Frustrated by our lack of access to the formal meetings at Bella Center we took to the streets this morning as participant observers at the Reclaim Power! protest. This was a demonstration organized by Climate Justice Action, a Danish umbrella group that has been responsible for many of the spontaneous acts of civil disobedience during the past week.
According to the activists, the demonstration was designed to draw attention to what many here are describing as the “systematic exclusion” of civil society groups from the discussions. We’ve met with numerous people who have expressed frustration over what they call an “unjust and undemocratic UN process.” They feel passionately that developed countries, working in consort with the UN and under corporate pressure, have intentionally sidelined discussion of their top issues and denied them an opportunity to be heard.
The march began downtown early in the morning and gathered momentum over the course of a few hours. By the time we linked up with the protesters around 10:30AM they were an estimated 4,000 strong and were making their way to the Bella Center. The stated objective, very well publicized in advance, was to “reclaim the climate talks” from those with no interest in meaningful action but whose only motivation was the protection of corporate and political power.
The mood was forceful but peaceful. There was a massive media turnout and the police appeared to be cooperating.
This all changed very quickly.
By the time the demonstration reached its destination, a suburban corridor approximately 1 kilometre from the Bella Center, protest leaders began directing the crowd to push against the police line and to join their “brothers and sisters” at the main event.
Don’t be afraid, we are strong in our numbers, demand your voices be heard!
The whole world is watching, demand justice now!
And our personal favourite:
You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off your riot suit!
Equipped with billy clubs, helmets, pepper spray, and tear gas, police responded with brute force. After surrounding the protesters they declared the demonstration “illegal.” Next, they informed the crowd they would be moved forcefully if they did not leave on their own. As the police vans advanced, the protesters linked arms. Skirmishes ensued, pepper spray was shot indiscriminately, organizers were targeted and captured. Within minutes the demonstration had been transformed from a peaceful march into a violent and ugly mess.
We were fortunate enough to evade the worst of the melee. Observing from approximately 50 metres behind the police line, we struck up conversation with a very friendly local Dane who had also come to observe the demonstration. He was clearly distraught by what he had been watching.
“Welcome to the new Denmark,” he said.