Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick! Something wild happened on the way to the Bella Center today. While things were relatively quiet at the COP15, it was anything but in the streets of Copenhagen. Tens of thousands of protesters from around the world gathered in front of Denmark’s Parliament building throughout the morning with designs on making the nearly 5 mile hike to the climate change conference’s headquarters at the Bella Center and letting conference delegates know just how disappointed they are in the current track the negotiations are taking. Several hours and a few police stand offs later, most of them had made it save for the 900 or so that were arrested along the way.
As the two-week conference wrapped up for the day and officially concluded its first week, the streets around the center were electric with protest- large fires burning in the middles of some roads, music blasting, beer flowing and the occasional shouts of “Revolution!” ringing out in the cold December night.
Operation Copenhagen was on the scene bright and early, making it to the square in front of the Parliament building before most of the crowds arrived. Bundled against the cold and waiting things out on a near-by bridge, a group of Japanese tourists hoping to see some protesters while on holiday had also showed up early. Upon seeing us they figured the action was about to begin. Regretfully, I informed them that I was a man of words, a professional journalist from the great state of California. They found this funny and one of them, smiling wildly and laughing at me, responded, “But you look like activist. Are you sure you are no activist?”
Mistaken identities aside, the real thing was not very far away and soon the tourist ate his words as a “flood” of some 3,000 people wearing blue ponchos swarmed the square in front of Parliament(The location had a great deal of historical relevance going for it as it was the place where, in June of 1849, mobs of disillusioned working class Danish people assembled to call out King Fredrick VII and demand a piece of the leadership pie.). The swarming blue meanies were part of Friends of the Earth International and they were there to demand climate justice and, more specifically, to call bullshit on the notion of carbon offsetting- a popular method being explored by the COP15 that allows big polluting countries like the U.S. to achieve target reduction goals by paying for carbon credits from smaller, less polluting and often less financially endowed countries.
With activist actors manning a “Global Offsetting Station” and shouting sarcastic things into microphones in thick Eastern European accents like, “Who needs climate justice? We are capitalists.” and “Do you have carbon emissions problem? No worries. Just buy your permit here. It’s ok, it’s magic, your emissions will disappear.”, the flooding ponchos stormed the station and a celebration began.
From there, after a short speech from Friends of the Earth International leadership, the protest turned in to a feel good dance party of sorts with whistles blowing, drums banging and flags waving. And while it may have looked like a celebration to the many police officers looking on it was really just the slow marination of a massive march. As the morning wore on, people kept arriving to the square and while the umbrella purpose was climate action, the divergent interests showing up to have their voices heard was impressive.
From Communist groups and Greenpeace to radical vegetarians and a pro-Iranian crew, there were not many activist sub groups without representation in the march. There was also a team of flaming panda bears, a huge melting snowman, Tibetan monks, thousands of well-meaning regular folks and, of course, the hard core, punk rock looking, often mulleted AND mow-hawked “kids in black” who carry anarchy in their backpacks and wear a serious look of dissent on their face 24/7. Surveying the crowd just as the march got underway, I promised myself I would have an escape route planned at all times for the rest of this conference no matter where I was.
In the end, authorities reported that most of the 900 that were detained were released before charges were ever filed. As a spokesperson for the police put it, these well-intentioned people were hand-cuffed and thrown in blacked-out paddy wagons as a “precaution”.
Wearily making our way home after more than 13 hours in the trenches, fire works began exploding in the skies above our neighborhood, several miles from the protest area.
A girl shrieked something Danish and others echoed her squeal. I have no idea what they were saying but I reckon it roughly translates to, “Operation Copenhagen heats up!”