Last week I was one of thousands of activists from across Europe that descended on the continents largest coal mine in Rheinland, Germany, to close it down. After a ten day encampment of workshops, action training and planning it was time for the “Ende Gelaende”day of mass action, 15 August 2015. Scores of stunts, blockades and marches were launched to break into the mine. One of these would go on scale one of the infamous Bagga diggers – among the most destructive machines humanity has created – each consuming the equivalent energy of a small municipal town. What we saw inside the the mine, a landscape biblical in scale and lunar in lifelessness, gave us a chilling glimpse of smash and grab capitalism’s front line and an experience of defiance, solidarity and rebellion that has burned itself indelibly onto our collective emotional memory.
The Klima Camp encampment was situated on land soon to be chewed up by the mines. Seven thousand are facing displacement. If it can get though the Hambacher encampment’s network of tree houses (heroically connected by zip wires), the mine will also take down the Hambacher Forest, killing countless trees and animals in the process. The particular site for the Klima Camp was donated by a farmer who is being forced to sell at a price he has no hand in fixing. Like all farmers in the area he has suffered years of degredation as the water table was pulled
from his feet in order to drain the water from the mine.
The region is being disembowelled for lignite or “brown coal”, one of the dirtiest fuels in existence. So dirty in fact that twenty per cent of the energy taken
from the mine is used in making the mine run (a considerable amount if you consider that the mine is running the entire German arms industry and half of Holland).
The camp is comprised of a growing body of people who are tired of waiting for politicians to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. Despite Angela Merkel’s pronouncements on the “German Energy Revolution” her ruling “green capitalist” Green Party is doing nothing to keep the coal in the ground. Three of Europe’ most polluting mines are in the Rheineland. Klima Camp’s aim is to get in the way, turn the world’s eyes to the dirty face of coal and to send a clear message that enough is enough. If fossil fuels are not left in the ground, runaway climate change could push us past the two degre rise in pre industrial global temperature. The knock on effects will be a biospheric collapse that threatens humanity itself.
Klima Camp, originally inspired by UKs Cliamte Camp (now evolved into Reclaim The Power), is planned, executed and enjoyed entirely by its attendees. Imagine a entire festival complete with a bakery, shop, Info Point, Welcome Tent, several large marquees, a main stage for bands, food, toilet, chillout,
media, medic and camping areas. One where everything is given on a donation basis, including entrance, and you get to be part of a world changing global movement in the process. Reading Festival eat your heart out.
The running of the festival is done horizontally in neighbourhood assemblies (based on where you are camped) that feed decisions into a central coordinating group. Everyone is in charge and everyone chips in – a living breathing anarchist utopia.
The Programme – yes there is a programme, and printed in several different languages – has a full schedule of workshops, talks, debates, panel discussions and gigs. The main marquee has a team of translators and radio headsets available in four different languages. German activists are on it like ping pong.
For those wanting a break from learning about the global struggles for climate justice, there are interactive forum theatre events and training in ceative activism. The camp produced its own Clown Army troupe of radical street theaticians, and a samba band. Someone even put on a radical spoken word workshop. Wierdos.
The Night Before we Closed the Mine
It is midnight, the night before the day of mass action. The camp is a hive of hushed urgency. Footsteps hury along dark grass paths, sidestepping giant forty
foot banners. Speakers are being loaded from the stage onto a lorry with open sides, ready to detonate music in the middle of a crowd of innocent civillians. Workshop tents are filled with water, supplies and samba instruments. Action teams (aka Affinity groups) huddle around torches fingering maps, face masks and electronics. Arms and legs have the legal team phone number marker-penned onto them in case of arrest.
The words ‘occupation’, ‘opperation’ and ‘campaign’ dont feel out of place here. While the experience for most will be relatively fluffy and risk free, many are taking a risk to their physical integrity and are willing to get arrested in standing up to the most powerful entities that have ever existed – aka the fossil fuel industry, aka the forces of darkness, aka planet smashing incarnations of death metal.
Day of Mass Action
At six in the morning the camp is awoken by a giant megaphone. Spontanious cheers and whistles ripple through a field of dome tents barnacled onto the
misty hillside. After breakfast everyone joins the different “fingers” to head to the mine. Some fingers number in the hundreds. Many of their participants have been rehearsing the act of breaking through police lines in the preceding days.
To protect anonimity and defend against pepper spray, many are wearing white suit as well as eye and face masks. The resulting picture is of a giant team of medics rushing to an emergency. And they are. The activist slogan of the coming COP 21 UN Climate talks in Paris this December is ‘We are not fighting for
nature, we are nature defending herself’. The Earth’s immune system kicking in, like an army of white blood cells rushing to the scene of a crime.
Marching towards the mine, tensions and spirits were high. Songs included a personal favourite, “There’s a hole in my planet, oh scheiße, oh scheiße. There’s a hole in my planet oh scheiße a hole.”
In the face of pepper and battons the International Finger break through police lines four times to make it into the mine. As much as it is sad to see public forces use chemical weaponry on a non-violent trespass, it is beautiful to see how almost the entire
two hundred made it through unheart and smiling into the mine. For many it is their first action. One activist, with a backpocket of geological knowledge, observed from the lines in the sand that we had made it down about a million years into the past. We were at the feet a real life Mordor carving its was into our future.
In the following advance through the mine, protesters fanned out to prevent police vehicles passing to create another blockade. The thin white line of protesters holding hands in the middle of this deathscape, pursued by heavily armoured vehicles and helicopters, was Ghandian. It was inevitably not long before all were kettled, beaten down or fled the mine.
By then it was too late. The mines operations had been stopped and the pictures splashed all over the press in Germany and beyond. The following twelve hours of mass detentions where, though unnecessary and for some painful and uncomfortable, were for most filled with songs, chants, games and growing friendships. Kettles of protesters from all over the world – hands cable tied behind their backs – feeding each other with food and cigarettes provided priceless metaphors of solidarity. There was a game of frisbee (apparently this is still possible
with hands cable tied behind your back) and Worthers Originals, pulled open by opposing sets of teeth, then caught by a third person (who also had their hands tied). It was like a team building exercise on a corporate training residential (except with riot cops instead of middle management).
While the mine continues to produce coal, the battle in this war of stories has been won by the Camp. The definition of what climate action means is changed, the goal posts thrown over the cliff. One of the deadest expanses on earth has been filled with creativity, resistance and a riotous love. What will grow out of it? Come to Paris this December to find out.