Credit: End Fossil Occupy via Instagram

Student-Led “End Fossil — Occupy!” Protests Shut Down Schools In Europe

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Sparked by demands from End Fossil — Occupy! for climate activism in the month of May, student climate protesters have shut down 22 schools and universities in Europe. According to The Guardian, in Germany, universities were occupied in Wolfenbüttel, Magdeburg, Münster, Bielefeld, Regensburg, Bremen, and Berlin. In Spain, students in occupation at the Autonomous University of Barcelona organized teach-outs on the climate crisis. In Belgium, 40 students occupied the University of Ghent. In the Czech Republic, about 100 students camped outside the ministry of trade and industry. In the UK occupations were under way at the universities of Leeds, Exeter, and Falmouth.

That’s the news from the world of white people, but the protests are taking place elsewhere as well. According to Common Dreams, on April 29th, young climate activists in Uganda spoke up at a press conference in Kampala’s Kira Wakiso district, calling on world leaders, particularly in wealthy countries, to shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy.

“We want energies that can ensure a future that can last forever, energies that cannot waste our biodiversity,” End Fossil Occupy Uganda co-founder Nicholas Omonuk said. The same day, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate posted a video message encouraging students to participate in the month of occupations. “May we occupy for our planet, for our cultures,” she urged. “May we occupy for our existence. May we occupy for climate justice. Another world is possible.”

End Fossil Occupy Climate Protests

In France, End Fossil Occupy activists are protesting plans by French oil company Total, one of the world’s seven supermajor energy companies, to participate in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in Uganda and Tanzania. The Climate Accountability Institute found that the project could raise the yearly emissions of the two African countries by a factor of more than 25.

“We don’t want to work for companies that continue to invest in fossil fuels,” participating students said in a statement shared on Twitter. “We will not participate in enriching a sector that lives off the destruction of the planet.”

Some Portuguese students also started their occupations April 26 by demanding that their government stop using fossil fuels by 2030 and that it make renewable energy accessible to all families by 2025.

In Spain, students gathered in the civic plaza of the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona to make three demands — more public funding for Barcelona’s universities, no more university contracts with private companies like Santander, which poured $51 billion into fossil fuels between 2016 and 2022, and a new mandatory university course on the current ecological and social crisis.

“Universities are a very important space to push for a necessary social transformation,” German UAB master’s student and participant Anna Sach told La Marea, “and we’re here because right now the university is not living up to the demands of the times.”

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The End Fossil Occupy Manifesto

So, what is it exactly the organizers of these protests want? So glad you asked. Here is their statement:

“Starting May 2nd, students around the world will again occupy hundreds of schools and universities to end the fossil fuel era. We start as students,but we want to inspire all of society to take radical action with us. This time, we are calling out society to join the youth and to disrupt, blockade, interrupt and/or sabotage the fossil economy on the streets, the squares, the offices, the headquarters and the infrastructures.

“Our goal is to change the system by ending the fossil economy at an international level. Depending on the local context, the demands can vary between end fossil extraction, fossil finance, fossil funding, fossil infrastructures, fossil importations, or others.

“Between September and December 2022, we occupied more than 50 schools and universities around the world to #EndFossil. But the fossil fuel era has not collapsed yet. In fact, while we were occupying schools and universities, they presented their record criminal profits to the world. At the same time, governments and institutions keep fueling the fossil economy, refusing to do a just transition for all peoples in the world in time to stop climate chaos.

“We know that to stop climate chaos and ensure a just society for all, we need to change the system. We also know that we must not wait for industries, governments and institutions to negotiate or to change by themselves: we need to change the system now. We must accept the task of taking the power in our own hands.

​​​​​​​”With these school and university occupations, we will disrupt society’s business-as-usual to shout that our house is on fire. We will shut down schools and universities to have our demands heard, while at the same proving that another world is possible by collectively showing and envisioning the just society we want to create: free of oppression, and where life is at the center, not profit.

“As youth, it is our duty to radicalize and to lead the peoples’ movement that will end the fossil fuel era & transform society. We start as students occupying schools and universities, but we need all of society to take radical action with us to end fossil. Only with as a mass movement that involves all of society taking responsibility to stop the fossil fuel era can we truly change the system!

“We call on students to create alliances with other parts of the climate and social justice movement so that together we can mobilize everyone to take radical action to end the fossil economy and transform society towards climate justice. We call on non-students to disrupt the fossil economy’s business-as-usual on the streets, the squares, the headquarters, the offices, the infrastructures and the pipelines.

“Students, workers, farmers, scientists, academics, teachers, artists: starting May 2nd, let’s fight for climate justice and end the fossil economy now.”

Education & Protest

The End Fossil Occupy organizers hope this latest wave of climate protests will recapture and recreate the radicalism of May 1968, when anti-imperialist protests by university students in Paris were joined by striking workers and precipitated a wave of revolt across the continent

Being a product of the 60s, I well remember the excitement of living in a time when it seemed like a great leap forward in human relations was taking place. Bob Dylan was singing about how the times they were a’changing and the Smothers Brothers did their weekly dance with the network censors to see how much they could get away with.

The free speech movement was in full swing at Berkeley and change was in the air. On Broadway, Hair! featured nude actors, David Crosby sang about how he almost cut his hair, and hair became a symbol of the Black Power movement.

Then came the backlash. Richard Nixon got elected because he promised to restore law and order. The war on drugs was launched and soon nearly a third of all young black men in America had prison records. Repression became the watchword as America built a slew of for profit prisons and the courts were encouraged to find people to fill them.

Since then, the clamp down on dissent has intensified. Today, people who dare to report about climate crimes are being killed in record numbers, and those who lay a hand on a pipeline or stand on the tracks leading to a coal-fired generating station risk incarceration for 20 years or more. After 9/11, the fossil fuel companies found a powerful new means of quashing dissent by redefining climate activism as a threat to national security.

The Takeaway

We all know how this latest round of End Fossil Occupy activism will end. The protesters will be tolerated briefly, then the riot police with their tear gas, truncheons, and rubber bullets will wade in, arrest them, and bring them to heel. Soon, things will get back to normal and we will all dutifully go about our business. Corporations will get back to socking as much money as possible away in their offshore bank accounts.

Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement — all will be forgotten as people go on with their lives. There once was a person — George Carlin was his name — who had the courage to stand up in public and say publicly what many of us say in private. He was tolerated because he styled himself as a comedian. For those who have never seen this historic footage of Carlin telling it like it is, or for those who have seen it but forgotten the power of his message, please take a moment to view it now. [Be warned: Some may find Carlin’s language offensive.]

Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor who worked tirelessly to expose those responsible for that horror, once said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but we must never fail to protest.” These young protesters will likely fail in their mission not because what they have to say isn’t valid, but because too many of us will fail to raise our voices in protest with them. That failure will move the Earth another step closer to becoming so hot that the vast majority of humans will perish.

Protest is perilous, but it is necessary if we as a species are to continue inhabiting our pale blue lifeboat at the far edge of a minor galaxy. Power to the people! Right on!

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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