Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copehnagen Climate Protests

Over the weekend, thousands marched in Copehnagen, where the U.N. climate summit is taking place.  The demonstration, and media coverage of the event, were typical in several respects:

1.  There were disparate voices in the assembly.  Protesters did not confine their message to climate change.  Vegans, anti-war demonstrators, and those urging the overthrow of the Iranian government all joined climate activists on the streets in Copehnagen.

2.  The diversity of messages made it more difficult for climate activists to communicate a unified message.  This is almost always the case during mass demonstrations.  Various groups use the opportunity to convey messages at high-profile events.  As a result, messages were likely diluted or altered.

3.  There was no single group in charge of the demonstration and march.  This relates to the first two points, of course.  With little organization, no unified message is possible.  As one participant said, "It seemed as if  no one was in charge, and there was no closure."

4.  The principal march was mostly peaceful.  But there were pockets of trouble.  Police in this instance seem to have acted with restraint, focusing on the most disruptive and potentially violent elements of the assembly.

5.  The NYT report focuses somewhat on the potential for disruption and public violence.  The report describes "bands of radical protesters" engaging in "spontaneous demonstrations" in parts of Copenhagen, and notes that police made over 950 arrests.  There were also "scattered reports of localized riots."  There was no apparent connection between the march and these events.  But the reporting might give some the impression that mob violence generally attends public events.  Media studies of reporting on public demonstrations indicate that press coverage is often biased in favor of conflict, which of course makes it more difficult for peaceful protesters to convey their messages.

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