Ok, so I’m going to write a blog entry about Copenhagen. A lot of people have already written reams about Copenhagen and it’s kind of yesterday’s news, so rather than theorising about bullshit deals and how binding they are, I’m just going to give an account of my own experiences of visiting a city which for two weeks became a hub of political activity and the activist social event of the decade. If you want to know more, leave a comment and I’ll answer as best I can.
Pete and I finally rocked up into Copenhagen and parked up outside the school house we were to stay at with the rest of the Ecodharma crew a full nine hours after them. It was 5am. This is not the same school house you may have heard about if you are connected to Climate Camp, but a little house on the grounds of a school outside the city. We got it through an accomodation list for organisations, and although we had to pay around €5 each per night, it was worth it for the space, comfort and security it offered. We had our own kitchen, enough bedrooms to share one between two people, even our own meditation room. It was very square, white and unfurnished. Pete nicknamed it “The Bombshelter”.
We spent our first few days finding our feet and regaining our sanity after the epic 48+ hour drive up North – acclimatising to the city, the temperature, the silver-grey clouds that obscure the sky and being surrounded by a language not one of us could decipher.
Copenhagen seems to have a good strong activist scene and a lot of autonomous spaces. Bicycology had a workshop outside Bolsjefabrikken (“The Candy Factory”) and I was lucky to find a silver mountain bike in such good nick that after pumping the tires, oiling the chain, lowering the seat and removing one damaged mud guard it was good to cycle home on. No punctures – even the brakes and gears were in perfect order. Copenhagen is a bicycle graveyard and abandoned bikes are considered a social menace. They are so available that hardly anyone locks their bikes to anything, they just put a cheap lock around the rear wheel to signify that it’s not abandoned.
The Candy Factory and Folket’s Hus (“People’s House”) are two established social centres. There are also some massive spaces set up to operate as crash space and host meetings for the tens of thousands of activists descending on Copenhagen. Ragnhildsgade, or “Rags”, as we named it, held an action meeting every evening about all of the actions and demos being planned. The Anarchist Teapot served food up outside and lots of my friends from England and beyond were amongst the 1-2,000 people sleeping there.
“Global Day of Action”
If I had my time in Copenhagen over again, one thing I wouldn’t go to is that giant march on the 12th. 100,000 people, the most organised and best attended demo of the entire mobilisation and it left me feeling like I’d banged my head against a wall for four hours straight. This march was organised by a coalition of NGOs, trade unions, churches and political parties. Imagine Gay Pride in Brighton, but with polar bears instead of rainbows. Imagine call and response chants like: “I say climate, you say change… Climate!” “Change!” “Climate!” “Change!”
After spending the first three hours of the march looking for the rest of our friends and the CJA block we were supposed to be marching with, we eventually found some of the anarchists, although not CJA as they were blocked by police and mass arrested, in disguise as a mobile rave. Great music, but I’m not sure what the throwing of hundreds of glow sticks off the back of the truck was all about(!?) CJA had made an agreement to respect the ethos of the demo and the woman on the loudspeaker was reminding those marching behind her that we were behaving ourselves on this occasion, but that the 16th (Reclaim Power action) is the time to fight! Now a new chant starts up: “One solution… Revolution!”
The No Borders demo on the 14th was a little better. Again the march was pre-arranged with the police, but only as far as the Ministry of Defense, whereby the demo would become illegal. Denmark is similar to France in that you have to ask permission to demonstrate or it’s considered illegal. It’s interesting to see the various ways activists are trying to get around such laws, but I’m not sure how effective they are. The M.O.D. was in such a state of lock-down that getting anywhere near to the building itself was impossible. Instead, the crowd had to content itself with chanting the usual slogans on the road outside, although I did hear that after we left people started playing with a giant inflatable globe and pushing it down the street. The police later ripped it to shreds.
Still, times are hard and this demo was counted a “success”: the police allowed it to happen, there were no mass arrests and everyone was (eventually) allowed to leave again afterwards. Some of the other demos, which I did not attend, were not so lucky. The “Hit the Production” day was curtailed by police before it even started, when again hundreds of people were forced to sit in the freezing cold, then rounded up and put in cages for six hours under “preventative arrest”. This is the new and now infamous power recently granted to Danish police. You no longer have to commit a crime, but can be put in a cage for up to twelve hours if they think you might be the kind of person who is about to do something naughty. A friend of mine, for example, spent six hours in one after being stopped and searched and found to be wearing padded clothing.
After the demo, Pete, Lou and I headed over to Christiania on rumour of a party. Christiania is a squatted free town in the centre of Copenhagen. It has been occupied for almost forty years and is home to a selection of hippies, vagabonds, rainbow warriors and drug pushers. A sign leading out of Christiania back into Copenhagen reads, “You are now entering the EU”. There are signs all over Christiania forbidding the use of cameras, so have respected this and have no photos to show you. You will have to content yourself with an explanation: It’s much bigger than I expected, with many different streets and areas. The main street, leading down the middle is known as “Pusher Street”. Every few feet is a little stand or shop front displaying several different types of hash. Late at night, it’s often hard to find a hot meal, but you can buy dope anytime. It is pretty though. Fairy lights and murals decorate the buildings, which all seem in very good nick. Fires burn in braziers and large metal cylinders along the street so people can socialise outside. A friend described Christiania as “what would happen if the Big Green Gathering were allowed to run continuously and unchecked for thirty years.” She has a point. The atmosphere is similar to that of a festival and there are a multitude of bars, cafes, markets, a sauna – even a large marquee, accompanied by yurts and teepees set up for Christiania’s “Bottom Meeting” – presumably the best word they could come up with in antithesis to “Summit”.
We wander around and explore with glasses of “glugg” (hot mulled wine) and visit some bars, making sure to leave early as we need lots of sleep for the following days. Unfortunately things are not so simple. We reach the door of the bar and bump into some friends. “Hello! There’s a riot outside!” Oh. Great.
We head out into the street. People are running and shouting. We decide to try to leave Christiania, but our way is blocked by a flaming barricade and men in balaclavas throwing molotovs. We ask what’s going on. Apparently the police have been raiding Christiania every night, looking for activists, and this time people have decided to block them and fight back. We are looking for another way out, but a cloud of white smoke is slowly spreading around us. I can taste something dry and peppery at the back of my throat and start coughing. Tear gas! I put my head down, put my hat over my nose and try to head out of the cloud. I am faintly aware of Pete heading off in the other direction, but I can’t take in the air I need to shout. I can’t see more than a few feet in front of me. People are running all around me. Somebody grabs my hand. It’s Lou. Together we stumble, coughing, through the mist. Behind a building the air is clearer. We can see similar white clouds seeping in from other directions. Christiania is surrounded. Somehow Pete finds us and together we look for an escape route. Pete knows of a back way out, so we head off down a track by the canal. Pete has his bike, but Lou and I stupidly locked ours up outside the main gate, where the police and fires are. Eventually we come to a footbridge. There are police on the other side, but only three or four, no dogs, no vans, no gas. Behind us we can hear helicopters, explosions and loud barking. It’s like a war zone. Some Danish people are sitting on a bench on our side of the canal. They tell us if we’re not Danish the police will let us leave this way, as long as we have passports and consent to be searched first. A girl asks calmly if they have released the dogs yet? Time to leave. We empty our pockets of anything relating to activism and head out across the bridge to the inevitable humiliation of a police search. Danish police are very polite. They tell you to have a nice day after they have searched you. There’s a video –>here<–
The paln was simple: “There will be a legalized starting point, which will be announced to the media and the police. From there, the climate justice bloc will move on towards the Bella Center. Affinity groups will make their way to the border of the conference area from various directions. The aim is for all groups coming from the outside to start entering the UN Area at 10am. At the same time, groups inside the Summit will start to disrupt the sessions and mobilize people to leave the negotiations and participate in the Peoples Assembly. The assembly will start at 12pm at the main entrance to the Bella Center inside the UN Area.“
We on the bike bloc were aiming to create distractions, allowing those in the green bloc to break through the perimeter fence. However, the entire green bloc was rounded up and preventatively arrested at their meet-up point. We gave some cops the run around, got stopped and searched six times and joined up with the blue group just in time to hear it announced to be illegal. Our affinity group quickly decided to sacrifice our bikes for the cause and erected a bicycle barricade, locking arms behind it as the police marched forward. A big push-and-shove ensued and the whole crowd was shoved further and further back until we were off the road. At this point the People’s Assembly started further back from the frontline. I have heard a lot of people talking about how this was a great success, but they must have been at a different demo. The People’s Assembly consisted of various people speaking over a megaphone to a ring of fellow protestors, then people were invited to get into small groups to discuss a chosen topic. I was full of adrenaline and cynycism and could think of little worse. Pete was more positive and joined a group towards the end. Lou was busy nursing batton welts. A girl invited me to “make some statements and change the world”, but I wasn’t really in the mood.
A New Chapter
On the 19th my Ecodharma friends went back to Spain, leaving Pete and I to rattle around the bombshelter alone for a night before we too evacuated.
The night before they left we went to the bathhouse in Christiania for a “sauna treat”. My god, I love saunas. Especially when the weather is so cold and especially when they are accompanied by fresh juice, singing and spoken word.
Pete and I moved back into the van to see if we could stand the cold. We parked up by the canal just outside Christiania, but it was so cold that the bottled water beside our heads froze and I felt crushed by all the blankets. We decided to find some couchsurfing hosts and were given a warm couch and even warmer welcome by two loveable Danish stoners. There we spent our remaining few nights in Copenhagen, before leaving for Sweden on the 24th.
Did I mention – I got my bike back realtively unscathed after the demo! It will be accompanying me on my adventures. Pete has one too. Ah, the wonders of a van.