Saturday, 19 December 2009

::19 12 09::

It had become almost routine when police decided that once again the peaceful protest outside the Bella Centre last Wednesday was immediately illegal. As they drew their batons and lay blows to the shoulders of unshielded activists the crowd had learnt after a week of similar encounters that linking arms was their only hope. Pepper spray was landed in the eyes of a 68-year-old Dutch woman and the chain broke when her husband and son ran to her rescue. As a similar fate met individuals who crossed the canal on an inflatable raft any sort of People’s Assembly clearly had to happen outside the centre’s grounds.

Two things wont be the same again after over 50000 activists came to Copenhagen for the UN conference on climate change: the ability to demonstrate against the state in Denmark and the shape of environmental activism to come.

For many, the purpose of the COP15 was to create a global environment movement that would continue to push for fair and sustainable solutions to climate change for the global south after this conference had ended. As news of the accord filters through the absence of such a deal means that a lot of fighting lies ahead. However, from now campaigners will feel an international family supports their efforts, thanks to the two weeks that grassroots organisations have spent learning from each other.

Now, delegates and demonstrators wait at plane and train stations for a ride home, ironically their journeys are being delayed by an extreme turn of cold weather. For activists, the new sense of collectively found here will feel warming. However, they leave behind them a debris of legal litter will make protesting in Denmark even harder.

The illiberal stance taken by police towards protesting made this occasion remarkable. The Danish government hurried through laws ahead of the conference that gave police powers of preventative arrest. Like a bull in a china shop, their powers were used to smash demonstrations and soon the temporary warehouse-prisons in the south of the city became full. Amnesty International have called for an independent investigation into the 1989 people who were arrested but not charged during the conference and other NGOs are writing letters of complaint to the Danish government.

Police led a persistent campaign to keep activist groups on edge. They targeted people who they thought were influential in the non-hierarchical activist network Climate Justice Action (CJA), and invaded activist parties with teargas and dogs ahead of Reclaim Power day last Wednesday.

Despite this, activists continued to show their strength to demonstrate in the face of demonization. Neither temperatures of minus 5 or the tight cage of police riots vans froze the day into a pathetic fallacy. Reclaim Power day was deemed a success by organisers.

The Dutch woman regained her vision again and said, “My family came here because this situation is too important to ignore. Copenhagen has started a new era for environmental activism.” The spray had left her with a white mask around her eyes. “Come on, it’s just a bit of pepper,” the seasoned campaigner said. For others, Copenhagen would have been their first taste of such encounters. They will take a lot of away from the last two weeks as their attention turns towards Mexico next year.

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