Today, 100 delegates from the Copenhagen climate talks – mostly from NGOs, but led by two members of the Bolivian government delegation, and with dozens of members of organizations from the Global South and Indigenous groups – marched out of the Copenhagen climate talks and tried to join the People’s Assembly at the Reclaim Power protest outside, only to be blocked and severely beaten by Danish police (who were working closely together with UN security).
The police cracked down incredibly hard on the Reclaim Power protest today – both inside and outside the Bella Center – and arrested 240 people (on top of the over 1,000 that they’ve arrested in the past week), but they didn’t prevent the protest from being an incredibly powerful and formative moment in the global movement for climate justice.
The Reclaim Power protest was co-organized by Climate Justice Now! and Climate Justice Action, two international networks of people’s movements, Indigenous groups, and grassroots activists from around the world – including Via Campesina, Indigenous Environmental Network, Focus on the Global South, Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment. The action sought to subvert the undemocratic and unjust UN COP process by creating a People’s Assembly, which would privilege the voices for climate justice of Indigenous peoples and people from the Global South – those groups that have been most marginalized from the COP-15 talks.
While thousands of activists on the streets outside were marching towards the Bella Center, our goal was to march out of the Bella Center, and hold this People’s Assembly in the streets outside the conference.At 11am, we got reports that the outside protest was nearing the conference’s massive security perimeter. At that point, about 100 delegates – including two members of the Bolivian government delegation – linked arms inside the main hall, and began chanting “Respect Indigenous Rights,” “Listen to the South,” and “Join the People’s Assembly.” We then marched through the halls and out the front entrance of the Bella Center – trailed by a ridiculous entourage of news media.
The UN security didn’t try to prevent us from leaving the building – they were clearly happy to see us leave. Once we got outside the security fence, however, the Danish police – who were working closely together with UN security – refused to let us through their barricades to join the thousands of other protestors, who were only a couple hundred meters away. We spent the next half hour negotiating with the police – initially they told us that we’d be let through once they cleared some people that they were arresting out of the way, but then they changed their story, and told us that we’d have to go several kilometers around police lines to join up with the rest of the protest.
Determined to join our sisters and brothers and hold our People’s Assembly, we refused to take hours to walk around police lines. Those of us who were willing to risk arrest linked arms, and marched across a bridge in an attempt to push – nonviolently, but firmly – through police lines.
The UN security then stepped aside, and allowed the Danish police to beat us quite severely with batons. We pushed back and tried to hold this bridge as long as possible, but were eventually beaten back. I personally was hit with police batons dozens of times on the shoulders, arms, hands, and legs, and was punched repeatedly in the head – one blow broke my ear piercing, and bloodied my ear pretty badly. Several people were hit on the head with batons. As all this was going on, we held our hands in the air to signify our nonviolent intentions; at one point, an officer was beating my arms with his baton as I held them in the air.
You can see CNN’s footage here (can’t embed it). (I’m in the grey suit at the front.)
After we were pushed back over the bridge – and after we had taken several minutes to calm down, and take care of people who had been hurt – the majority of our group of delegates marched off around police lines to go join the protest. Others tried to return to the Bella Center, only to discover that the UN had closed the center to all NGO delegates for the rest of the day.
Like myself, the Reclaim Power action was severely bruised today, but was nonetheless ecstatic about its success. While we were pushing to join our comrades in the outside protest, the thousands of people outside were standing in the Vejlands Alle to the north of the Bella Center, holding the People’s Assembly (without us, unfortunately), and discussing key points of a people’s agenda for climate justice. This outside protest also included a broad cross-section of activists – from Latin American Via Campesina activists to German autonomists, and everything in between. But this broad and diverse group of people from around the world was united in its goals: to amplify an global people’s agenda for climate justice, an agenda that stands in stark contrast to the Global North-dominated negotiations that have prevailed in the past week within the Bella Center.
In the words of Stine Gry, from Climate Justice Action:
“We have no more time to waste. If governments won’t solve the problem, then it’s time for our diverse people’s movements to unite and reclaim the power to shape our future. We are beginning this process with the people’s assembly. We will join together all the voices that have been excluded—both within the process and outside of it. We will be both non-violent and confrontational. We will not let fences and physical barriers stand in our way, and we call upon the police to respect our right to make our voices heard.”
It’s clear that the UN and the police do not respect our right to protest, preferring to beat us than to let delegates from inside the Bella Center join – and thus grant legitimacy to – the outside protest. It’s clear that they want the voices of civil society, from the Global South and around the world, to be excluded from the talks. But today, the world heard our voices – as we shouted our message inside and outside the Bella Center, even as we were being beaten by the police. Now, we’ll see if the negotiators inside COP-15 are listening.