The world is burning. Shell celebrated that with a record profit of around 40 billion. The ordinary citizen pays the price for this, both at the gas pump and in the destruction of nature and the environment. At EUR, it seems that only OccupyEUR wants to extinguish this fire. At the same time, a large part of the university would rather fuel the flames instead of rolling up their sleeves.

Uncomfortable change

Irene van Oorschot and Sophie van Balen have provided in their opinion article in EM enough explanation as to why the current sustainability agenda of EUR is far from sufficient. While remaining in the status quo will only do more harm, it is understandable that to many people change is uncomfortable. Maintaining the status quo, however, necessitates violent suppression of dissent, as evidenced by the masked police forcibly removing peaceful protestors or the enabling of PowNed to bully EUR students and staff on camera. The path to climate justice and action is no doubt an uncomfortable one. However, it is not characterized by suppressive violence, rather it is an empowering one to all those disproportionately affected by the ravages of capitalism.

Hence, members of the Erasmian community should think twice before proclaiming that these companies need our help in their so-called green transition. You would have to be ignorantly optimistic to assume that an industry giant like Shell (which allocated a whopping 1.5% of its expenditure on renewable energy projects) would implement any radical changes without an expectation of short-term profits for shareholders or exceptional political and social pressure, such as severing ties with them.

The accusations that Occupy’s methods are undemocratic or unstrategic due to choosing occupation over dialogue for three consecutive times are cause for concern. Has the university forgotten how politics works? Many of your current rights and privileges are a result of (then radical) protests in the past. In recent years, protest movements have been resurgent in the Netherlands and around Europe, whose effect has not only been in raising awareness for these issues but also leading the path to real change. It is only through collective action that real change can occur, yet OccupyEUR has made it clear from where this collective action needs to start. The non-negotiable demands are fundamental to Occupy’s goal to make EUR a place for societal impact and sustainability.

So, is it really ‘doodzonde (a mortal sin, ed.), as Wieneke Gunneweg stated in EM’s editorial commentary, that OccupyEUR stands firm by sticking to its current model of taking action?

Progress as a Process

Since Occupy’s first action, a lot has changed. Recently, the EUR International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) announced that it would no longer accept investments from the fossil fuel industry. Now classifying the industry along with the tobacco and weapons industries under the same no-funding policy.

Likewise, VU Amsterdam announced that it will not enter into new collaborations with fossil fuel companies. (So, it is possible.) Due to Occupy’s protests it is reasonable to assume that there has been much more engagement with the issues brought forth than there would have been otherwise. Let’s be honest, it might have taken years for EUR to declare a climate emergency and all the symbolic politics surrounding it if these groups of students and staff had not taken action.

Although OccupyEUR rightfully rejects the invitation for dialogue until the administration takes the necessary steps, they have been the cause of university-wide discussion between academics, students and staff alike. Those critical opinion pieces by academics, organized roundtable discussions, and fourteen sustainability dialogues don’t just materialize out of thin air. The fact that a large part of the university is not physically present at the occupations does not mean that OccupyEUR has no university-wide impact.

No, we’re not referring to the “radical” proposal of a vegan campus, reusable coffee cups, and buildings with trees inside of them. Some of which have obviously been a great success in polarizing the student community… The university administration clearly prefers greenwashing practices that superficially affect campus life rather than severing ties with the fossil fuel industry. It’s a clear case of opting for an easy path: shifting the problem onto the consumers rather than the major polluters. Let’s not forget that the carbon footprint was invented by consultants commissioned by oil magnate BP to prevent collective action against the oil industry.

Problematic Responses within the EUR Community

Baseless portrayals have resulted in the misunderstanding that everyone is left speechless when the executive board enters the occupation. Rector Annelien Bredenoord has had multiple conversations with the demonstrators, who, although not speaking on behalf of OccupyEUR, provided her with substantive explanations. However, it seems that it goes in one ear and out the other. Which is all the more reason to continue rejecting the invitations for “formal” dialogues.

How would one imagine a community-wide dialogue to be on an equal playing field anyway? Multi-billion dollar fossil fuel companies have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and no doubt some at EUR would prefer to keep the cash flowing… In that case, what is the word of students, who are the ones who will bear the brunt of the long-term impacts of climate change, against those financed by the destruction of our planet?

Claiming that OccupyEUR has focused exclusively on the Executive Board (CvB) is also unfounded. Members of the protest movement have been actively spreading their ideologies at the recruitment days, open day, and other university events.

It remains troublesome that particular individuals prefer to look down on a group (mostly consisting) of students, who, amidst exams, workload, and part-time jobs, still manage to find time to take action to create a better university. It’s hard to imagine that the rest of the EUR community is not in favor of improved accessibility, fairer working conditions, and just compensation for the ‘pechgeneratie’.

In less than eight months OccupyEUR has unapologetically politicized a notoriously neoliberal university. Unfortunately, critical engagement with the established order seems to be absent among the rest of the Erasmus University. OccupyEUR is the only entity here that truly lives up to the university’s goal of creating positive societal impact, and the movement should be proud of that.

Cazper Steigstra (Student Political Science & International Relations major at Erasmus University College)

Miles H. Weder (Student Philosophy, Politics & Economics major at Erasmus University College)