Monday, 14 December 2009

Hit the Production, Close the Harbour

One of the main actions planned for Sunday 13th was the so called Hit the Production demo, which hoped to shut down Copenhagen harbour in a symbolic action against one of the symbols of capitalism - the global shipping trade. The demonstration would meet at the Trianglen in the north of the city and head towards the harbour but it hadn't been sanctioned by the police so arrests were likely.

At first the march was quiet. At the front stood people clutching a yellow and black banner that wouldn't have looked out of place at the Hacienda had it not included an anti-capitalist slogan. Those holding it looked quiet and determined. Many were dressed in black but few had covered their faces. Next to this banner was another, with the word Co2lonialism in white writing on a black background. At this point it was hard to tell how many protesters were there. The number seemed small, surely under a thousand, whilst scores of journalists and photographers scurried around getting images of the illegal assembly.

Further back a small truck with a soundsystem rolled up. Its sides had been dropped down and a number of protesters stood inside, clutching a microphone. Its arrival seemed to spur on the rest of the march and the vanguard set off. All this time, police in hi-vis jackets had stood at some distance from the demonstration which as far as we were aware still had no permission. As it moved off down Osterbrogade the police followed, keeping their distance but this time pulling their riot helmets on. At the rear, a number of blue police vans spread across the width of the road and followed the procession.

The activists in the back of the truck started chanting, something unintelligible, likely in Danish, but it sounded good. Osterbrogade turned into Dag Hammerskjolds Alle and ahead in the distance lay the US Embassy. One of the cops holding a megaphone pulled out some plastic coated sheets and the media swooped on him as he read something out in Danish, presumably the first warning to disperse. People shouted back to say it in English but the request was ignored.

As we neared the embassy more police vans came roaring up to meet the demonstration, lurching to a halt in front of the Embassy which almost looked abandoned. A guy on the mic in the truck began shouting in broken English that we were doing nothing wrong, that we had a right to demonstrate and that we shouldn't fear the police, in between politically charged hip hop tunes. More cops, suited and booted and ready for a riot, spilled out of the vans from the rear and trotted alongside the march which carried on regardless, past the the US Embassy and onwards to Osterport station.
Hundreds of people, probably over a thousand, walked down the street along the cycle lanes and pavement, avoiding getting embroiled in the main body of the march and ignoring pleas from the soundsystem to form one solid bloc. It was hard to tell how many of these were reluctant protesters eager to avoid the likely police response or curious passersby and pedestrians. The street here is really wide and almost dwarfed the march, probably making it appear smaller than it actually was.

At the station we began to turn left onto Folke Bernadottes Alle towards the harbour and this is where the police made their move. The march ground to a halt and before we realised what was happening police encircled us all. To my right was the Kastellat (on the other side is the Little Mermaid). Some people, sensing the imminent kettle and probable arrest, tried to head off along a path beside the junction but some cops hopped over the wall from the road and shoved people back into the kettle. Others dared to slide down the embankment leading to the castle moat, covered in trees and bushes. Some made their escape but most were picked up by police further along.

We began to squeeze together and journalists piled in as a scuffle broke out beside the truck. The police were trying to board it and were tugging at those on board. A missile was thrown at the police and I could hear dogs barking in front of me. Within minutes the activists on the truck were hauled off and it was driven away through the police line leaving a patch of broken glass which turned out to be the driver's window which had been smashed in by the cops.

We were getting crushed together on all sides by the police and I found myself stuck between the first police line and another, mainly of police vans lined bumper to bumper. One guy made a break for it but was picked off by a giant cop who slung him back into the crowd. Chants of "This is what democracy looks like!" rang out. Some people behind me started sliding between a gap in the wall and the first police van but the driver inched forward and squeezed them out. The vans behind did the same and cops in the immediate frontline began picking at people behind them and throwing them into the central crowd. We noticed the footplate on the back of one of the police vans meant there was a good foot or so of space between them and clambered over the plate to get out of the kettle. The driver in the van looked on helpless.

Outside the kettle it became apparent that the police had actually formed two kettles, having split the group in half. Police vans were dotted everywhere and the intersection was a mess of blue meatwagons, riot cops, protesters, pedestrians and press. Traffic was still moving through and a French guy with a peace flag wrapped around his body crawled into the lane to try and stop it. A burly cop stood on his trousers and pinned him to the ground to allow traffic through but undeterred the kid started crawling around in a circle.

Soon the traffic stopped and the cop let go of him, smiling. This was a signal for all his friends to join him and with a cry of "Everybody, die!" more flopped on top of each other in the street, stopping an oncoming bus. The police seemed disinterested at first but after a while they ordered them to get up or face arrest. Many sprang up immediately and began pleading with their friends but the original held out fastidiously until eventually he was manhandled out of the way.I noticed one of the French girls had bright red eyes and what looked like sores all over her face. I overheard her talking to a journalist saying that the cops used tear gas inside the kettle. I didn't see any so wondered if she meant pepper spray, but was later informed by somebody else that they heard it used at one point.

We bumped into more climate campers who had escaped the kettle and sensed another move by police to round up the stragglers and outliers so decided to get out of dodge. Police buses had already arrived to take away detainees. As we were heading away from the protest a radio journalist breathlessly asked us if we had a camera, telling us that two undercover cops had been spotted throwing missiles into the crowd. He pointed them out, two shady looking characters both dressed in the same black windcheaters and wearing gloves. Aware that people were growing suspicious the two agent provocateurs sidled off and started walking away from the protest. Fellow camper Alex and I followed them all the way back to the Trianglen, on the off chance they jumped in the back of a police van but we lost them. Realising that was our demonstration over we grabbed a coffee and took a breather.

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