This is a guest post from Gary Evans, an organiser with Divest Aachen who took part in Ende Gelände last week.

“What are the dust masks for?” I asked.
“Oh they’re to protect your lungs against the dust in the pit,” came the response.

I’d arrived at the Climate Camp near to the vast brown coal pits in North Rhine Westfalia, where we planned to shut down operations the next day. The camp was buzzing with activity as people from all over Europe came together to make a clear statement: Stop burning killer coal.

Our organisation, Divest Aachen was one of many Fossil Free groups involved in this action. And there were many of us in the camp. With about 1500 activists, this was the largest mass act of civil disobedience against coal ever seen in Germany.

As a seasoned campaigner I recognised many faces, but what struck me was the amount of young people at the camp. I waited at the entrance as a large Fossil Free group arrived from the UK. I’d already bumped into the Swedes, another big group of young Fossil Free activists who were all involved in their first act of civil disobedience. Other familiar faces appeared. Friends I’d got to know at a Fossil Free workshop in Eindhoven a few weeks ago. Journalists and bloggers from were already on site and busily organising themselves in the press tent. Other journalists from the German and international press were busy broadcasting this monumental event.

As I was eating dinner in the camp I met Heather, an first nation Canadian, who was here to hold a speech about the tar sands carbon bomb in solidarity with our cause. I realised that we were witnessing a coming together of positive energies with real force to make change happen.


Photo: Gary Evans. Creative Commons.

I went to my tent feeling excited and nervous. I couldn’t sleep. At 4am a police helicopter began circling overhead. I got up, grabbed my camera and captured the dark clouds of steam rising into the skies above Garzweiler power station. Police sat in vans across the road from me. Tension hung in the air like a storm cloud.

I joined up with a team from Fossil Free Switzerland among the ‘Pink Finger’, one of four groups of about 300 activists and we started marching toward the pit, most of us carrying straw sacks. “What are they for?” I asked. “They’re to protect you from police batons” came the cheery reply. I grabbed one and we headed towards Immerath, an abandoned village on the edge of the pit and on the verge of destruction.

Photo: Gary Evans. Creative Commons.

The abandoned village of Immerath. Photo: Gary Evans. Creative Commons.

Thoughts of all the refugees in desperate need of a roof over their heads and the insanity of digging a huge hole ran through my mind. Why are we digging holes instead of building bridges to a better future?

We arrived at the first bridge of five which spanned the motorway – the biggest obstacle to entering the pit. Riot police were waiting with armoured vehicles, pepper spray and batons (link to video clip). They immediately attacked our front line, incapacitating most of them. We regrouped and quickly moved on the next bridge where we were met with the same violent response. No police were stationed at the third bridge in the distance though, so we ran toward it.

Police began arriving on the bridge as we ran. They started to aim pepper spray in everyone’s eyes. I ran straight toward a policeman in full riot gear who took aim and fired. I was lucky that it hit the side of my face and not my eyes. Others were lying around on the road, obviously in distress. I ran on and slid down a verge toward the pit, a mere 200 metres away.

By this time I was hot, out of breath and sweating. The pepper spray started to burn my skin. It felt like chili on top of sunburn. Others, who could no longer see, or were injured from batons rounds were being helped along. Finally we got into the pit with piles of riot police running up behind us. They also looked hot and bothered. Would they attack us from behind in the heat of the moment? We ran on.

In front of me scenes from Mordor appeared as a police helicopter swooped down on us, endangering the lives of both activists and the police. Coal dust rose like a curse. I stopped running in exhaustion as the police convoy overtook us. Others around me looked how I felt and so we regrouped and took stock of the situation.

We started to head back to camp as the way ahead was blocked by police. Others had reached the huge machines in the mine and were unfurling banners. We had achieved our immediate aim of shutting down the mine.

Just as we were heading back out, a police unit arrived and surrounded us. Luckily a journalist from WDR jumped into the fray. His interview with us went on air straight afterwards. The world now knew about our success and the futile nature of the police and RWE in trying to stop peaceful protest with violence.

We now look forward to the Path Through Paris in December. Many new activists have been empowered to take action, thanks to our solidarity in the face of oppression. Gandhi would have approved.

Join us in the divestment movement, or get involved in any of the many groups preparing to stand up and speak the truth to power. Politicians have failed us here in Germany and elsewhere, so it’s time to take action to save us all from disastrous climate change.

Together we are the change we need to see.

Gary Evans

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