The occupation of the Sanders building by students and staff was brought to an end at around 6 p. m. on Monday: not with a meeting, as the Executive Board had previously promised, but with the deployment of police officers and riot police. In the broadcast, Psychology student Charlie explains what happened when the building was cleared. “We were actually really surprised.”
“We were just eating soup when a spokesperson for the Executive Board entered the building, who told me that the Executive Board wouldn’t come to our people’s assembly and that we had to leave. I replied that I was merely the spokesperson for Occupy, so I had to discuss this with the rest of the group.”
There were around eighty protesters in the building at the time. “But within two minutes a security guard asked everyone to leave the building, so I never got the chance. The police had already surrounded us at that point.”
EM has been asked not to use Charlie’s surname due to the risk of targeting of activists by far-right organisations.
According to Executive Board President Ed Brinksma, the protocol to clear the building was followed to the letter. This protocol requires that first a spokesperson for the Executive Board and then a security guard make a bilingual announcement asking those present to leave the building, before the police intervene.
Charlie confirms that both a spokesperson and a security guard made this request, but claims that riot police were already prominently on site at that point. “Nothing really happened before the police came inside. The riot police were already at the door with their riot gear on. The security guard first asked us to leave in Dutch only, and then repeated it in English at our request. But we were only asked once the police were already there.”
Once the police were inside the building, the activists started consulting with each other. “We talked to fellow protesters and asked whether they wanted to stay or leave.” The majority left. Ten people stayed and sat in a circle. “I want to stress that these were all EUR students, not professional activists or anything like that. They went limp, which is a kind of passive resistance.” At this point, they were dragged out by the police.
Charlie says this was done quite harshly. “One protester had trouble breathing because his coat was being pulled up. When he tried to turn so that he could breathe, it was seen as an act of resistance. After that, they dragged him away by the nose. That was really traumatising. And we don’t understand why, because we were completely peaceful.”
All those arrested were released from custody a few hours later. Some were let go later than others, for example because they were not carrying identification or were unable to provide fingerprints because they had put glue on their fingertips.
Executive Board feared escalation
In a press release on the university intranet Monday afternoon, the Executive Board mentioned ‘reliable sources’ indicating that the situation could escalate. This was the reason for calling the police rather than meeting with the protesters, Brinksma said afterwards. However, Charlie saw no indication whatsoever to believe that the situation would escalate. “If eating soup is unsafe, then yes”, Charlie says jokingly.
According to Brinksma, there was reason to believe that outside groups would come to the campus. This may have been in reference to groups simultaneously taking part in smaller demonstrations at the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University, among others. Charlie had chat contact with these groups during the occupation, but denies that they had planned to join. “That is not true. There were no outside groups that wanted to come here. We also checked this afterwards. They may have been on our side in spirit, but they were not planning to come.”
Horizontal and Democratic
According to Charlie, the fact that a possible escalation was the reason for calling off the meeting was not communicated during the day either. “They said the meeting was cancelled for organisational reasons, but they didn’t specify what those reasons were. We found this confusing and disappointing, because we really thought the Executive Board was coming to talk to us.”
The Executive Board has invited OccupyEUR for another meeting. Charlie has some reservations about this. “We‘d still like to meet with them, but only on our terms.” That means having a ‘horizontal and democratic’ conversation without observing the normal hierarchy. “Everyone who was there with us in the Sanders building should have their say.”