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Making history with 100,000

December 14, 2009

See the march in 3 minutes through my eyes.

It’s late evening at the Bella Centre, about the time COP15ers head out for the night. The sky is pitch black above the glass ceiling. Workers collect random bits of trash from abandoned tables.

But on this night, a crowd gathered around a TV. Footage of the climate march was on. Police estimates pegged 100,000 people at the start of the march in Parliament Square at 2 p.m. The massive crowd spent the next four hours shuffling towards the Bella Center in the biggest climate change demonstration ever.

COP15 attendees gather around a Bella Center TV Saturday night to watch the demonstration outisde.

A later New York Times news report said 60,000-100,000 turned out.

The lines of bobbing candles and waving signs on screen reminded me of TV news and historical documentary footage from social movements we studied in high school.

But this footage wasn’t from a city hundreds of miles away in decades past. These people were about 500 feet away.

So Taylor and I took off outside, showed our passes and crossed the police line to the demonstration finale.

Taylor and I toast the protestors next to the line of marchers.

It capped off an incredible afternoon that started at 1 p.m. when I joined the gathering masses in Parliament Square.

Drums pounded around the massive square, chants bubbled out of the masses, a model pirate ship pumped out techno music and thousands wielded signs with messages like “There’s no Planet B.” Dozens of groups and movements in different colors and costumes — from socialist youth to a small klezmer band — united around global warming.

Copenhagen was the epicenter of global action day. Thousands of similar marches were dotted across almost every country in the world. And we were right here. Allow me an evening of awe and incredulity, it was just that impressive and novel.

Only a helicopter-mounted camera could capture the scale of the event: City blocks filled with candles, signs, people crammed shoulder to shoulder walking, singing and chanting for hours to push for a treaty in Copenhagen.

TVs all over the Bella Center showed tens of thousands of demonstrators marching from downtown towards the center.

One particular block was book ended by flashing blue lights and lined with people sitting in tight rows, arrested for violent demonstrations. The Times called them radical protesters. Whoever they were, the hundreds of deviants were the vast minority.

Those few hours proved to me you can still generate global social inertia in the face of deep bitterness and resistance. People care enough to turn out en masse.

I was in awe, awkward, thoroughly excited, shocked, freezing cold, humbled. And at the end of the day, inspired.

No matter what happens this week, I’ll still be talking about my first major protest decades from now. How wonderful.

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