Whose conditions set the tone for dialogue about the climate crisis? We have heard this ‘they-don’t-want-to-talk-to-us’ rhetoric used since the first occupation. The assumption is that protesting is not a valid way of dialoguing, because it’s too loud and disruptive. The expected way of dialogue, though, is the terms set by those in positions of authority. Such dialogue is not on equal grounds. Learning from OccupyEUR is a master class of why radical politics are required in cases where dialogues have proven not to work.
A protest is not a tea party. It is not easy. It interrupts habits, disrupts us, and makes us face the harsh realities of systemic problems. Protest requires the need to fight, in figurative terms (since time and again, the violence is done to the protestors through constant police interventions). Protesting is an intentional act of resistance anchored in liberatory practices that aim to challenge the status quo and imagine a better future.
Discomfort is one of its key ingredients. However, in a society that is conflict-avoidant and values feeling comfortable and business as usual, little can change. No one likes to be told they have to change but historical civil rights victories have been achieved through protests.
To protest is a democratic right. The 25-day occupation led by Judy Heumann to enforce section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in the USA led to the end of disability-based discrimination. It had a tremendous impact and directly relates to one of the demands of OccupyEUR asking EUR to comply with basic legal regulations on accessibility. Some students don’t come to campus because of the poor accessibility. Some students have developed clinical depression from inaccessibility and the biases they are confronted with on a regular basis to have their rights and needs met.
OccupyEUR’s demands are relevant to all student rights and should not be minimised (‘if those fossil fuel companies are busy with the transition, then we have to help them with that’), or silenced with the use of force (sending police), or dismissed via youthism troupes (discrediting voices of the young). The latter is normalised through word choices or condescending tones in places where those in decision-making and authority positions are structurally enabled to speak and be listened to.
Demanding justice is not a hobby, or an excuse to bunk classes. It is a commitment to higher-order principles. Protesting injustices shows maturity, and courage to act on core values. What about considering a less hierarchical format to engage in dialogue? OccupyEUR wants the university to take responsibility and act with integrity. Let’s also not forget that there may be silent protestors who deeply connect with the movement but feel that they are unable to speak, in fear of losing their position. When OccupyEUR consistently shows up to defend the precarious students and staff, there is resonance beyond what might be immediately visible.
OccupyEUR’s demands are about climate justice, accessibility on campus, the end of extractive practices, and coloniality in its many forms. These are real and global challenges that exist within our world beyond Erasmus University, which deserve to be taken seriously.
This ‘they-don’t-want-to-talk-to-us-despite-being-asked-three-times’ compounds a certain negative image. Claiming that ‘we are open’ but ‘they aren’t’, therefore ‘we are right’ and ‘they are wrong’ obscures the premise that there were dialogues before the movement started and they did not lead to resolution, which is one of the reasons the occupation was called. Pushing for dialogue diverts attention to the issues and tends to erase the OccupyEURs’ voice.
Let’s be honest about what dialogue means and for whom? Who gets to speak? How does one get to speak? What are the unspoken rules of a dialogue called by people in positions of authority? What about those who want to confront power and the need for change? How might we together realise sustainability, accessibility, and inclusion?
OccupyEUR wants a campus that lives up to the mission of EUR (sustainability, societal impact). The denial and reduction of these demands as invalid, unrealistic, or utopian, close the possibility of engagement.
OccupyEUR’s demands come from an ecological concern for the planet and for human beings; calling for collective responsibility to put an end to polluting, excluding, and harming people. In disruptive yet peaceful ways, they push us to reflect and act ethically now. Can we at EUR respond to the possibility of an ethical life that is not structurally implicated with the suffering and consumption of the life of Earth and others?
Rosalba Icaza Garza is a professor on Global Politics, Feminisms and Decoloniality at ISS and Fanny Passeport works as an Education Development Officer at ErasmusX.The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of EUR or ErasmusX.