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Batoned in the Throat, Pepper Sprayed in the Face...then I met Daryl Hannah: Deborah Grayson blogs about her day in Copenhagen

In this brilliant stopwatch blog Deborah Grayson of Climate Rush counts down the day protesters in Copenhagen tried to break into the Bella Centre at the summit. She gets pepper sprayed, batoned in throat and still finds time remind us how hot the police are.

'Even when they're about to hit you the Danes are undeniably fit.'

The Battle of the Bella Centre by Deborah Grayson

Midnight: 16th December 2009

I walk down the street to Christiania, bent over with the weight of my backpack, though at least it gives me a bit of protection from the wind. I've brought all my stuff with me because the activist crash space I've been staying in is likely to be raided tonight and I'm hoping to get at least a couple of solid hours sleep. I join Tamsin (Omond, founder of Climate Rush), Ben and the others in a smoke-filled bar, where the band, between energetic Danish rap numbers and drags on joints, give call outs for the action the next day. It's cool to think that this sort of crowd might actually be politicised enough to turn up. When the band finishes they order us home to bed. Got to be fresh if we're going to be up against the police in a few hours.


We arrive at Tárnby station, the start of the legally agreed route for the march. There are police cars all around but no-one is even checking train tickets and it doesn't seem like they're going to try and stop the march setting off. I need to the loo but the lines are huge. I give up, walk off from the march and do something undignified behind a truck with my empty coffee cup. I will be more undignified than this, I think, if I'm arrested and kept in a cage without a toilet for the rest of the day.

The march has been organised by Climate Justice Now! and La Via Campesina, a peasant farmer organisation which has brought a load of representatives to Copenhagen from the Global South. The plan before we arrived last week was to get inside the Bella Centre (where the official talks are taking place) and physically take over the space with a People's Assembly which will propose solutions that actually taken into account the wishes and ideas of those most affected by climate change. Over the last few days the plan has changed to the marginally more realistic one of getting over the fence and across the moat (the centre is literally a fortress) to meet the rumoured 1500 delegates who will walk out to meet us. No-one knows if it'll work – there's a bike bloc out distracting the police and a green bloc set to find ways across the canal – and no-one knows how or when the police will kick off. But I guess this is what we came to Copenhagen for, and we're going to give it our best shot.


The crowd is now several thousand people strong and we start to arrange ourselves into a block. I see my friends from Lush (the cosmetics company who are single-handedly funding UK environmental activism at the moment) and decide to join affinity groups. (Affinity groups always make me think of that moment in 'Shaun of the Dead' when Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson see each other in the alleyway with their respective groups of friends.) We link arms to form a human chain along the side of the march. Walking this way knackers your shoulders but it's the best way to keep the police from infiltrating and splitting the crowd. A call goes up: hey ho, let's go! and we're off.


My arms hurt. It takes a weird sort of concentration to keep the line tight and the police out, but chanting keeps us alert.

I say climate you say justice, climate JUSTICE, climate JUSTICE

Our climate, not your business!

a- anti- anticapitaLISTE!

I feel weird joining in with this one at first, like saying prayers in church. But the chant is invigorating and it's hard to resist. Soon I'm chanting too, all the while thinking post- post- post-capitaliste, but it doesn't scan and to an outsider I look as anti- as the rest of them.


We round the corner and see the Bella Centre up ahead, wind turbine, moat and all. I start singing an apt variation on an old classic and it spreads around me in the crowd.

And we are marching to Bella Centre

Bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao

And we are marching to Bella Centre

Let's get to Bella Centre now!


I'm in the second row up against the police, who are protecting a police van and the fence behind. They surge towards us and we stand arm in arm in the crush. Black leather gloves reach into the crowd, trying to pull people out. They're batoning the front line, the girl in front of me has a bleeding head. The police withdraw, the line in front of me dissolves and suddenly it's me on the front line. It's kind of frightening, though I know that if I want to chicken out someone else will take my place, which helps keeps me calm. I look at the police line ahead. They're twice my size, huge chiseled brawn machines. Even when they're about to hit you the Danes are undeniably fit.

A shout goes up and someone breaks from the crowd and leaps over the fence. He is tackled to the ground and pepper sprayed, but we all cheer. Someone climbs up on the police van – it's my friend Fe (whose face later ends up all over the Guardian site), pretending he doesn't know how to get down to the infuriated cops. They try to pepper spray him and the jet of liquid flies over the van and splashes some of the media on the other side. There are cameras everywhere.

The guy next to me jokes: 'Shit. I thought coming to COP 15 that there'd only be 15 cops.'

The police put on their helmets simultaneously and we tighten our grip on each other. They move towards us and then suddenly the fight is back on. The crush is incredible, a solid wall of people behind me pushing me into the chest of the policeman in front. His gloved hand connects with my face and he starts pushing and pushing my head back while my body stays pinned in place. Get off her! someone says to my left as they push the hand away. It moves down to my throat, I think he's trying to jab at a pressure point but he can't see what he's connecting with through my scarf. I'm immensely grateful for every one of the fifteen pieces of clothing I am wearing.

I'm trying to shout as he jabs at me, the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching, and it really feels that way, there are so many cameras pointed at us and I wonder if this is beaming round the world right now. But it's hard to shout when you're being choked. The hand is back on my face and I let out a weird guttural roar as my head is jerked backwards. And then there's something else moving towards my eyes, a burst of wetness and I realise I've been pepper sprayed.

My first thought is my contact lenses. Shit shit shit I've still got them in. I know they're really bad with tear gas and I'm terrified this might actually damage my eyes. I keep my eyes screwed shut as I grab my water bottle from my pocket and dowse my face. Someone asks if I've been sprayed and I nod and suddenly I'm being sucked back through the crowd with the call of medic medic going up around me. As soon as I feel space around me I brave the pain and dig out my right contact lens. A medic finds me and helps remove my left one. I stop panicking quite so much and now I can actually feel the pepper burning my face. I guess I'm sobbing, just from the shock that anyone could do this to another person. Someone helps me kneel and washes out my eyes with saline solution. I've dropped my water bottle and another one appears which I slosh over my face. I'm on fire. They tell me to try opening my eyes. It hurts so much. I try again, and it's a little better this time. Now I can see (as well as I see without my lenses) and though my eyes sting it's the skin on my cheeks that really unbearable. I ask how long it will last. About twenty minutes, they say.

I find Ben. I have never been so glad to see a friendly face. He hugs me and tries to take me somewhere to sit down but I want to stay standing. I move incessantly to the rhythm of the samba band who've started up again, trying to dance away the pain. We don't know where Tamsin is and I can't get through to her Danish number. The burning comes and goes, it'll be worst as the water on my face dries, Ben tells me. A cold wind blows some flakes of snow in my face and though my friends shiver and stamp I just can't get enough.


It's pretty clear that we're not going to get any closer to the Bella Centre. There was a window of opportunity when the first guy leaped the fence, and if we'd had the two hundred rock'ard Italian anarchists who were supposed to be heading up the march they could have followed him over, taken the beatings, overwhelmed the police, and paved the way for the rest of us. But the Italians have been systematically arrested over the last two days, and they're not out in the forces we'd need. Two hundred people have walked out of the negotiations but they've been beaten back into the Bella Centre by the police and wouldn't be able to join us if we did vault the fence. So we decide to hold the People's Assembly on the spot.

It begins as I remove my wet clothes. Everything I've washed the spray onto will have pepper on it and I remove my hat, scarf, roll-neck and fleece. Fortunately I was told to bring two extra jumpers in case they used the water cannon on us so I've got something to change into. Representatives from La Via Campesina are talking about food sovereignty and the kinds of transformations that small-holding farmers want to see all over the world – solutions that will solve climate change and reduce inequality. We break off into smaller groups to discuss the solutions we think will really work – relocalisation, permaculture, the green tech revolution, global solidarity. They sound obvious, in a way, but somehow they're not being discussed inside the Bella Centre at all. After half an hour it's over. It's a little underwhelming, but La Via Campesina will be holding these all over the world in the coming months, and I guess it's an important part of the story that the first one was held outside the UNFCCC talks in Copenhagen, in the snow.


The police have declared the protest illegal and there's a worry that we're going to get detained or arrested. They've been doing mass arrests all week – 250 people have already been sent to the specially built jail today – and though we're prepared for it we want to avoid it if at all possible because the consequences for those from the Global South will be much more serious. Under close police supervision we start the long walk back to the centre.


The march ends near the station. Apart from a couple of very targeted arrests and two acid bottles thrown at the police (which were probably from people they'd planted in the crowd) there's been no more violence and we're all free to leave. Tamsin calls, finally. She's safely back at the flat. We head off to meet her.


Tamsin tells us about her day: she was pepper sprayed as well and dragged behind police lines and they wouldn't let her back into the crowd so she made her way home. I jump in the shower to wash the pepper out of my hair (I kept getting little shocks of pain as wisps of it blew in my eyes) and check to see if I've got any bruises. The only thing visible is a red mark on my chest where the policeman pressed really hard against my 10:10 necklace. As the water dries on my face it burns again.


We've dragged ourselves out of the flat to go to a talk about media responses to COP 15 with George Monbiot and Naomi Klein, but we're all way too tired and hungry to concentrate. Naomi is passionate and articulate but extremely croaky with a bad cold, and (much as I like him) I've seen enough of Monbiot for the week. The whole atmosphere is tinged with a self-congratulatory, lovey tone that's grating when the part you played in making the news of the day has left you feeling like you've got sunstroke. A group come in late, and there's a shift in the room, the whisper of celebrity. It's Daryl Hannah, someone tells me, but I couldn't care less.


The talk has finally finished and Tamsin comes out of the toilet having just met Daryl at the sink. Apparently their conversation went like this.

Daryl: You look tired.

Tamsin: I am. How do you keep your energy up?

Daryl: I care about people. Shall we wash each other's hands?

They wash each other's hands.



We're at a restaurant, slowly dying. We haven't eaten properly all day and now there's just one waiter doing food and drinks for the whole place and he hasn't had time to make our order and is threatening to cancel it. We're so delirious with hunger we can hardly speak, and when we do we're irritable and hysterical; we've become Noel Coward characters in a Beckett play. And the waiter is so stressed and good-looking we can't even get angry with him. I'm about to fall off my seat when a sandwich finally appears.


I go back to find my friend Guy at a drinks reception from the talk, and have a brief conversation with Naomi Klein. I'm leaving just as she is and end up asking her for chapstick. She's reluctant at first as she doesn't want to give me her cold, but then takes pity when she hears about the pepper spraying and says she'll see if she can scrape off the top layer. Then the stick turns out to be nearly finished and she says I can keep it. I tell her she has materially improved my life, but I don't think she cares. I walk back through the snow with Guy, the chapstick on my lips, feeling exhausted and bruised, and like I've just kissed Naomi Klein.

Like this? check out our other blog about Copenhagen ...
and the Climate Rush website http://www.climaterush.co.uk/

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