The idea was to storm the UN climate talks, 6,000 police officers notwithstanding, and set up a "people's assembly" to discuss alternative solutions to climate change.
I joined a couple hundred protesters from Climate Justice Action outside a Metro station about a mile away from the Bella Center, site of the UN negotiations. The police also got the memo.
I asked one of the organizers, a Brit with a posh accent and scraggly beard, about the plan. "If we don't plan then the police won't know what we're planning," he said with a grin.
As I waited for a match to court a fuse, I enjoyed a virtuoso drumming performance on the rims of a metal garbage can. A gleeful fellow with goatee and pompom-ed hat roved around handing out browning bananas, a recent haul from Copenhagen's garbage bins.
9:08 AM: Showtime. A spontaneous council of 20 protesters materializes in a tight huddle, some sitting, others crouching, the rest standing. A police officer across the street smells insurrection and walks over to catch wind of the plot. Two protesters peel off from the fringe of the huddle to intercept him. "Hey, what's your name?," one chirps. The other waves his hands and says, "Hey officer, check out my gloves, I bet they are WAY warmer than yours." The banter finds no dance partner in the stony man of the law, but it serves the cause of distraction.
Inside the huddle, the group weighs a series of proposals. Soon a plan blossoms. "Two finger formation toward the Bella Center." Listeners express agreement by gyrating their hands. The huddle breaks and the news ripples through the crowd.
"Two-finger formation? That never works," I overhear one say. His friend replies, "Well, that's the plan."
The crowd buzzed with purpose as a few yells of "Let's go" initiated a lurch toward the Bella Center...and a thick police cordon. The protesters cleave into two groups in an effort to spread the police (hence the "two fingers"), but they are soon rebuffed by a wall of beefy Danes wearing neon vests. The street was too narrow and the police too many. Soon the fingers flattened into a pancake as the chanting activists settled along a line of grave police. A man with blonde dreadlocks and an orange jacket played pinball as he repeatedly bounced into police cordon.
The stalemate ended thanks to an unlikely intrusion of a white Mercedes. The driver following the road toward the protesters suddenly realized he was fast approaching unfriendly territory. Perhaps the chant gave it away: "Ahhh-ANTI-ANTICAPITALISMA!" The Mercedes opted for a sudden U-turn. Screeching tires alerted the crowd, which shifts its focus from the police to a timely symbol of the free market.
The fringes of the crowd galloped after the car, which quickly bolted out of reach, but their new momentum carried them toward a perpendicular street 40 yards away from the main police cordon, lined by a mere half-dozen officers. The crowd moved like a bowl of cooked rice pours: first a trickle, then le déluge. Suddenly the protesters had numbers, and the neon jackets of the police disappeared as the protesters rushed by them.
The police had no chance: it was like a game of British Bulldog with only one round. By the time police from the main cordon arrived to help, most of the crowd had slipped through the side-street and was quickly fading from view as they sought an alternative route to the Bella Center.
The police still managed to encircle about 75 stragglers with the help of pepper spray. For a few minutes, the police maintained the noose around the protesters, a neon tortilla around the protester burrito. A handful of medics trotted in to wash pepper spray out of the eyes of a handful of doubled-over protesters crying and rubbing their eyes.
A graffitied van rolled up with a pink-wigged woman dangling her legs out of the open back door. Speakers serenaded the police and their captured prey with reggae. Meanwhile, one of the detainees started blowing a prodigious number of bubbles. Some popped on the befuddled police, while others danced in the morning breeze.
This is what defiant insouciance looks like.
The police proceeded to herd the captured protesters toward the Metro cars. Leave or face arrest, they are told. So off they go, living to protest another day. (Or perhaps that same day, about 2 metro stops away, but more on that later).
I left the Metro station on foot and soon found some of the protesters who had managed to dart through the police line a few minutes earlier. They had not made it far. Two blocks away I found a cluster of blue police vans and a large bus filled with arrested protesters. Two lay on the sidewalk receiving medical treatment.
I walked to the street-side of the bus and caught the eye of a young guy with a buzz cut sitting placidly in his window seat. He looked tired, beaten. I flashed him a peace sign. He returned the favor, despite his handcuffs, with the help of an awkward lean.
I scribbled a question on my notepad and pressed it against the window:
He shrug-smirked, paused for a moment, and said something I could not hear. I removed by hat and pressed my ear to the icy glass. He repeated: "It's worth it if we save the planet."