This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is the beginning of Ende Gelende. Three thousand activists from across Europe have converged on Lausitz coal mine, East Germany, for a four day encampment of climate mass action. They are armed with bags and tents stuffed with tightly wrapped plans and various shapes of misbehavior. The goal to close down a coal mine and a power plant.
I know, they don’t make life easy.
Numbers have doubled since the last Klima Lamp in August 2015 in West Germany. That’s the problem with social movements. They involve lots of young people expressing themselves in an effort to change the world. They all camp out, dance, join Samba bands and occupy places belonging to The Dark Side. Then they go home they tell their friends. Before you know it, everyone wants more excitement, meaning and purpose than you could stuff inside a shopping centre.
This has to stop. Left unchecked, this exponential rise in ‘non-violent confrontational disobedience’ could seriously undermine the bedrock of environmentalism: tutting at the television, carrying out the recycling, and sighing with a listless resignation.
If these lines are passed, the machine of industrial capitalism is in grave danger.
On the Friday we set off to block the railway at a filling station. We succeed.
The loading bays are fed by giant conveyor belts of death. They are like supermarket check outs for a species addicted to the intestines of its own planet. But the growl of Mordor has been silenced. Reverberating with songs and chants, the stations are all at once, climbing frames for a movement, museums of a dying world, and galleries of a new kind of political creativity. Each banner, sticker, chalked slogans and fist shaking activists draped across it, is an exhibit of disobedience. This is high art. The product of hundreds of hands, months of planning, and decades of accumulated experience. As we arrive at the top, a rainbow appears, and at its end – a coal mine.
Later I lie on the train tracks below, covered in coal dust, assimilating the masterpiece singing down at me. Below me death – deep permeating death. Above me life – praying, partying and fighting for a future.
If this is anything it is a war of images: images that celebrate, images that redefine, images that question, warn, provoke and inspire. Inside the mine, hundreds more activists scale diggers the size of 12 story buildings. A new story has been added. The infamous, planet chewing megaliths stand purposeless and motionless, like giant question marks. Who has the power? What does democracy look like? What do we want? When do we want it?
This was not the work of crusties, hippies and bearded poets (though there were a few). Within the camp were professionals, climate scientists and men and women in their sixties, oh, and an ensemble of classical musicians. Any man who carries a cello four hours by foot, to perform to people chained to a train track, is redefining what democracy sounds like. The sight of a classical quintet playing on the fringes of an apocalyptic tar pit was reminiscent of the film Titanic. The sinking ship – hydrocarbon capitalism. Climate change campaigner Leonardo di Caprio could have conceivably been there. Kate Winslet was nowhere to be seen. Celine Dion can fuck right off.
It is now Sunday and I am part of a body of activists moving towards the power station with the intention of closing it down. Everyone is dressed in white overalls to protect their anonymity, and masks and goggles to protect themselves from pepper spray. The energy is high voltage. Within minutes of arriving at the fences, they are pulled down. Hundreds of us were now inside the compound of the power station. Perhaps the best thing we could have done would have been to occupy one place, sit down and hold an assembly on climate change. The image would have been gold dust. Any ensuing police violence would have been an own-goal of Gandhian proportions. But nobody had planned to get this far. Within minutes, a small brigade of baton swinging riot police caused havoc and confusion. There was division among the activists. Some were pulling open doors and running into the station, then coming out, deciding they were biting off more than they could chew. Most were dead against this, as it went against the action consensus of the camp [CONSENSUS] The next twenty minutes were a running battle with the police, often attacking demonstrators who were leaving the power station, from behind.
On the final day, stories trickle back the camp of counter demonstrations and even attacks from local right wing groups. This is an area of Germany where fascism is on the rise. One demo consisted of hundreds, shouting threats of violence. These threats were carried out on some demonstrators who were locked on to a bridge and could not defend themselves. State violence and fascism in divided communities, crumbling
into mines. This is a scenario I became used to when I worked as a human rights observer in Colombia. It is chilling to see it in my own continent.
My last hours in the camp saw hundreds of occupiers arriving back by foot or by bus to cheering crowds. There was a sound system, lots of dancing, a klezma band and a well- deserved party. Many activists had gone days on a few hours sleep a night, battling bitterly cold night-time temperatures while sleeping on soot covered rail tracks and giant metal machines.
Whatever is reported in the media, this was a big step for the movement. As the images of falling fences and occupied coal plants spread around the world, the landscape of political intercourse has again been repainted. This is a movement propelled not by money, media exposure or even peer reviewed science. It is glued together by visions, friendships, and beautifully executed plans. In the words of John Jordan of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, ‘Our work is organisation, not representation. It’s transforming the world, and that is the role of art.’