With uncertain message, protesters march on climate talks; hundreds arrested

Protesters demanding climate justice gather in Central Copenhagen Saturday. Photo: Dana Dunham

Protesters demanding climate justice gather in Central Copenhagen Saturday. Photo: Dana Dunham

UPDATED with arrest of 968, including “black bloc” anarchists; bonfire concludes demonstration against carbon pollution.

COPENHAGEN–The sun emerged from days of cloud cover this morning and shined on tens of thousands of demonstrators as they gathered in front of Christiansborg Palace, the seat of Denmark’s Parliament, to demand climate justice.

The meaning of that phrase varied, though, as celebrity activists from throughout the world rallied the crowd preceding a four-mile march to the Bella Center, where the UN Climate Change Conference is taking place.

Some speakers slammed the UN talks as a profit-grabbing capitalist scheme while others invested hope in them.

“The time is past for big capital to make more money,” said Vandama Shiva, a former physicist who quit India’s nuclear program and become a leading voice for the environment. “The earth must make the change. The earth must make the rules.

“We will be the change we want to see, and no one is going to stop us.”

But the supermodel Helena Christiansen compared the Copenhagen talks to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which successfully reduced the emission of chlorofluorocarbons responsible for eroding the earth’s ozone layer.

“This is the kind of action we need today. The politicians must fulfill their responsibility to the people and the planet,” she said to equal cheers. “We all expect a fair, ambitious, and binding agreement to be made at this time.”

Organizers expected 60,000 to 80,000 people at today’s event, which has been peaceful so far, and which culminates this evening with the march in frigid air to the Bella Center.

UPDATE: Copenhagen police reported the arrest of 968 demonstrators, including a group they identified as “the black block” anarchists who allegedly broke windows on several buildings surrounding Christiansborg Square, and a smaller group that attempted to set fire to cars parked nearby.

“Most of the demonstrators from this group did remain back at the Palace Square, as the remainder – and utterly peaceful- of the demonstration walked towards The Bella Centre,” according to a statement issued by police.

“The participants of this ”blac bloc” were at 14.41pm observed gathering cobblestones together at the staircase to The Børs Bridge, and immediately hereafter cobblestones and maroons were being thrown at Børsen, Knippelsbro and at The Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several windows crushed. At 14.56 pm it was observed that the hindmost of the black bloc were beginning to mask themselves.”

Danish law allows police to arrest demonstrators who don gas masks.

“Shortly after the detainment was executed the police noted, that a larger group of persons were setting 4 vehicles on fire parked near Christiania. The police was here facing stones being thrown and fireworks and had to deploy teargas to bring the situation to an end. In this connection 55 arrests were made.”

Later in the afternoon, after the march reached the Bella Center, delegates and members of the press clustered around a television inside to watch groups of police officers restrain individual protesters outside. Arrests continued both near the Bella Center and in Copenhagen’s city center throughout the night.

More fireworks are expected Wednesday, when the organizer of the protests, Climate Justice Action, plans to storm the Bella Center and seize control of the talks in an event called “Regain Power.” It is the same day that heads of state are expected to arrive for the final phase of the talks.


Demonstrators build a bonfire from signs protesting carbon pollution. Photo: Jeff McMahon

The protest concluded around 6 p.m. when the crowd outside the Bella Center dispersed. Those who lingered at the site built bonfires from signs that were left behind, sending gray plumes of smoke into the air at the end of a demonstration that was unified by, if anything, opposition to carbon pollution.

Despite the variety of messages from the day’s demonstrators, the organizer, Climate Justice Action, has stated consistent demands:

We cannot trust the market with our future, nor put our faith in unsafe, unproven and unsustainable technologies. Contrary to those who put their faith in “green capitalism”, we know that it is impossible to have infinite growth on a finite planet. Instead of trying to fix a broken system, we should be:

leaving fossil fuels in the ground

socialising and decentralising energy

relocalising our food production

recognising and repaying ecological and climate debt

respecting indigenous peoples’ rights

regenerating our eco-systems

via Call to action! | Climate Justice Action.

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