I didn’t realize how nervous I was about the Reclaim Power action until I tried to sleep. We had to be at Tangby station at 8am – due to uncertainty about whether trains would be cancelled etc the organizers had counseled us to leave a large margin of time to get there. I was meeting Karin, Freye and Matt (my ‘affinity’ group) near the central station at 6.45am. Fear of oversleeping and of the action itself meant I slept poorly.
Matt arrived at the meeting point with a banner he’d begged off some Brits. It was the Canadian flag with ‘Tar Sands – Climate Crime’ written on it. He looked younger than 18, with glasses, an oversized jacket and paltry accumulation of facial hair posing as a moustache. Karin and Freye, the Swedes, had a white banner with beautiful clouds painted on it. I don’t know what it meant.
The plan was to march to the Bella Center, where the negotiations were happening, and scale two sets of fences to disrupt the sessions and hold a ‘people’s assembly’ with delegates and NGO observers that would be staging a walk-out. Indigenous delegates had reportedly been treated with contempt and disdain, and poor nations were being undermined and sold-out, the deal was shaping up to be unacceptable to the Global South: these were to be their reasons for protest.
The message was that global citizens could reclaim power from politicians who were failing to lead, the aim was to set an example of democratic action to produce solutions to address the justice concerns of the movement.
More than statements about the procedural aspects of treaty making, the concrete calls for action of Climate Justice Now! Include:
1.Leave fossil fuels in the ground – no new prospecting for fossil fuels, no extension of infrastructure for extraction, no new investment.
2.The developing world must pay its ecological debt to the developing world – i.e reparations to the developing world by ecological destruction caused by first world industry in the form of funds for climate change adaptation and/or technology transfer.
The demonstration was split into a several blocs. The blue bloc was the biggest section and had legal permission to march to (but not into) the Bella Center. The green bloc was split into two and would move faster and more purposely, dovetailing at the fences and leading the assault over them. A ‘bike bloc’ was further supposed to flank various blocs to afford them more protection. We were all instructed to form chains along the side of the blocs to prevent the police from entering them and breaking the masses into easily digestible, arrestible portions.
We massed outside in Tanby station in the freezing cold. There was a long delay to the start of the march as police searched the truck that would be a centerpiece of the protest.
When we set off it was in high spirits. A twenty-or-so piece samba band drummed, jangled and spun in the midst of the march. Our chains flanked the road and French clowns with water pistols mocked and teased the police as they walked beside us. We chanted ‘this is what democracy looks like’, sang Bella Ciao, and shouted ‘What do we want?” – “Climate justice!’ – ‘When do we want it?’ -‘Now!’.
As we walked I wondered where the other blocs were. When we arrived at the Bella Center it seemed that blue bloc was on its own. There was then some confusion as commands were slow to filter through. It seemed like there were too few of us. Several attempts were made on the fence but soon the police began to gain the upper hand and we were being corralled away from the center.
Protesters on the front line pushed bravely against the assault made by the police, without raising their hands against them. The police moved the crowd back – as we chanted “We are peaceful, what are you?” – by beating them with truncheons and spraying them with pepper spray.
This confrontation continued for I don’t know how long, until the protesters had been pushed right back down one road and it seemed impossible to get to the fences. 200 accredited attendees did leave the Bella Center, but police refused to let them leave the compound or join the protesters. They were also denied access back into the Bella Center. A truce was called with the police and the people’s assembly was held there, around a parachute on the road.
Many of the speakers that were supposed to lead the assembly were detained in the Bella Center. Instead of hearing their words we split into smaller groups and discussed ourselves what we thought the solutions were to climate change. Spokespeople took the mikes and presented our findings back to the crowd, concerning primarily creating institutional arrangements conducive to resilient communities, and the strengthening of a broad- based movement to fight for these changes and communicate concerns and solutions widely.