Earth First! Winter Moot

Defending the Douglas Valley

Hambach Forest Ocupation

South Lanarkshire COALcil

Mainshill Zine

Coal in Scotland

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Last week I went to North-West Germany to visit a new forest occupation currently taking place in the Hambach forest – the purpose of it? To stand directly in the way of the expansion of Europe’s largest open-cast coal mine. Through the construction of tree-houses and defences, by engaging with the local community and by bringing people and energy to the area, this new camp in the woods is the latest stand against the energy giant RWE (Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk), a company which plans to clear cut the area and gouge out the contents of the earth with some of the biggest death machines on the planet.

It is beautiful here. The forest is very old and peaceful and, at the moment, the leaf-carpeted floor is dotted with blue and green tents. The only noises filtering through the trees are the chattering of birds and the distant thud of an axe cutting wood by the fire pit. Up in the trees, platforms sway in a breeze carrying the tell-tale smell of wood smoke. People busy themselves with the day-to-day tasks of life here; chopping wood, coaxing the fire into life, finding a clean(ish) pot, boiling water, making tea, toasting bread, eating. People talk and make plans, somebody juggles, and the sun shines warmly on.

It’s interesting to me how similar these places are all over the world, how the communities of people you meet are so much like the friends you left at home. So, while I was staying at the camp, I decided to “interview” a few people and explore the parallels between this anti-coal forest occupation in Germany, and the anti-coal action camps that I have been involved in in Scotland [1]. I wanted to explore what it is that moves people to live in places like this and invest themselves so completely in this kind of action.

- J -

I spoke to J one evening around the camp fire when I could barely see my notebook by the light of my headtorch, let alone keep up with all the interesting things he had to say! J is involved in the WAA (Workshops for Action and Alternatives) [3] and has been part of the occupation from the beginning..

Why do you think this kind of occupation is important?

What makes this type of occupation particularly important and relevant to me is how the action to occupy this area was organised and how we continue to organise while we live here – that is, in a non-hierarchical and horizontal way. To not have to ask the politicians or RWE to change their politics or to change to green capitalism but to take matters into our own hands, is empowering. The way we organise here is an open structure so new people can join in with this way of living and organising and experience it for themselves.

I think it is already inspiring local people and lots of other forms of resistance. The local people here have in the past always been told to rely on the legal system for change. Big environmental NGO’s in this area have encouraged them to pursue this strategy, and because people place their trust in these organisations this is what they have done. However when the legal route fails local people (as it so often does) these NGO’s leave behind cynicism and resignation. So we want to show them an alternative strategy to this dead end. People come here and get inspired when they see that you can take matters into your own hands and do something to change the situation for yourself.

What brought you here?

I was inspired by the Frankfurt occupation [4] which was a forest occupation against airport expansion. At the time I was involved in the young greens which I had been involved with for two years. However, after we visited the Frankfurt occupation 14 of the 17 people in the young greens left to join the forest occupation and I’ve never looked back. To me, the green party is a great example of good active people giving their time and energy to something that ends up co-opting their original aims for change.

When you wake up in the morning what do you hope to find?

That there would be no people in this forest! We need forests just for themselves. I love living in the forest, but it’s a tactic. Actually just by being here at the moment we have stopped hunting because there is a law that you can’t hunt animals in a forest occupied by humans. Also, a lot of hunting platforms in this forest have mysteriously disappeared…

What would a success look like to you?

A visitor from Buir (the closest town to the mine) said she had the impression that we don’t have the attitude that this is a win or loose situation. Even if they cut down the trees here, destroy the forest, dig coal here – we have already won something. We are part of a big environmental and social justice movement and this action achieves a big change in and of itself. It’s a meeting point, an ideas sharing hub, new things are tried out here, different ways to interact are experimented with, and so people can learn a lot just by being here.

How do you think we could encourage more people to come and do this kind of thing?

If I observe why people come here I think it’s often because they have personal contacts. Or because they feel well here because it’s a nice atmosphere. They come here because it makes them feel good not just because they want to “save the world.” I really don’t like the perception that I’m here because I am an extremely moral person above others, who wants only to be selfless and “save the world.” I love it here and enjoy myself, that’s why I’m here! I would really like that good feeling to be passed on to others, particularly locals and people who don’t necessarily have dreadlocks or who are already in our “subculture.”

Involving other kinds of people in this kind of action also challenges us to challenge out own prejudice about so-called “normal people” and to get rid of our activist arrogance. We need all kinds of inputs, to see things from other perspectives. Often, people who are already active in the way that you and I are, are all young 20-somethings. A lot of people here clearly went through a process of questioning their last 20 years of social conditioning and arrived at conclusions that made them want to take direct action. But it’s harder to do this for the first time if you are older I think. It’s much much harder to analyse your assumptions about society at a later stage, because you’ve already committed to a certain life path for a long time. It’s easier to question the last 20 years of your life than the last 50 if you’ve only got a few left!

What’s your favourite thing about the forest?

I think the best thing about it is that I’m not so much in front of my computer, which is passive, here I am very active. Here the rhythm of the day with the changing light is amazing. It’s hard to say the fresh air (because there is so much dust here from the nearby coal mine) but it’s still fresher than some of the rooms where I live (in the WAA) I like the birds! A lot of different people visit, often really interesting people with lots of interesting ideas and ways of doing things and experience. The best is how much energy there is if there is space for people to be creative and to realise their ideas and if they don’t have to ask permission, but can just do it. Like here, so much has been organised in such a short space of time already (the camp has only been going since the 14th of April 2012) and lots has been built. I think people are more motivated when they don’t have a boss.

- Tina -

I spoke to Tina during a weekend gathering at the camp when a lot of people were visiting the occupation to participate in a community walk around the forest and eat cake that locals from Buir had brought to share with the occupiers. She had travelled from Cologne to visit the camp for a couple of days. We sat together under the kitchen tarpaulin to escape the rain and discuss some of her ideas..

What brought you here?

I am involved in a group called “AusgeCo2hlt” [5] which has been organising against brown coal for two years now. We organised a climate camp last year and got to know people from the WAA. Some people from the WAA came to one of our meetings and told us that they were planning to get a house and hadn’t decided where to get it yet and we suggested this area (Buir/Duren.) So we were involved in the forest festival here on the 14th of April and some of us keep coming back to stay involved.

Do you plan to live here permanently?

It depends on the situation. I haven’t decided in my mind yet. I’m not so good at climbing, so I’m coming and going at the moment.

Do you think it is important for more people to live here?

I think it can work if different groups of people come and go, like we are doing. For example a group can come and stay here one week and then go, and then another group can come and stay for a week etc. To take the decision to quit school or a job to live here is quite a big one. And if you do have these responsibilities you have to split your time. But there is a community of people living here (in the Hambach forest) and others elsewhere in Europe who are specialised in climbing and site occupation – I hope more of these people come here! Solidarity is important though and works quite well. Hopefully between June and September this year the core group living here at the moment will grow because then there are university holidays in Germany.

I’m not pessimistic, but the environmental scene in Germany is not that big. People are involved in a lot of other struggles. Many of which you need to be in a city or have computers to do, so if you choose to live here you have to make it your main focus. One of my main focuses is to work on press releases and try to make links between this and other campaigns.

What would a success here look like for you?

That RWE stops killing the forest for coal mining! But we have to measure success in other ways as well because we might not achieve that. This occupation is raising awareness of other issues to people, especially people in the local area, such as a critique of capitalism and the system. A success would also be if an eviction threat would get a lot of people to come here and act in solidarity. It would be cool if the regional media would start to talk about the issues here. And not just here but also in Cologne (nearest large city.) The message not just of the forest but about RWE, coal mining, and fossil fuel energy.

When we held the last climate camp in Manheim in 2011 200 people came. Last week we mobilised against RWE’s Annual General Meeting, but for this demo there were only 150 people. Forty people attempted to blockade the entrance but unfortunately 300 police, private security and dogs prevented us and several people were arrested. Next week we will discuss in a meeting why there were not very many (in our opinion) people coming to this demonstration – as we had expected more because there are not so many days like this organised around environmental issues in Germany. In the end we thought, ok it would have been cool if there had been lots more people, but actually it was also a success to raise awareness through this action.

We have to accept that we (the anti-coal movement) can only grow slowly. We try to learn from the anti-nuclear movement which took 20 – 30 years to become so established. So we need to be patient. But it’s hard because climate change is so urgent! During castor (anti-nuclear protests) they had 2000 people sitting on the railway line so the police couldn’t do much about it. We did the same action on a coal railway line and there were only 60 of us so in the end we had to leave. We need the people with us. We are afraid of repression in small numbers. But at the same time the repression here is nothing compared to (the struggle against coal mining) in Colombia so we need to remember this. And although we are a small group we have strong bonds between us, we really like each other. We make mistakes and are critical of our actions but we go forward!

- Clumsy -

I interviewed Clumsy on the stump of a tree in the area of clear cut, just a stones throw from the mine on one side and the camp site on the other. From our vantage point we could see the mine and the colossal baggers (coal diggers) churning coal from the earth in the distance. He has been living here from the beginning of the occupation..

Why are you here?

Because Jesus told me, only kidding, the reason is that this region is Europe’s climate killer number 1. I came here last year for the climate camp and saw all the destruction. I was just travelling around looking for somewhere where people are active and I always wanted to live on a tree protest site. At the climate camp people were talking about it but at the time there weren’t enough people, so I moved into the WAA and did research and made preparations to help make it happen.

Why did you always want to live on a tree protest site?

I like living outside, the simple life, the forest, climbing. Life free from the constraints of society – rent, work, school, paying for food. I think protest sites are really good examples of other ways of living.

So do you think that this kind of action is always about more than just one kind of oppression or issue?

Yeah definitely. Of course you always have the main focus – in this case open cast coal mining. But with stuff like safer spaces we also try to challenge other forms of oppression like racism and sexism. Every activity is open to people of all genders – anyone can climb or anyone can cook. Everyone participates in the daily chores. And it’s an example for other people. When I told my gran about places like this she couldn’t believe that men actually do the washing up and that women do construction work, or that we decide things by consensus. Whereas in society we get taught that there are typical ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles and men hold a very privileged position – it’s conditioning. Often people that come here are surprised that we don’t have leaders.

How do you think we could encourage more people to come and do this kind of thing?

It’s hard because living this kind of life – you can’t get a lot of stuff that we’re always told it’s nice to have – T.V, luxury items. As soon as people realise that material possessions don’t make them happy they might want to live like this. I guess by having this space and showing that this life can be satisfying and empowering people might want to do the same.

What brings happiness?

It’s different for everybody, but for me it’s having friends around and having a lot of time to do what I want. Doing stuff against the destructive RWE makes me happy. I always had the feeling I wanted to do something to change society. This works for me.

What’s your favourite thing about the forest?

A lot of stuff. It’s quiet, not the annoying sounds of the city. The air is nice, it’s green, the forest is full of cute animals – deer, foxes, mice.. I just like it because it is a big living thing, whereas cities are just big dead blocks of concrete and smelly stuff.

When you wake up in the morning what do you hope to find?

The opencast flooded and only the tops of the diggers visible! No air planes in the sky. My tree-house built! Do you mean what I really want? That’s a big question! Er.. I’d like to see all the oppressive stuff gone. It’s a hard question.. I’d like to see industrial civilisation collapse.

Anything you’d like to add?

To send an open invitation to anyone who would like to come and visit us and stay as long as possible!

- Erde -

Towards the end of speaking with clumsy, Erde emerged from the forest and came to sit with us in the clear cut. Erde was visiting the WAA just before the occupation took place and then liked the forest so much he ended up staying. A the moment he either lives in his lorry or up on his platform defence in the trees..

Why are you here?

Because doing nothing is giving up. For me personally, it wasn’t enough to do nothing. I heard of this occupation when I was visiting the WAA and I thought I will bring my skills and stay the weekend. But then I really liked the people and the place and the action and I’ve ended up staying.

Why do you think this occupation is important?

The first reason is because this forest is to be chopped next winter and I want to stop that. Second is that it is a very old forest and there is much more life in an old forest than a new one.

What were you doing before this?

Living without oppression is the way I have lived for the last 15 years. But the difference now, in a project, is that I’m not on my own. Before this I was a freelancer in a business and I was treated in another way and this is a totally different perspective. When I became unemployed I got re-interested in social and political issues. The wish to be with nature was first awakened in me in Hamburg squats after which I moved into my lorry.

How is it different to how you lived in the past?

Here I’m completely in nature and not in an office. I’m here with people who have an enhanced consciousness and sense of self-awareness and that is very interesting and challenging. I think we are trying to make another world here, in combination with the political aspect – and that’s a combination for optimum life quality!

What are the ingredients for optimum life quality?!

I tried working ‘slave jobs’ after university, I worked two and didn’t try a third. In the end I saw that money and material things don’t give me the good life that I am dreaming of. What are the essential ingredients of a good life? Peace, love, freedom, good food, music, colours, flavours, nature..

How do you think we could encourage more people to come and do this kind of thing?

I think if we want to build up a better world we have to reach anyone. We need to get people here to show them the good life, to experience this way of living. So they can see and feel it. They get an idea by coming here and experiencing a free, autonomous life. To be the owner of your time. To get away from wastes of time, like T.V.

When you wake up in the morning what do you hope to find?

Refer to my recipe for the good life! My desire is that people respect each other and look after each other, because if they do this then they wouldn’t destroy our basic life support system. What is creating the problems of the world and what needs to be destroyed? I’ve thought for a long time that I would like to make two placards, each with the words “capitalism” and “oppression” on them, so that when people ask me questions like yours I just have to hold one or the other up in answer!

What I would love to see is this coal mine totally surrounded by people, which since it is so big, would probably need at least 3,000 – 4,000 people! So please come and join us.

- Visit, Join In, Take Action -

If you want to visit the Hambach forest in Germany, it is easy to get to and you will always be welcome. Go for a day, a week, a month – any time you can give to it will be appreciated and there is lots to do and to get involved in. For directions to the forest visit their blog here: http://hambachforest.blogsport.de/

For myself, it was time (reluctantly) to leave Hambach and return to Scotland to re-join the anti-coal organising collective (Coal Action Scotland) I am involved with here. At the moment we are busy planning for an action camp against coal mining which is going to take place from the 12th – 18th of July 2012. So, once you have been to visit Hambach Forest it would be fantastic to see you here in Scotland to take action in the summer. For more information visit our website here: http://takebacktheland.org.uk/

Links and Sources of Information

[1] Coal Action Scotland

http://coalactionscotland.org.uk/

“News, views, and action from communities and campaigns against new coal in Scotland”

[2] Hambach Forest

http://hambachforest.blogsport.de/

News, info and directions to The Hambach Forest Occupation.

[3] The WAA

http://waa.blogsport.de/

WAA stands for “Workshops for Action and Alternatives” and is an open activist project in Duren.

[4] Forest Occupation Kelsterbach

http://waldbesetzung.blogsport.de/english-information/

Direct Action against the Frankfurt Airport Expansion, the camp was evicted in 2009.

[5] Ausgeco2hlt

http://www.ausgeco2hlt.de/

An anti-coal campaigning group organising climate camps in Germany.

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