“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…” Tuesday night at ten seconds to 10:30 pm, the sixty Occupy people in the Erasmus building count down as if it were New Year’s Eve. They have to leave the building at 10:30, they were told during the day. The movie Shrek has just ended, someone puts on Erykah Badu, a few people dance. But mostly there is a lot of insecurity: what will happen now, can they stay or will the police show up again?

Most of the students in this article want to remain anonymous, no mention of their last name in the article or use a pseudonym, to prevent their names from becoming known to the police.

Spending the night

Sociology student Pjotr inflates his orange air mattress. He wants to stay for the sleepover ‘until ties with the fossil industry are severed’. “I brought my coffee maker, so tomorrow I can make better coffee than comes out of the vending machine.” Other students plan to leave. “I’m not staying overnight but I’m pretending I do, so it looks like we all want to stay,” a sociology alumna admits.

Psychology student Charlie doesn’t want to stay overnight. “I expect we’ll be removed in no time.” They look back on the day with a good feeling. “It’s nice that the Executive Board was here this time.” Charlie stresses that it’s good that more attention is being paid to their demands and that the university is working on more accessible buildings and sustainability policies. “But we’re not that impressed with declaring a climate emergency. More measures are needed. At this rate, this will not prevent the university from being flooded by 2050.”

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Climate emergency

At 10:30 pm, the last employees, Executive Board president Ed Brinksma and rector magnificus Annelien Bredenoord left the building. In a communiqué, the protesters have just been asked once again to leave: “We therefore once again urge everyone to leave the building before 10:30 pm. Anyone still in the building after this time is in violation and there may be consequences. We cannot guarantee your safety, you are responsible if you do not leave the building.”

“I am especially very tired right now, so I would like to go home”, Bredenoord said. “I also have to leave the building by 10:30. Whoever is there after that is in violation.” She says she feels inspired by Roman Krznaric’s book The good ancestor, about how to be a good ancestor and show long-term leadership. “Science also shows that coordinated action for climate is needed. We agree on that. That’s why we declared the climate emergency on Monday, with a concrete action plan. We are really leading the way in that.”

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“I think we showed that we learned from last time”, the rector continues. She is referring to the November occupation. That ended with intervention by the riot police. Afterwards, there was a lot of criticism that the members of the Executive Board had not shown up all day. Tuesday is completely different in that matter. Board members can regularly be found in front of the Aula. Bredenoord said she had many good individual conversations with students, but regretted that it did not come to a joint discussion. “I asked if I could say something to the group, but that wasn’t allowed. I regret that.”

Two students throw a ball to each other. Someone tries the stair elevator in front of the Aula, but doesn’t understand how to get it back down. And then, a little after 10:30, a security guard orders everyone to leave the building. No one makes any effort to do so. The security guards confer and return a moment later to lock the doors.


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After the order to leave, students who want to stay sit in a circle. Image credit: Tim Ficheroux

Within two minutes, the protesters remove all the posters and banners with slogans. Left on the floor are the four demands and the catchy slogan: “Sure, it’s complex and nuanced, we know. But that is no excuse to keep ‘dialoguing’ until this world has gone to shit. So we need bold choices, boards, CEOs, politicians and activists taking the leap to fundamental change.” Forty of the sixty activists leave the building. Those once outside are not allowed back in.

Eight people sit on the ground in a circle. “We will stay until our demands are met”, one of them says. “But this is not the time for an interview.” They are preparing to be removed by the riot police. About ten others are still inside, for mental support, first aid or contact with activists from a distance.

“When the police come in, we’ll play The imperial march from Star Wars”, says a student who wishes to remain anonymous because he is considering applying for a job at the university. Through an earpiece, he asks ‘bladerunner’, who searches for police around campus, for an update. Grinning: “Bladerunner, good activist name.”

Police don't come

Outside, the forty students and staff sing ‘You are not alone’ and ‘The oceans are rising and so are we’. And they dance to ABBA, booing when the song abruptly stops.

The police don’t come at all in the end. So around one o’clock in the night a few more people re-enter the building. Activist Pjotr was there all night. “It turned out to be an empty threat. When it became clear that the police were not there at all, a few more people went inside. The security didn’t like that, but they’re not allowed to stop anyone just like that. Nobody pushed or anything like that either, the protesters just walked past the security guards.” The more than twenty occupiers spent the night in the Erasmus building.

Pressure to leave

occupyeur brunch woensdagochtend protest fossil free foto Shrey (6)
Participants in the protest brunch Wednesday morning and wait for what is to come. Image credit: Shrey Khurana

“It was unclear to anyone what was going to happen”, Appa, an Educational Psychology student, said Wednesday morning. “At 10:30 the security came, and they used a camera to film us right in our faces, as an intimidation tactic. Fifteen minutes later they said they were going to close the doors. Because the security warned us, we thought we could be arrested. So we said to each other: anyone who doesn’t want to be arrested should leave now.”

The Executive Board clearly used a different tactic during this protest than the previous one in the Sanders building. No police were spotted all day, and the board members themselves were present at the protest for large parts of the day, talking to everyone.

pjotr occupyeur 8 feb 2023 foto Elmer Smaling
A belligerent Pjotr. Image credit: Elmer Smaling

Nevertheless, Pjotr is not just happy with the board’s actions. “On the one hand, I am proud of what we as a group have accomplished. We did what hasn’t happened in thirteen years: we spent the night here. That’s a great victory. But we were also lied to by the rector: they told us that after 10:30 pm our safety could not be guaranteed and we risked a criminal record. They put pressure on us to leave, but that didn’t happen in the end. I find that difficult.”

Both Appa and Pjotr stayed over in the hall, along with about twenty others. Because of the cold, not everyone slept well, but Appa did. “For me, it was a fine night”, she says with a smile. “I had a good warm sleeping bag.” According to Appa and Pjotr, the night security guards behaved very friendly. “They talked to us a lot and seemed to show solidarity,” Appa said. Pjotr only got to one hour of sleep. “I started writing things, mobilizing, making sure today can go well, and I’m ready”, he says belligerently.