Notes from Copenhagen: 100,000 March for Climate Action

Notes from Copenhagen: 100,000 March for Climate Action

Aaron Lake Smith
Published: 12/12/2009

100,000 peopled marched several miles and hours in the biting cold in Copenhagen today, to protest the COP15 summit. The rainbow of protestors gathered for the demonstration, titled 'Floods for Climate Justice', to display popular power and give voice to their belief that climate change should be addressed with action, not politics-as-usual. Myriad groups were present in the massive demonstration. Many used floats and soundsystems, blasting flamenco, euro-techno, reggae or Rage Against the Machine.

Notably impressive was the presence of homespun brass, marching, and gypsy bands, and Greenpeace's eerie Puppetmaster float, with its representations of climate summit leaders being controlled by lobby money--accompanied by a creepy, slowed-down soundtrack of the leaders' public statements.


       Greenpeace's statement about money's role in the COP15.

The spectrum ranged from center-left groups like Friends of the Earth, families, and grandmothers, to more radical groups like Reclaim Power, Climate Justice Action, and Klimate Kollective. I interviewed several people about why they were attending the demonstration. Most shrugged,and looked confused by the question, and responded simply: "I'm anti-climate summit."

But Bijan Beitnam, an Iranian communist who immigrated to Denmark several decades ago, fleeing the Iranian Revolution, stopped to talk to me. He said that he was attending the demonstration as an expression of his beliefs. "We think that if you want to change the climate, you have to act now." He said there were several small groups of displaced Iranian communists around Denmark.

Apina Hesterman, an elderly Dutch woman making the long march with the help of a cane, stopped to talk to me as well. "I don't think governments do enough. We have to pressure them."

Brass bands, musicians, jugglers, and unicyclists kept
people dancing, and walking briskly in good spirits. When the mass of people reached the Bella Center, where the official summit is being held, demonstrators bought torches made of wax from a group of men selling them from a van, and lit up the night--so as techno-music blasted out from the demonstration's sleek stage, set up for speeches, torches and miniature fires pocked through the massive crowd. For the most part, the demonstration was a positive, family-friendly event. But at the end of the day, there have been a total of 700 people arrested, with injuries reported by protesters and police. A group smashing windows and throwing fireworks in the Stock Exchange district of Copenhagen scuffled with the police,and in response the police swooped in and made hundreds more 'preventative' arrests. Among them might be the kind Danes I'm staying with, who have a baby with them! Let's hope not.