passionate protest with a reasoned debate in a way I hadn’t seen done before, and I enjoyed engaging with the process, even though it was a little rushed and quite biased towards certain groups who had obviously stuck around. We then marched the 6km back to the city. I then grabbed food and nearly slept through the evening briefing.

Friday we marched to denounce the COP and the Cops, calling for the release of the climate prisoners from jail, and the planet from human self-interest. I perhaps paint the integration of the two strands too well for what actually happened on the ground, but it was clear that that was what we were getting at.

I said this would cover the outside process, and I haven’t really done that. Two large convergence centres drew together several thousand activists, and a large sports complex provided the space for the forum, along with a building called the Oxnehalle (cattle shed, we think), in which the COP proceedings were projected 24hours a day, to whoever was watching. Food was most often readily available from a range of outlets provided from inside the movement, though I didn’t use these all that much.

As to the political vibe. We’d started the conference with two very separate networks in which most of the “real activists” were involved; Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now. By the end of the week, the differences could be summed up as “CJN thinks Southern governments have a role to play inside the movement, CJA just thinks they’re temporary allies”. We started with a push to get the Climate Justice concept pushed to the top of the public agenda, and thoroughly succeeded, leaving pro-offsetting WWF feeling a little lonely, but a situation that FOE and others seemed to like.

The Forum Declaration was printed up and handed out towards the end of the fortnight, and I’m still digesting it, but my first reading is that it is a very comprehensive document, not so much a manifesto, but a good indication of where things are at. I would encourage you to sign your organisation to it (but not local P&P, WDM, etc. groups, as those networks have mostly already signed).

The title is “System Change Not Climate Change”, and it was an interesting reflection of the way the debate shifted. Very clearly the entire COP process left many who had been trying to engage it so pissed off at the obvious corruption within that they were happy to acknowledge Capitalism and Statism as the problem behind the continuing crisis. No one, except for the very small number of major NGO’s who are so bought-out by corporate interests as to be almost useless, was happy to defend offsetting.

“No Offsetting, Climate Justice Now! Another World is Possible and we know how!”

“Our Climate, Not Your Business!”

This was clearly an awakening to the economic roadblocks to fixing this crisis. Indeed, a real sense of consensus arose around them. The process hasn’t ended, though, as denoted by Climate Justice Now’s 7 hours meeting (no lunch breaks) on the Saturday, and which I managed to almost enjoy. I guess I don’t get enough of mass-participatory processes in my life these days, so it was great to revisit the concept in Copenhagen with such a diverse number of people.

We saw representatives of people groups who had no official representative, unless you can claim Evo Morales covers all Indigenous populations (you can’t!), and many of the groups brought very difficult and intricate stories with them. It was a reminder that Northern/Western Activists so very often end up campaigning on a very abstract level simply because we don’t have any one oppression close enough to home to focus on instead. Not everyone who I encountered was even really a climate activist, many were activists in campaigns very closely tied to the climate, to fossil resource extraction and in which solving Climate is a pre-requisite for survival. People backed the Tar Sands campaign as one amongst many.

But also importantly, we partied. On the Friday night, KlimaForum hosted a big party that felt like a who’s who of NGO-based protesters. On Saturday we were invited to a party at Folketshus in Norrebro, in the corner of Copenhagen that first became my “home from home” 16 months ago. I almost cried when I remembered just how far things had come and how long it had taken. The party was definitely activist through-and-through, with the dance floor erupting into rounds of “A Anti Anticapitalista” as we drank into the night. And sort-of-but-not-quite-centre-stage in the whole evening was a very emotional Tadzio, fresh out of jail. The champagne appeared and we celebrated the founding, or maybe just the globalisation, if that’s not too dirty a word, of the climate justice movement. And then we melted away, each taking our different routes back into the wider world to continue the process, the story, the struggle…


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Free Space, Participation, Politics.

Copenhagen Review: The Inside Story Branding of Hope and Repression

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