Copenhagen: the next Seattle?

Some environmental groups are planning disruptive protests for the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, taking cues from the anti-globalization movement: “We feel that right now in Copenhagen there is a real opportunity for things to come together a little bit like they did 10 years ago at the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle,” Müller ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
576225_091125_seattle2.jpg
576225_091125_seattle2.jpg
SEATTLE, UNITED STATES: A protester confronts Seattle police after they fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators in downtown Seattle, Washington 30 November, 1999. The WTO meetings were scheduled to open 30 November but were postponed as demonstrators blocked streets and clashed with police which prevented representatives from reaching their meeting venues. AFP PHOTO/Dan LEVINE (Photo credit should read DAN LEVINE/AFP/Getty Images)

Some environmental groups are planning disruptive protests for the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, taking cues from the anti-globalization movement:

"We feel that right now in Copenhagen there is a real opportunity for things to come together a little bit like they did 10 years ago at the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle," Müller told SPIEGEL ONLINE....

Some environmental groups are planning disruptive protests for the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, taking cues from the anti-globalization movement:

“We feel that right now in Copenhagen there is a real opportunity for things to come together a little bit like they did 10 years ago at the World Trade Organization protest in Seattle,” Müller told SPIEGEL ONLINE….

To that end, Climate Justice Action and other groups are planning a number of activities to drive home their message. On Dec. 11, one group plans to take “direct action to confront corporations taking part” in the summit in an action called “Don’t Buy the Lie.” A number of groups are planning a worldwide protest for Dec. 12. And on Dec. 13th, another group hopes to blockade the Copenhagen harbor in protest against the way goods are produced, transported and consumed.

Reminiscent of Seattle

Perhaps most significant, however, Müller and his group plan to storm the conference on Dec. 16 and “disrupt the sessions and use the space to talk about our agenda,” as the Climate Justice Action Web site describes it. The hope is that official delegations participating in the summit will join the protest, called “Reclaim Power.”

The actions are reminiscent of similar tactics used during the WTO protest in Seattle, when protestors were successfully able to prevent delegates from reaching the convention center where meetings were being held. A riot quickly ensued, ultimately resulting in 600 arrests and numerous injuries — and in a new model for anti-globalization protests that has been repeated numerous times since then. Indeed, some see climate change as being a new focus for the kind of demonstrations that have grown out of the anti-globalization movement.

Despite Müller’s protestations that he wishes to avoid violence, the Danish authorities are assuming the worst — and outfitting the police with far-reaching new powers. In October, the Danish Ministry of Justice proposed a new law that would increase the penalties for police obstruction and vandalism. The law, branded by some activists as the “hoodlum” law, would increase the penalty for obstructing police to 40 days in jail. Currently, only a fine is called for. Police would also be able to detain potentially dangerous protesters for up to 12 hours instead of the current six. Penalties for vandalism would also increase by 50 percent.

This seems like a very poor model to follow. First of all, the green movement doesn’t need a “coming out party.” It’s basic arguments are publicly understood in a way that the anti-WTO protesters’ issues weren’t.

Second, Seattle-style tactics make sense if you’re trying to prevent leaders from getting anything done, such as signing new free-trade agreements. But when it comes to carbon emissions, most environmentalists want leaders to reach an agreement. Demonstrations are certainly warranted, but turning Copenhagen into the kind of tear gas-filled battlefield that typically forms outside of trade talks these days is not exactly conducive to politial progress.

DAN LEVINE/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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