by Taj Schottland
It was a day to be on the streets. NGO access to the Bella Center had become extremely restricted. I managed to get in during the morning using one of the coveted “secondary badges.” But once inside I was dismayed to find nearly all meetings closed to observers (and as I write this I’ve heard they have now completely banned all observers from even entering the building). I decided to say goodbye to the Bella Center and take to the streets.
Upon exiting I was immediately face-to-face with hundreds of police, many suited up in riot gear. I knew there was a rally progressing from downtown towards the Bella Center, and I intended to join it. There was certain risk. The aim of the rally, titled Reclaim Power, was to enter the heavily fortified perimeter of the Bella Center. The marchers were going to attempt to force their way past concrete barricades, 15-foot-tall metal fences, and lines of riot police in order to hold a “people’s assembly.”
I joined the march as it approached the Bella Center. The march itself was peaceful, but soon we halted beside the entrance to the center. The air grew heavy with tension. Endless numbers of riot police poured out of transport vehicles. Protestors beat their drums louder and shouted chants of “reclaim power” and “climate justice.” A young man managed to climb on top of a police van. A police officer in riot gear quickly followed suit and jumped onto the roof of the van where he began to beat the man with a baton until finally shoving the protestor off the vehicle. (This image has already been replayed dozens of time on the BBC and other news channels, though seeing it in person is immensely more disturbing than seeing it on TV).
The tension had been unbearable. But after the protestor was beaten by the riot officer in plain view, the tide broke. The angry crowd pushed toward the police, and the police pushed back. Hundreds of riot officers attempted to penetrate the crowd. And as a witness with my own eyes, each time the police encountered resistance they swung their batons at the defiant protestor beating him or her over and over. The protestors held strong. Next the police began driving their armored vehicles into the crowd. Still the protestors held strong. Tear gas exploded in the heart of the crowd, only temporarily subduing the protest. The protestors still held strong. Finally after about half an hour, enough police reinforcements arrived. The riot police, with the help of armored vans, drove the crowd back, arresting numerous individuals, handcuffing young men and women and dragging them away.
I was both witness and participant to the anger and turmoil of the day. It was astonishing, painful, and unreal to see the batons coming down on protestors. The red haze of the teargas only contributed to this nightmarish scene. When I ran from the teargas I literally felt as though it were all a bad dream. If only it had been a dream.
Well the sun has now set, and I just hope and pray that something good comes out of this crazy, crazy day.