Wild Wild Bonn: Anti-nuke protestors get up close & personal, try to get me seized by the police

Three things happened today, two of them very exciting, one, intense. I heard Eric Meyer of the Generation Atomic sing several pieces of nuclear opera (wow!), I got my official observer badge for the conference (yay!)… aand I had a confrontation with anti-nuclear protesters and the police (o_O). Frankly, I had not thought that my time in Bonn would be quite so eventful.

The morning started by me meeting up the bright young minds behind Generation Atomic and Bright New World at their crowded airbnb, among a veritable sea of laptops, dirty mugs, and half-awake nuclear advocates. After preparations, we navigated to the img_5657-heic.jpgentrance of the very-official Bula Zone of the conference, where Eric poetically sang about the future of the human race in the rain. I am to blame for any shaking or needless movements in the film (which will be up later). I also got my badge and the free public transport chip, wouhouu. We decided to head to a museum cafe for late lunch, when we walked into… an anti-nuclear demonstration. We decided to dive right in.

Friends of the earth were on a scene making speeches to a crowd of perhaps 50-100 people (not good at estimating that). There were ‘nuclear waste’ barrels (you know, those you use for oil, but painted yellow and with a radiation warning sign) sprinkled around the scene, and an anti-nuclear van fitted with so much scary ‘nuclear’ props that they doubled its height. They talked and sang about the horrors of nuclear power, the message of the German lyrics went something like ‘they are threatening us all, the disaster is around us’ and ‘we should be angry, we have to act now for our future,’ and so on. So much will to make the world better, but laden with such mistaken, simplistic, and fear-inducing messages. It was sad.

Surprise turn: an anti-nuclear protest followed by a pro-nuclear opera

IMG_5640.HEIC

Eric sombre, watching the crowd

When they were done, Eric, who clearly lacks any kind of survival instinct, climbed onto the scene to let the protestors hear his nuclear opera. I stood right in front of the scene and filmed him (apologies to my husband about that promise to try and not get beaten by anti-nuclear activists). The microphone was still on when Eric began singing, but the protestors soon turned it off. That didn’t slow him down, you should hear that voice – he just stepped away from the mic and continued. A lady from Friends of the Earth went to him with a false smile, trying to say “how nice that you’ve come over to our side” and Eric smiled and shook his head and held up his colourful “nuclear yes please” badges.

“History-yy will show / [nuclear] was the right way to go”, he sang on, and by that time it was too much – the anti-nuclear demonstrators turned on their equipment to drown him out with cacophony. Eric took a bow, several people clapped! He jumped down, and was directly approached by a guy who had a nice smile on his face, who said ‘you should be really thankful that you are not getting beaten’. I was still filming Eric at that time. Another anti-nuclear demonstrator, a tall black-clad man with an ‘organiser’ armband, came and jerked at my hand that was holding the camera, trying to get it. I refused to let it go, and he told me repeatedly ‘let me show what you filmed’ and ‘you’re coming with me now to show me what you’ve filmed’. I refused and stowed the camera away securely among my many pockets. While I was being heckled by him, Eric was trying to show flyers with graphs to people in the audience. This so angered a stout old man in a bright yellow vest that he struck the flyer from his hand and threw it.

Things heat up

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The top of that offensive flyer Eric was handing out.

Soon the old man was pushing Eric and was really angry, spitting and yelling. He kept pushing Eric bodily away, and he kept putting his hands up, not budging, and saying ‘I’m a peaceful protester’ and asking the man to stop. The old man did not care, he screamed in his face that he was a fascist, and other unintelligible phrases, and kept shoving. None of the other activists thought this seemed like an objectionable way to behave, and they were happy to let Eric get pushed some 30 meters down the street – when I joined the two of them, the old man started screaming, spittle flying, a centimeter or two away from my face that I too was a fascist. I looked at him and asked if he was going to use force against me too. At about this point some of the people on his side made a half-hearted effort to tell him to cool off and step away.

With him backed up for a moment, we tried to have discussion with a Mexican woman (*correction: a New Mexican woman. She confronted me later at the US panel, said she’d read this piece, and said I was a racist. I asked if she really thought I was racist for not hearing her words perfectly amidst a group of people shouting on top of each other. I did say I would be more than happy to correct the piece with the more accurate information, and said how nice it was to be able to talk to her without all that shouting.) holding on to a large yellow banner. She kept asking us if we knew about uranium mining. I asked her whether she was concerned about climate change and interested in what the IPCC had to say about solutions. She said “that’s just one name. You listen only to one organisation”, to which I replied that hundreds of scientists for years and years had worked there trying to get at how to best understand the problem. She told us we should listen to hundreds of native people instead. o_O

Enter the German law enforcement

At this point it turned out that the tall guy in black had gone to fetch the police. Two stern German policemen came and physically held me still and started asking about what I had been filming and they wanted to see the footage. The anti-nuclear people rejoiced, took out their cameras and turned them on us instead(!). I said I had done nothing wrong, and I was not going to give them my camera. The police were being gruff and told me if I knew about privacy rights, and “that it was against the law in Germany to put any of it online”. I said I naturally understood that there were laws protecting people’s privacy. They kept asking to see the footage, but I kept the camera safely in one of the pockets of my three jackets – Finnish cloth layering for the win! We asked them if we could then also see the anti-nuclear protestors cameras, to make sure they had not filmed us. The lady from Friends of the Earth let out an incredulous burst of laughter and said “of course I will not show you my phone. You’ll break it!” Eric asked if the police could do something about the man who had been pushing him around.

IMG_5639.HEIC

My ‘say what’ -face at the anti nuke demonstration.

The police decided to selectively not hear anything about the pusher or about our demands to see the other people’s phones for their footage of us, and the anti-nuclear  protestors  were smirking. Instead the police took my name and address and said “if we see anything online, you will get legal consequences in Germany”. (What a load of crap btw – filming a crowd in a public area is supported by the law as long as one does not specifically focus and follow someone – in that case, permission for publication is needed. We had been filming Eric, and made general sweeps of the audience – later someone had insisted on walking into the frame to tell Eric he was lucky he was not being beaten. Threats and shoving people around a-OK, a mention of someone filming a public situation warrants an intimidation by the police? Wow.)

Conspiracy over the World Health Organisation?

The police left, and the New Mexican woman again brought up uranium mining. We tried to explain that there were drawbacks to all kinds of mining, and that we should make fair comparisons between energy forms. She – thankfully not tempted to get physical – raised her voice to drown out our arguments, and asked repeatedly if we knew how uranium was mined and enriched, and that the centrifugation of uranium in the enrichment process demanded energy – coal energy, because her country had no nuclear power – so HA. Nuclear needed coal. We tried to explain that all mining and construction requires energy. She said we were getting our information from the wrong places.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 18.34.44

Part of Eric’s flyer showing the mining requirements of renewables and nuclear.

I said we needed to look at the health impacts – and I mentioned the World Health Organisation (WHO). I wanted to draw her attention to impacts of coal, but I never got a word in. She told me the WHO would never tell the truth, because they had signed a contract with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) that they would never publish anything on nuclear power (weird because I have referenced several of their studies on it). To try to get a better insight into her thinking, I asked if she indeed thought there was a conspiracy at the WHO to ignore evidence on nuclear power, and she said yes – in fact, they “were obliged to do so due to this contract”. She declared that I should “do my homework look it up.”

Somewhat resigned, I promised to look that up IF she would also look up the scientific resources I had collected. Small victories: she accepted my Mothers for Nuclear flyer with a picture of me and summary and graphs of my reasons for supporting nuclear, and promised she would go online and read. I shook her hand and thanked her for talking to us. I am now left with the task of looking for a contract between IAEA and the WHO, proving that the WHO will not publish anything about the ‘true impacts of nuclear power’… any tips on where I might find such a contract? 🙂 Update: thanks to two fellow Finnish Ecomodernists for their quick help with my homework! Behold, the conspiracy. UPDATE – more on that in the piece where I account my second meeting with her, after she has read this piece and has complaints: Conversations with an Anti-Nuclear Protester, Take Two.

Only an hour after my first visit to the COP23, and wow, I was spent! We went for a well deserved lunch of what I introduced to Eric as “Swiss Pizza” (flammkuchen – I take no responsibility over which German speaking part of Europe deserves the honours for the dish’s true ancestry).

By the time we were done eating and calmed down from the shower of adrenaline, we saw that the protestors, including the pusher, had sat down at the same cafe. As we were walking out we waved and smiled at them, and got the finger. Classy.

Lessons learned?

Surprise surprise, we found that anti nuclear protestors might not be the most fertile ground for a calm discussion about evidence. Still, I am sad and amazed both at the style of their behaviour and the content of their arguments. I can’t help but hope that some of them may feel unhappy about the behaviour of the people “on their side”, and perhaps wonder “what really motivates these people who were being yelled at and pushed around but kept trying to talk calmly about the importance of stopping climate change?”

The answer is that most of us are motivated by love toward our fellow humans and nature. The question is, what is the best way to find out how we can best take care of each other and our environment? Is it all a conspiracy, and one slogan is as good as the next? Or is there a way to actually know, instead of simply assuming?

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For more of my articles on climate and energy, look here. Even better idea, however, is to read the short, evidence-dense book Climate Gamble or browse the graphs in their blog. If you would like to have a discussion in the comments below, please take note of my Commenting policy. In a nutshell:

  1. Be respectful.
  2. Back up your claims with evidence.

 

About Thoughtscapism

Cell Biologist, volunteer science communicator, and fiction writer.
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26 Responses to Wild Wild Bonn: Anti-nuke protestors get up close & personal, try to get me seized by the police

  1. Brian Hicks says:

    I probably am on the ‘other side’ from you regarding a number of environmental questions, but the treatment you received is appalling. Some people on the political left don’t seem to realize that when they justify obstruction of speech, or even violence, based on their strong feeling that they are morally right, they are hardly different from the extremists on the right. It distresses me that there are people on both sides of controversial issues who seem to think that the rules don’t apply to them since, after all, they possess the truth and those other people don’t…
    (And I don’t mean to imply that supporting R&D in nuclear power puts you on the political right.)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ikemeister says:

      I probably am on the ‘other side’ from you regarding a number of environmental questions

      Questions regarding the use of nuclear energy? What are your concerns in that regard?

      Like

      • Jim Hopf says:

        Also, do the “number of environmental issues” he refers to all concern nuclear power, or is he just assuming that anyone who supports nuclear is also on the “wrong side” of all environmental issues (i.e., is someone who doesn’t care about the environment). If so, how sad. The exact opposite is true. The main reasons to support nuclear have always been environmental.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Brian Hicks says:

        Hi, my intention is not to engage in discussion of nuclear energy, but merely to comment on the outrageous behavior of people whose opinion I likely sympathize with. And Jim, I did not intend to make any generalizations about people who support nuclear power.

        Like

  2. mjangwin says:

    I am so sorry this happened. You handled it beautifully! I loved that you asked them to see their own videos.

    I was sorry this happened, but (unfortunately), I was not surprised at the behavior of the nuclear opponents. I was somewhat surprised at the behavior of the police. In Vermont, the police are no help usually, but they don’t join the opponents the way these guys did. Here’s Rod Adams take on a Brattleboro meeting. Community TV made a video of the whole four hour meeting, and Rod took that video and made an 26 minute clip of some of the worst behavior. https://atomicinsights.com/agencies-should-not-allow-creation-of-a-hostile-environment-at-public-meetings/

    Congratulations on standing up to these people and getting away with your camera intact! And also, congratulations on engaging with a person that you could effectively engage with. So many congratulations!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. marianwhit says:

    I had my day in activism years ago when I realized some PETA animal rights advocates were saying there was no genetic basis for disease and that diabetics would be fine without insulin if they just became vegans. I was sent death threats, and human feces in the mail, and even thrown out of a public meeting (dragged out by the police) they had in a public library where I was not creating any disturbance, just there to hear their side of the argument. Once the situation was defused (we cooperated totally with the police), the officers advised us to file civil complaints against the group, since they had deprived us of our civil rights. The library did not host them again. We mounted a very successful campaign to show that people who work with animals in research would rather not do that if there were alternatives, and that we were caring people interested in curing the incurably ill people and animals (since animal research is the basis for veterinary care too). I was not a researcher, but involved in the veterinary care of the animals and teaching humane care and handling of the research animals to minimize suffering…services within research institutions most people don’t know about, with stringent standards for animal care that most pet owners would not pass. Glad to have people like you, interested in facts. It takes guts to advocate an unpopular position, no matter how rational. I think the main reason for a public counter-demonstration or response is education, and if we avoid those open conversations, we let our country down. But these confrontations have to be sane…perhaps bring back the public debate? We dressed in bright colours with positive messages (statistics about treatments, cures, and our ever lengthening life-span), and stood smiling while they threw artificial blood on us. The media had a field day, the the mounted police (atop horses PETA considered slaves worthy of legal rights equal to people) took very, very good care of us. None of us said a rude word, just kept trying to rebut untruths. The demonstrations fizzled and we went back to work, but we missed the ball when the tactics changed and efforts were put into indoctrinating kids as early as possible in school. Hang in there, and definitely talk to kids if you can, because you make the science pretty clear. More people like you are needed.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jaro Franta says:

    Gotta love German antinukes….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Karl Pauls says:

    Bravo Eric!

    If you can’t use your footage from Germany he rehearsed for us in Seattle: https://youtu.be/oJysXUj69QM

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Favorite line … “Finnish cloth layering for the win!”

    Not news, but I agree with Richard at Eclectic Science … Cheers!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. riskmonger says:

    So happy that you stood up to them. As much as the antis feel they are fighting for more democracy, they need to understand how their actions run contrary to these ideals and border on fascism. Refusing to let others speak, trying to physically remove people with other ideas shows how they live by campaigns not by dialogue. Only by having brave people calling out their loud voices as a refusals to listen can we earn the right to get people back to dialogue. Well done Iida!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Chippy says:

    “anti nuclear protestors might not be the most fertile ground for a calm discussion” rings true with me. I’m at the start of my personal research into low-carbon fuels and finding it’s incredibly difficult to begin a discussion about Nuclear power with the general public (including many of my friends.) I’ve been talking to low-carbon experts at COP23 this week and trying to explain that the word ‘lithium’ could also be a problem. Recycling is the question here. I feel it’s going to be harder to prove (and market) the case for Uranium recycling vs Lithium recycling but i’ll be happy to listen to your thoughts. I’m @chippy on Twitter and active with cameras around Bonn for the second week of COP23 if you’re interested in a meet.

    Like

  9. Jim Hopf says:

    Like others here, I admire how you and Eric handled yourselves in that situation. If I were there, I likely would have lacked your patience and forbearance, and things would have gone South (perhaps with the police in particular).

    I’m left wondering, however, how useful that all was. The anti-nuke extremists in that area were clearly unreachable. It’s doubtful that there were many open-minded people around who could be convinced. Perhaps a better strategy would have been to set up shop in another area, far from the anti-nuke protestors, and hope to influence more objective, open minded people who walked by. I don’t see much point in rattling their chain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading! You are quite right – the strategy is, and indeed has been (from the start while I still had not arrived) to have a booth/other events and talk to people in a general setting, hoping to discuss with people who are not entrenched but open to rational discussion. There have been many, and even amazingly fruitful discussions with anti-nuclear advocates in a calmer more personal setting (see the link below).

      As a disclaimer on my post on FB, I stressed the point that: “For the record: we didn’t plan it, we just happened by an anti-nuclear protest, and the two of us, me and Eric from Generation Atomic had to try and go to talk to them.” Since they literally happened to be under our noses, it was difficult for us to listen without trying to get them to talk to us. In fact, the others had already decided that going to protests like that would not be worth it. So no, it’s not something I would consider a strategic plan for having a good discussion. It was, however, illuminating to me to realize the kind of reasoning these people truly rely on, and with an bottomless conviction.

      More on the actual strategy:
      https://kaikenhuippu.com/2017/11/08/day-1-cop23-in-bonn-journal-arriving/

      “Earlier that day, the people at Generation Atomic and Nuclear for Climate had already made some impact on the ground. The N4C booths are located right next to a booth of a Danish anti-nuclear organizations. Their goal was to “shut them all down as soon as possible.” After some lengthy discussions, their stand moderated to something along: “ok, the currently operating plants should be allowed to stay online for their operational lifetimes.”

      Later in the evening, they had moved to something like this: “If there are small reactors that can support distributed grids, that are proliferation-proof, can’t melt down, have strong construction regulations and are built to specs, the we can have this conversation.”

      Face to face discussions, being respectful, shared values. It works, sometimes at least.”

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Robert Budd says:

    So glad you are there…and I’m not 😉 I think it might be very hard. Watching the questions that came after Michael Shellenberger and Jim Hansen made their excellent presentation to the press was saddening. https://www.facebook.com/generationatomic/videos/2068655906753685/?hc_ref=ARRObzyldyST3JE_n1WP8W9BMNsEgmVVa-J1ma9jK35CVcJ7zVrf51oowATl4ngkdy4&pnref=story
    And then to see 350.org award France their fossil award https://350.org/france-is-fossil-of-the-day-at-cop23/ was truly bizarre given they’ve been climate leaders for decades while Germany has behaved and performed so badly. Their press releases was laden with mis-information.
    This is truly disturbing for me as there seems to be a co-ordinated effort now to alarm and then delude people. No progress comes from this. Bill McKibben at 350 should be ashamed of what he is encouraging. This isn’t a thoughtful science based response to a serious global challenge, its promotion of a destructive pseudo religion.
    Thanks for being a voice for reason.

    Like

    • Jim Hopf says:

      I agree with you about the 350.org “fossil” award. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more outraged by something I’ve read. Their statements were absurd and unacceptable on so many levels.

      Although it seems contrary to my post above (about the futility of confronting people who can not be reached), this is an example of something that cannot go unanswered and must be confronted. The page you linked (i.e., the article on the 350.org site) doesn’t appear to allow comments. Is there a place where people can send messages to 350.org? If so, we need to spam the place with responses.

      I would make the provocative (and yes, confrontational) statement that the only thing one can conclude, from their “fossil award” press release, is that 350.org does not actually care about global warming. That is something that they will not want to hear, but the truth hurts, and it needs to be told. Perhaps some of their rank and file members would see our arguments and (if they are at all objective or rational) would see that we have a valid point. How could anyone not?? I’m still dumbfounded and genuinely surprised by the release, and can’t understand why their organization would do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Kaj Luukko says:

    For those who want to see Eric’s Nuclear Opera, watch this:

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thanks for your dedicated effort Iida, and this interaction was definitely challenging. Good work staying above the fray. Ultimately, that’s what will earn us the most respect and honest consideration of our messages.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Planar says:

    I am puzzled and pleasantly intrigued in equal extends by your action. My question is “why do you even bother?”. The basis for healthy and meaningful dialogue is the willingness of everyone involved to change their opinion based on data that contradict their current thesis. It is obvious that in such premises as you described, this basis is entirely absent. Everybody is so emotionally charged and invested in the situation that it is impossible to expect anyone to move an inch from the ground they defend. It looks to me as a futile exercise.
    So what is your motive on challenging anti-nuclear activists (i.e. fanatics) inside their “sacred ground”?
    Please do not read this as provocation. This is a genuine question. I am really interesting to read what drives you and maybe be inspired a little 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks for your genuine interest. I really appreciate it.

      Let me start by what I told another commenter – I might have to hop off a train and continue later:

      As a disclaimer on my post on FB, I stressed the point that: “For the record: we didn’t plan it, we just happened by an anti-nuclear protest, and the two of us, me and Eric from Generation Atomic had to try and go to talk to them.” Since they literally happened to be under our noses, it was difficult for us to listen without trying to get them to talk to us. In fact, the others had already decided that going to protests like that would not be worth it. So no, it’s not something I would consider a strategic plan for having a good discussion. It was, however, illuminating to me to realize the kind of reasoning these people truly rely on, and with an bottomless conviction.
      More on the actual strategy:
https://kaikenhuippu.com/2017/11/08/day-1-cop23-in-bonn-journal-arriving/
      “Earlier that day, the people at Generation Atomic and Nuclear for Climate had already made some impact on the ground. The N4C booths are located right next to a booth of a Danish anti-nuclear organizations. Their goal was to “shut them all down as soon as possible.” After some lengthy discussions, their stand moderated to something along: “ok, the currently operating plants should be allowed to stay online for their operational lifetimes.”
      Later in the evening, they had moved to something like this: “If there are small reactors that can support distributed grids, that are proliferation-proof, can’t melt down, have strong construction regulations and are built to specs, the we can have this conversation.”
      Face to face discussions, being respectful, shared values. It works, sometimes at least.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • So to continue: the theory of knowing that it’s probably not worth it to go into such a charged situation is different than the practice. At least for me, witnessing something like this in person is new. I guess there is a degree of naïveté there, of looking at the people and going “they are just like me, people, surely if they see I am just a normal person like them, they’ll actually be willing to talk”. Maybe I needed this experience to prove to myself that yes, this is not a situation or group of people who can be reached, at least not in this setting. First we need a chance to talk about our shared values, calmly and with compassion.

      Like

  14. Pingback: Power and the (European) anti-nuclear power movement | The unpublished notebooks of J. M. Korhonen

  15. Pingback: Day 6 – COP23 Bonn – Shit gets real and I get out | Kaikenhuipun blogi

  16. Pingback: Conversations with an Anti-Nuclear Protester, Take Two | Thoughtscapism

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