Things I thought

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Copenhagen: The Aftermath

"What are you doing?" A security guard asks me. My mind is swimming with the events of the last few days, and I am just waking up.

"I’m going to The Bella Centre. I need to stop the summit." I reply.

“Do you know where you are?”

Three days ago I was marching through Ostebro, embedded in the Blue Bloc with the rest of my affinity group. As we crossed the bridge on our final approach, as the protest arrived outside the most important talks the world had ever seen, we were quietly de-legalised. They were supposed to give us three clear warnings, but here was a pattern that had become all too familiar: police failing to keep to even the flimsy rules that remained under the Danish emergency laws. The march ground to a halt outside the main gates. The riot vans closed in behind us and the cops kitted up.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity. A couple of dozen people began inflating Lilos and tying ropes. The crowd came together as one, elated at the scent of energy. Slowly it dawned upon them: we were going across the water between us and the Bella Centre.

It took just a few minutes before the bridge was floated and people began crawling across. From our side of the canal, an activist-medic shouted warnings about the potentially lethal danger of falling into the drink. From the police side cops fired pepper spray into the faces of those crawling across the structure. Nevertheless, a few activists made it, straight into the snarling jaws of the dogs on the other side, and immediate arrest.

Word went round that the police had begun beating our comrades at the entrance to the Bella Centre, and we decided to join them in solidarity, using the bridge as a barricade. Within seconds of our reaching the front line, the cops pulled knives and thrust them into the Lilos. I shouted at the lines of armed police.

"Arrest that man! Destruction of property! Carrying an offensive weapon!"

As our bridge deflated, the chant rose from our ranks:

"We Are Peaceful! What Are You? We Are Peaceful! What Are You?"

They answered with a flourish batons raining blows indiscriminately into the crowd. One of my new friends, a protester as peaceful as any you could ever meet, was being hit repeatedly. Flushed with adrenaline, I threw myself between them. It didn't matter to the man with the truncheon: any protester would do as a target.

I registered the pain, but didn't feel it. Yet some primal part of me recognized the violence, and the sickly red rush of anger swam through my veins. A lifelong commitment to peace was being steam-rollered by millions of years of evolution. I felt the tug of my id at the back of my mind, urging me to push, to throw, to punish. Thankfully events took over, and my group withdrew from the front. We went to join the People’s Assembly: an alternative summit, to which delegates from COP15 had been invited, that would propose real solutions to the problems of Climate Change.

Word went around that delegates who had tried to leave the Bella Centre and join our protest had been beaten, pepper sprayed and arrested. I felt sick with fury and impotence, not just at the news, but at the knowledge that just a few days ago, I would not have believed such a thing could happen. Now it seems normal. Somehow this news - that internationally recognised diplomats were attacked and detained to prevent them joining a peaceful protest - has been quietly buried by the UK media.

The People’s Assembly was rich with ideas, but without our friends from inside it was hard for it to be anything more than symbolic. In the end, we marched away as one, crushed and euphoric all at once. I did not know how to feel so I felt nothing, except the dregs of anger that still bubbled at the sight of every cop.

An hour or so later, at an activist info-point, a news report broke the surface tension of my inner turmoil.

"All we are asking for is the economic space to exist." pleaded a South American delegate. Perhaps it was the way that begging for scraps had been clothed in the language of neo-liberalism. Perhaps it was the realisation that our action had failed to move the debate in a radical direction. Perhaps it was just exhaustion and adrenaline. Whatever the case, a wave of emotion coursed through me and I fell apart. Tearful, my friends took me to trauma support where I crashed for a couple of hours.

The next few days were a blur of tiredness and frustration, as we discussed and refused to discuss our cumulative failure. Leaving Copenhagen I hear that the US is only offering 4% cuts over 1990 levels. Even this will not be legally binding. The Copenhagen Accord is a whisper in a gale, a piece of crude and cynical gesture politics, a quiet acquiescence to genocide. We have failed this time, as a movement and as a species, and no building of networks, no shift in our collective consciousness, no revolutionary friendship can truly compensate for this defeat. My inner optimist rails against the futility of it all, a lonely internal protest trying to pull down the fence of facts that cannot be denied. The best I can say is that our work is unfinished. I know a part of me will always yearn for the hope, the energy, and the lost opportunities of those few brave hours on the streets of Copenhagen.

"I’m going to The Bella Centre. I need to stop the conference."

"Do you know where you are?" The security guard asks

I look around, and realize I have fallen asleep at Charing Cross. The frenetic days and stunted nights have finally caught up with me. The security guard looks confused.

"Well, we can't let you stay here. It's a suicide risk."

Still bleary and jangled from sleep, I hear myself say:

"It's too late. Didn’t you hear? The world already committed suicide."

He eyes me weirdly and walks away. I am just waking up, and I slowly realise that I am wrong. We did not commit suicide in Copenhagen. We merely wrote the note.


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