It’s Monday, and Dani has just attended a lecture. He arrives at the Food Plaza, where just then, public warning sirens can be heard, as they can at 12 noon on every first Monday of the month, when they are switched on all over the Netherlands for testing purposes. He lies down. Next to him, a fellow activist grabs a megaphone and turns on the siren of the device.
For ten minutes, five activists lie next to each other on the floor in front of the Food Plaza, covered by a space blanket and holding a banner that says, ‘This is an emergency: Sound the alarm for the climate’. Once the public warning sirens stop, their protest action quickly grinds to a halt. A guard tells the group to stop. A few minutes later, the activists get up and put away their props. It’s as if nothing ever happened. Dani leaves the scene quickly to attend his next lecture.
Dani and the other activists to whom Erasmus Magazine spoke do not wish to be identified by their full names due to potential confrontations with the police during their protest actions.
Some fifteen bystanders respond to the students lying on the floor with surprise. Business administration student Jade can’t read what the banner says and does not understand what the activists are trying to say. “I came here and saw them there, lying on the floor.” She and her friends stare at the activists, looking bemused.
Sociology student Nina arrives on the scene. She supports actions designed to raise awareness of climate-related issues but has some concerns about protest actions like this. “More definitely needs to be done to solve the climate-related issues and I think these students are very brave to do this. They’re definitely drawing some attention to their cause. But I do think this kind of activism is too intense. I thought a fire alarm had been sounded. We can’t have that, obviously.”
Philosophy student and University Rebellion member Aniek, 21, says the action group intends to wake people on campus up. “Erasmus University should be a trailblazer in all this. The university must do its duty of tackling the climate crisis.”
The action group has issued five demands to the university’s executive board. For instance, the activists want the executive board to formally recognise the alarm bells recently sounded by the UN and ensure that the university is energy-neutral by 2025 rather than by 2030. EUR previously stated its ambition of being carbon-neutral by 2024. The group also wants the executive board to ban the sale of non-plant-based food on its premises.
University Rebellion would also like to see the university sever its ties with companies active in the fossil fuel industry. Lastly, the activists would like to see the establishment of a platform where students and staff can discuss solutions to the climate crisis on equal footing. Such a council could then help draw up new policy plans.
University Rebellion, which was founded a year ago, is part of the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion. This major movement is active in Rotterdam, as well.
DRIFT-affiliated researcher Karlijn, who is attending the protest, is also active on behalf of the larger movement. Her DRIFT research agency seeks to determine how economic systems can be reformed. “Rotterdam declared a state of climate emergency last September,” she says in response to the protest. “But it’s not clear how the city is giving effect to this. We’d like to establish a council of concerned citizens where solutions can be discussed. We’d like a similar council to be established at the university.”
Extinction Rebellion will also attend the UN climate talks in Glasgow, which commenced on Monday. Karlijn does not expect the talks to result in any useful measures. “How can we expect the world’s political leaders, who have hardly done anything in the past thirty years, to suddenly come up with answers? Instead, we should be listening to local leaders who’ve had to deal with flooding for years or are trying very hard to preserve nature reserves.”
Told to leave the campus
It was only to be expected that the protesters would be asked to leave the Woudestein Campus. EUR’s guards say they had ‘complicated’ feelings about the protest action. According to an EUR spokesperson, protest actions must always be announced in advance. The activists admit that they didn’t do so. The spokesperson said the siren on the megaphone made this a rather noisy protest action, and the activists were asked to leave because lectures and seminars must not be interrupted or negatively affected by noise disturbance.