The demonstration yesterday here in Copenhagen was large and peaceful, with some minor disturbances. The police were out en force and had identified a large bloc of protesters for pre-emptive arrest – news sources later put the number at about 160 for the event I witnessed.

Leaving the city center, the route crossed a major bridge before channeling into a narrower section of street lined by small shops. Police cordoned off the small side streets here. When the group passed through, police charged, pinning the 20-somethings against the storefronts, smashing the windows and wreaking a fair amount of havoc. There was no riot or violence here on the part of the protesters; it was simply a pre-emptive arrest of a group that had clearly been identified earlier.

The arrests seemed strikingly precise. The crowd was very dense here and police seemed to excise their targets amidst groups marching adjacent.

Reports from people at other locations in the march suggested that a group had earlier made a point of charging forward, yelling and threatening to smash things. But it seemed that it was a different group than those I saw arrested.

Perhaps the most iconic moment was when bands of rabble rousers danced around and jeered at the phalanx of police guarding the shiny storefronts of McDonalds and KFC along the route. But the breadth of involvement from so many different groups, with their wealth of concerns bearing directly on the negotiations, was both inspiring and indicative of the broad political stakes often sidelined by the obsessive focus on CO2 concentrations.

I can’t help but feel that some protesters’ fascination with provoking state repression is an unimaginative response. There is no necessary choice between peaceful acquiescence and destroying things; or rather the sense that one must choose is a failure of imagination. Eve Sedgwick would call it a strong affect theory – a belief in an either-or choice that is self-reinforcing because it leads to negative experiences, which in turn pre-empt more subtle, exploratory or substantive choices.

Finally, estimates for the size of the demonstration were at about 100,000 people. This number seems conservative but plausible to me based on back-of-the-envelope calculations of how fast the march was moving and the width of the road where I was standing.

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