STORY OF A STRUGGLE IN THE RHINE BASINS FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE
The sleep is light, the heat, the noise not coming to end these questions of the meaning of what we do, of our choices in front of the finitude, of our lives, of our struggles… What am I doing here? I am in my thirties and for the first time I find myself involved in a massive civil disobedience action for climate justice and against coal mining.
Ende Gelande. For several years, this group of collectives, associations, NGOs and other political groups has been organizing mobilizations in different regions of Germany affected by lignite mining(1). Their goal is to sensitize a wider audience to the need for a rapid and radical change in societal model. Air pollution, loss of biodiversity, global warming, destruction of ancient forests, expropriation of entire villages… the results of these activities do not bode well for the years to come. The main target this time was the site of Garzweiler, not far from Cologne, a gaping wound of 48 km², destined to become a leisure lake of 2,300 hectares at the end of its exploitation in 2045. Of course, a beautiful body of water is cleaner and, as a result of the greenwashing, it could even become a Natura 2000 area.
When I woke up, I looked terrible, but my morale held up. It must be said that the previous day had sounded like a failure. About 350 people left the main camp with bags full of food and belongings, determined to occupy the excavation site as long as possible. But the police, mobilized in mass for the event (one speaks about more than one thousand agents deployed) is well decided to block our way. Nevertheless, today is another day. We spend the morning seeing people from all over the world coming by train, bus, car or bike. The procession finally begins to gather, we are at least 1.500, all dressed in the white suit and the straw bag, our only means of defense against the police truncheons.
A few hundred meters away and there is already a first police roadblock on our way. Unlike the previous day, the decision was made not to avoid confrontation. Everything goes very fast. Still, a gap is created on the right side of the agent line, the mass of people in motion helping. This is enough for activists to get in the way, for the police to be destabilized and for the whole column to pass through the blockade. And one.
The processions then set off at a good pace across the fields towards the rails that feed one of the lignite power stations. In the distance, the railroad line is visible, raised above the fields, in front of it, a last row of vans occupying the whole horizon awaits us. We easily overtake it thanks to the diversion of the leading group. Suddenly, someone gives a dispersal signal. The procession bursts into pairs that take advantage of the slightest crack in the police line to rush up the hillside overlooking the railroad. In spite of their many blows of truncheons or kicks, the agents will not prevent a single member of our procession from reaching the rails.
As soon as we arrived on the tracks, the police already started to surround us. They tell us to leave the place through their loudspeakers, but we sing too loud to hear them. We regroup, sit down in the middle of the railroad and drop our backpacks. Following the success of our action and the influx of adrenaline in the last few hours, the emotion is there. On both sides of the rails, we see in the distance other groups who settle down. We are definitely not alone. After several hours of walking at high speed and police blows, the opportunity presents itself for a little rest, to eat a bit, to quench our thirst. Time passes. It discusses, it sings, it dances. Some of us even try a joke on the police. In front of this spectacle, the police remains mostly stoic. From time to time signs of humanity. A smile escapes here and there from their modern armor.
Several hours pass in this strange atmosphere, until the police bring in carloads to move us. One after the other we are arrested, in a muscular way if we don’t accept of our own free will (sic): blows, hair pulling and other arm keys. We were put on the cars like cattle. A few kilometers further on, some agents shoot us. A space entirely surrounded by police vans awaits us, with its share of armed men and women. They park us there for a few hours before moving us in cell-armored buses to the regional police station. An officer tells us that unless we want to give our identity and fingerprints, only a photo will be taken before we are released. Outside, food and music await us to celebrate the very symbolic victory of the action.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM IT?
With hindsight, the results of our mobilization may seem derisory, we have neither revolutionized the contemporary energy system, nor undermined the capitalist mode of production. However, I think that the interest lies elsewhere, in the mediatization of Ende Gelande’s climate justice discourse through these actions. But above all, these mobilizations remind others and themselves that non-violent civil disobedience can put obstacles in the way of multinationals. These giant companies have become so abstract in our eyes that we forget that they are part of matter, logistics and infrastructure. » We are together and we are capable » : this is how I see Ende Gelande’s message. When one sees the scope, horizontality and autonomy of Ende Gelande’s organization, one has the right to be relatively confident about the capacity of human beings to create democratic, ecological, feminist, non-capitalist and anti-racist forms of society.
At the end of this weekend, the next big meeting is set for early November, just before the start of the COP23 in Bonn. A good opportunity to denounce the inefficiency of the UN process and to shout loudly the need for mass disobedient action to protect ourselves and future generations from their harmful production methods. If we don’t stop them, who will? Each of you, dear readers, are welcome to join us. We look forward to seeing you in November.
*Link to the photos of the mobilizations: https://www.flickr.com/photos/133937251@N05/albums
More information is available at
- the official website of Ende Gelande: www.ende-gelaende.org ;
- participating organizations, such as Friends of the Earth, 350.org or more locally the ADES network, the YCW
- the author of this article, Alexandre Orban ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
- Type de charbon utilisé comme combustible dans les centrales électriques. L’Allemagne est le premier producteur mondial de lignite. En 2016, l’Allemagne produisait 40 % de son électricité grâce au charbon. On dénombrerait plus de 3.600 morts prématurés annuels dans le pays liés à la pollution aérienne imputable à la combustion du charbon (www.lemonde.fr).