Branding of Hope and Repression
I tried to not put too much emphasis on this in the last post, but I think its worth taking a broad and all encompassing view of what happened, one that doesn’t divide the repression on the streets from either the actions of the Danish Government and United Nations staff inside the negotiations or from the issue of Climate Change.
Let us first of all set some markers in the ground. Scientists have caused us to realise that vast and cumulative CO2 emissions in the atmosphere are threatening our eco-systems and our way of life. But debate in Copenhagen was around very different issues. The real struggle was for sovereignty, for economic power in a post carbon world and for the ability to survive alongside richer countries. The protests were not a pat on the back of those acknowledging the problem, like some seemed prepared to offer.
We should also mark the extreme lengths to which corporations had gone to plaster messages across Copenhagen. It wasn’t just billboards, though these were many and plenty. It felt at times like the whole Copenhagen Metro had been bought out by mega-wind-generation company Vestas, so that when you stood on a platform in the city centre, right in front of you was a reminder that delegates should back Carbon Trading. Squares were filled with huge branded objects, exhibition trailers and more. The Hopenhagen moniker appeared everywhere, attached to a huge range of corporations. Our hope was to be in them, and they weren’t prepared to be called out as naked by any mere pleb passing by in the street.
What I’m trying to get at here is the level of choreography being worked out in the city, of which the police were merely one division. Delegates were supposed to be filled with enthusiasm for corporate solutions from the moment they awoke, realise the Nirvana of Carbon Trading as they ate breakfast, and simply embrace the lie. Anyone who attempted to set up an encounter, or interfere with that message would be thrown out of the conference, arrested or both. The battle was very largely around the message.
And so the repression focused around the message. Arrests of media spokes people, and threats of termination of press passes of those covering Friends of the Earth’s rejection from the conference made this very clear. Thus as Friends of the Earth, who’s entire delegation were refused access on the Wednesday, appealed to the press, no one would listen. It should be born in mind that these NGO delegates were not a discrete group, nor was there a firm divide between them and the protesters.
So the picture appeared something like this: in order to ensure a deal that America would sign and one that would make the name “Copenhagen” synonymous with the saving of planet earth and the establishment of a new capital-driven world order, countries like Ethiopia would need to be bribed, and those like Tuvalu, who have nothing to gain by accepting bribes, would need silencing. Those who supported them would need removing from the conference, or at least the real and present threat of such action to ensure they melted away and endorsed the deal (which many of those NGO’s not thrown out did do). Those who sought to find their voice in the streets would need to be silenced in other ways, discouraged from going into the streets.
The treatment of activists outside the summit, and the treatment of NGO activists inside the summit, and for that matter, the treatment of the weakest countries in the process, was all together a connected continuum. Just as many dissenting actors were covered by more than one label, the separation of NGOs and Activists being largely subjective, the repression too was also a continuum, and marked a distinct shift from a struggle around the science to one focusing on the solutions, be they designed to ensure profits for corporations or to maximise the potential for survival of the lowest and poorest states.
And so, by way of footnote, it was definitely right to hold a protest that decried both the repression and the outcomes of the Copenhagen Summit, not because we were bad losers, but because injustice matters. We certainly weren’t clear losers, there were no real winners or losers in Copenhagen.
But the securing the release of activists like Tadzio and Stine, both in jail at the time, was for that point in time, a critical marker along the way to turning the debate against those who wish to profit whilst the human habitat collapses. It was a march against the insanity of the situation, in which deals were struck that would consign millions to losing their land and their lives. Tadzio, Stine and the others might have been in cells for a few days, but the process inside the Bella Centre became more and more about repressing entire countries, entire swathes of humanity, as the process got more and more dictatorial.
The unjust power dynamics driving this crisis deeper and deeper were all encompassing. It is worth taking the situation and dealing with it as a whole, bringing into play a wider analysis of the world, in fact it will be hard to resolve the impasse in a just way if we don’t.