Elokapina climate activists stopped the traffic on Mannerheimintie at the Little Parliament building in Helsinki on June 17, 2021. Photograph: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today / Click to view gallery
HELSINKI—Ring! Ring! Ring!
”Damn. They’re ringing the bell while others are trying to sleep!” says Kaisla Ovaska, 19, a contact person between the police and Elokapina activists.
It’s 03:15 on the night between Thursday and Friday, and a couple of teenaged boys are ringing the bell of their e-scooters next to dozens of tents that rise on Mannerheimintie in front of the Little Parliament building.
The police have parked their dark civil car with blinking blue lights in front of the camp at the intersection of Arkadiankatu, to protect the safety of more than a hundred demonstrators who are sleeping in the tents. The boys’ bell-ringing prompts no action.
“According to my knowledge, this is the first time people are sleeping on Mannerheimintie,” Ovaska says.
Mannerheimintie is one of the busiest roads in Helsinki, and these days the rebels of the Elokapina movement are one of the busiest climate activists. They have declared a climate emergency. The government must make moves to save the planet. “Maybe someone else from the organization could explain it better what we exactly want that the government should do,” Ovaska says, “but I do know that the government should take action!”
Ovaska got involved with Elokapina last autumn. Like all others in the organization (that she says is not controlled by anyone), she underwent a training program that lasted four hours. “We learned about the workings of the organization and the basics of civil disobedience.”
The course, however, did not prepare to face the methods that the police could use to disperse the crowd.
Last October, when the activists had taken over another street in Helsinki, the police pepper-sprayed many of Ovaska’s friends who sat on the pavement legs crossed.
“These days, the training program teaches how to deal with the use of force,” Ovaska says.
This time the police have shown unprecedented patience. The clock is approaching 03:30, and the protesters have been sitting on Mannerheimintie since Thursday afternoon.
Ovaska says that the negotiations with the police have gone in “mutual understanding.” The Helsinki Police Department has also been active on Twitter explaining the course of the protest.
While the police did say that the decision of the demonstrators to camp on a dark road in the middle of the night was “very bad,” the police were also prepared to secure their camping so that they don’t get hit by a car.
On Friday morning, the happy campers have crawled out of their tents and set up their banners. The sun is shining hard and bright. The civil police car has been exchanged for one with emblems.
The traffic is slowly starting to jam.
But the protesters are ready to sit here until the government—or police—takes action.