When you look at the top ten places that produce the most carbon dioxide in Europe, you will come to know that seven of them can be found in Germany. The supposedly “green” Germans are mining and burning coal there, blowing unimaginable amounts of CO2 into our atmosphere and thereby causing numerous deaths all over the world and contributing to global warming. Last year, I found myself near one particular mine often while protecting the ancient Hambach forest from destruction (there’s a lot of coal beneath it). Every single time I stood at the brim, I felt the strong urge to run towards the diggers and make them stop. As you do when something terribly wrong is happening. But they are incredibly big and I was admittedly way too scared to stand in their way all by myself.
One weekend this past June, though, 6000 people of all ages decided to gather their courage and say “Stop, no more.” together. Peacefully. By using their bodies to create a blockade. I will never be able to share in words what that fully means. But I really want to try:
A huge camp was created, just imagine a festival crafted with the love of a few thousand. For one entire day, we practiced. How to pass through a police chain peacefully. How to climb into the mine safely. How to communicate with hand signals as a “finger” of a thousand people. We formed small affinity groups that would look out for each other during the action. We gathered our courage again and again. Because no – most of us had never done this before. Most of us wished deeply they didn’t have to do this. Many of us were scared. For themselves and of the violence they were prepared to experience – but even more for their future or the future of their children. There were so many grandparents there and one of them, walking with a stick, told me “if you had grandchildren, you would throw yourself in front of the digger, too. You would throw yourself in front of ANYTHING that might cause them pain.”
Do what is necessary – but do it peacefully
The next day, we were ready to go (since I received a superb legal training, I will not spread online what I might or might not have done. I will talk about the big action in general). The police was ready, too. And as it turned out, they were not going to be soft on us, despite our non-violence, despite our respectful behavior towards them. We sang to them “we are here for your children”, but that didn’t stop them from beating us hard and using pepper spray generously. On 14 year olds. On 73 year olds. On 29 year olds. They had their orders. But they knew we were right, a few of them told me.
We made it past the police nonetheless. It took almost two days of walking and waiting and running in the heat of the sun for many of us. A farmer in solidarity opened his home near the power plant to 500 of us for a night and threw the police off his property. A father & his daughter rented a huge car and shuttle-drove people to the farm all night long. We received food and water from residents of the villages that will be sacrificed for the coal beneath it. We couldn’t be held off this way – we had too much help to be stopped. The solidarity we experienced brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.
We got into the mine and onto the railroad. The coal-burning power plant had to be curbed, no trains were going any longer, no diggers were digging. Some of the blockades were held for more than 48 hours. The news were full of us. But it never felt like a victory – we knew that from the very beginning. We knew we’d be forced to leave and the diggers would get back to work. But the symbolic message had been spread wide and loudly.
WE. ARE. RISING. UP.
WE ARE NOT COOPERATING ANY LONGER WITH A SYSTEM THAT IS FAILING US.
Standing up is all we have. If we don’t, we will be completely f*cked within the next 10 or 20 years.
Your degree will not be worth much if you don’t rise
We need to become upstanders and give the bystander part to someone else. I cried so many tears of frustration, exhaustion, sadness and helplessness during those days. I wish someone else would do the job for me. But politicians are failing us. They have for 30 years. They are stuck in a system that doesn’t work long term. If we don’t stand up right now, the chance for peaceful human existence is lost. Next year is too late. It’s now. Your degree will not be worth much if you don’t rise. Your job will not exist if you don’t rise. Money will be worthless if you don’t rise.
Stand up. Do it your way. Be it throwing yourself in front of a coal digger or baking cookies for those who do – you will find exactly your job. To survive, it’s going to take our all. And everyone we know. Join Extinction Rebellion, Ende Gelände or another movement that is choosing peaceful civil disobedience as their way of solving this crisis – history shows clearly that this is the most powerful tool we have. Ask yourself what you are going to say to your children when they ask you what you did for their future. When they don’t have any clean water to drink or food to eat. Tell them. Break through the collective denial of the crisis humanity is facing. Dare to let the truth move you. And then move with it. Act.