Taken place on the 16th of January 2023
Amsterdam Autonomous Coalition (named as such after January)
- University Rebellion UvA
- Autonomous Student Struggle
- Activisten Partij UvA
- SRP Nederland: Students for Justice in Palestine
- The Decolonization Club
- Rood Socialistische Jongeren
- Mokum Kraakt
WE OCCUPIED/LIBERATED THE UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM!
On January 16th 2023, different groups (see above) came together under the banner of End Fossil Amsterdam to liberate the former Amsterdamse Academische Club (AAC), a small building of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), which had been empty for months. We liberated this building to demand the following:
1. The UvA must cut all ties with Shell.
2. The UvA must ensure transparency in terms of funding and collaborations with the fossil fuel industry.
3. The UvA must turn the occupied space (AAC) into an autonomous space for students and staff to discuss and educate themselves on decolonization, democratization and decolonization.
*Update: Autonomous Student Struggle wrote their own statement here: https://indy.puscii.nl/node/52979
WHY DO WE WANT THIS?
We want a university that is autonomous, free of companies and institutions that thrive on exploiting people, violating human rights Indigenous rights, and destroying the planet. These are the horrors that the fossil fuel industry represents. Much like colonizers, they invade and wreck ancestral and communal lands to extract their resources, leaving behind barren soils, polluted waters, multiple diseases, earthquakes, social poverty, death.
We envision academic and civil spaces built on mutual aid, well-being, solidarity, transformative justice, self-governance; spaces liberated from (neo)colonial practices, profit dynamics, gendered and racial discriminations, climate wreckers and concentrated power. We do not want OUR university (and public institutions) to accept blood money or any form of partnership from companies that sow death and destruction around the globe, much like Shell does.
We occupied (hence, liberated) the former AAC to fight for a university that realizes the values we hold dear. The Maagdenhuis occupation in 2015 showed that the commitments of the UvA’s administration in terms of democratization and decolonization were simply lip service. The committees implemented as a result of the occupation never achieved the radical changes they were envisioned for, and the UvA simply took the credit for the hard work of activists/students. For example, the UvA dismissed commitments like using the report “Let’s do diversity” as a serious basis for implementing real change within the UvA. We want radical change, not lip service.
We have been campaigning at the UvA through multiple channels and ways for over two years. So far, we only got dismissing and evading responses from the Executive Board (CvB). We have sent formal letters, a manifesto, we have spoken to them in multiple occasions and delivered a petition with over 1300 (now over 1700) signatures of people (mostly UvA students and staff) who clearly want Shell out of our university. The CvB’s reply to all this effort was the bare minimum: their single commitment will be to, someday, have more transparency in terms of funding with Shell. They, however, fail to address When and How they will do it. We don’t see why we should trust this would even come to pass: it is a vague promise with no plan for its execution. We have further tried to get the CvB to commit seriously to our demands and preoccupations through the formal student bodies (ASVA and CSR) for months. This, likewise, has met no significant result. We have thus exhausted all possibilities of discussion with the CvB. They, however, have not acted thus far, even though they have had plenty of time. This is why we decided to escalate our tactics to a peaceful occupation.
WHICH TIES DOES UvA HAVE WITH SHELL?
The University of Amsterdam has multiple connections to Shell: guest lecturers, invitations in career events, funding for student associations, facilitation of internships and visits, guest for interview events, funding for research.* These connections improve Shell’s image in society, as Academia is a powerful actor in shaping people’s perceptions. In other words, it improves Shell’s Social License to Operate, thus portraying Shell as a trustable and reliable actor. This, then, serves to legitimize (or neglect) the harm and destruction caused by this company, making them look like the “good guys”. Furthermore, these ties may have a direct impact on academic research. For example, a recent paper on Nature reveals that fossil-funded centers are more favorable towards gas than towards renewable energy.
Additionally, the President of the CvB of UvA, Geert ten Dam, is part of a lobbying group in Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Economic Board, of which the CTO of Shell, Yuri Sebregts, is a Board Member. How neutral can her position be? How can UvA staff and students rest assured that the President of their Executive Board will not prioritize these companies’ interests over other actors?
WHY SHOULD SHELL GET OUT OF UVA?
Shell is responsible for:
Being among the top 10 climate polluters in the world.
Lying (knowingly) about climate change and fighting against climate policy for over 30 years.
Only investing about 5% of their money in renewable energy, the rest in fossil fuel projects. Between 2010 and 2018, Shell only dedicated 1% of its long-term investments to sources of low carbon energy like wind and solar.
Invading and doing fracking on ancestral Mapuche land (“Argentina”) – Polluting their waters, making their land barren, creating innumerable cases of respiratory disease, and violating Mapuche rights.
Polluting Ogoniland (in Nigeria) for decades and being implicated in the Nigerian dictatorship, leading to the death of the Ogoni 9 activists and serious cases of human right abuses.
To sum up, Shell has a horrible record of pollution, misleading narratives and abuse of human and Indigenous rights. We thus find it unacceptable that our university is LEGITIMIZING a corporate monster like this. The UvA does not allow the tobacco industry to sponsor research or have other connections with the university, but somehow a fossil giant amidst the climate crisis is welcome in so many of the channels of the UvA.
This can only be seen as greenwashing – in other words, this is helping Shell to be portrayed as “sustainable” when they have been causing devastating socioecological destruction across the globe. We will not be complicit with this legitimization of Shell’s destruction. We will disrupt the UvA and Shell until these ties are broken once and for all!
THE OCCUPATION – BEFORE THE POLICE
During the occupation, we had speeches of different student groups and activist movements, besides performances of activists and artists, food and political discussions. We created a space in line with the values that the UvA should aspire to uphold: a space for intellectuals, artists, social movements and the general public to present their voice and experiences, both from within academia and from outside the walls of the “ivory tower”.
Right from the start, we messaged and called the CvB to initiate negotiations, explaining our action and our demands. They gave us very vague terms, and then met with only 3 representatives from our groups. The negotiations were mostly empty promises: they said they would not cut ties with Shell; instead, they would simply propose a “new perspective” to the committee looking into third party connections – a committee that has been inactive for years. They also said they would, sometime in the future, set up a place where we could discuss these topics, rather than allow us to use the space we already had liberated, and that had been empty for months. During the negotiations, [rectified]we wanted to invite the CvB to an open assembly at the occupation but very quickly they said they would charge us for trespassing, so we knew debate was not in their interest. [/rectified] The occupation had over 60 people while only 3 of us were in the room. From previous occupations like the one in PC Hoofthuis (2018), another UvA building, they know that this [charge/procedure] likely leads to the riot police being deployed, and police violence is extremely likely to follow. They seemed fine with this prospect and said they would try to get us evicted before 22:00. With empty promises and the use of police force, we knew this was a PR/image move and not a conversation. These events show that the UvA protects the interest of fossil giants even if that means resorting to the use of violent riot police force on their own students and staff. To put simply, they clearly do not care about the safety, well-being and autonomy of their own students and staff and other peaceful protesters.
POLICE BRUTALLY “EVICTS” PEOPLE
Around 20:00, the riot police arrived with at least 8 vans, 2 public transport buses and ONE HELICOPTER to arrest peaceful protesters. They had shields and batons. Once they started moving, they immediately cornered us, destroying our rain tents, pushing and beating people up. Protesters said the police shouted misogynistic slurs at them as the pushing and beating happened. At least two vans drove INTO students and protesters. People were shoved to the ground with shields; dozens have wounds on their hands, legs, knees, belly and chest due to the violence using batons. One person had to be taken to the hospital due to serious injures on their leg, and this person is now using crutches, with severe pain daily. The mental health of many protesters has been seriously damaged. Videos are available on @uvarebellion (Instagram) and on media reports from AT5 (website and twitter). 30 people were arrested and kept in prison for up to 24h. The next day, on January 17th, more than 20 people showed up for a noise demonstration at the police station in the Bijlmer region in Amsterdam, where the protestors were being held.
Absurd claims that “other groups” were involved which could cause “risk” are unfounded – all the groups that have been forming this coalition (End Fossil Amsterdam) have been involved and working together for months and all use peaceful protesting (e.g. occupations) as tactics. There was nothing indicating otherwise.
We are not the ones holding the batons: we were having music, food and fruitful discussions when the police destroyed our tents and started beating people who did not immediately evacuate. We marched and occupied a space, held performances, speeches, discussions, music, while the UvA enabled the use of riot police with batons, shields, buses, vans and a helicopter – it’s as simple as that. Nobody deserves to get beaten up by the police for peacefully protesting, whether they are students/staff or not. We refuse this distorted narrative that tries to distract people from the fact that the UvA is defending fossil fuel interests at the cost of the safety and well-being of their own students and staff and other peaceful protesters.
During the occupation, we received an overwhelming amount of support – from students groups, staff members of the UvA and other universities, various social movements, anti-racist groups, groups from the 2015 occupation at the UvA, big climate justice groups in the Netherlands, left-wing political parties, etc.
Now, after the occupation, the wave continues. We have a statement in solidarity with the occupation with more than 700 signatures at the moment of writing this piece, mostly from students and staff members of the UvA. Rethink UvA and Casual UvA wrote their own statements in support of our occupation and condemning the coward actions of the UvA’s Executive Board for enabling the police to violently evict and beat up students and staff while pretending to be open for dialogue. Additionally, the works council of humanities also released a statement condemning the attitude of the CvB. Political parties are taking up our demands, and asking critical at the municipality about the influence of the fossil fuel industry on our universities. More public and political developments are to be expected. We know we are not alone – many are fighting for a fairer world, one where fossil giants are not legitimized and welcomed at public universities, in the midst of the climate and ecological crisis we face today.
We are planning new demonstrations and open assemblies, and we hear numerous cases of anger and disappointment with universities from people who now want to protest and fight back. Although we are taking care of ourselves and our dear friends & comrades, we will not stop here. This occupation was just the beginning.
SHELL WILL BE OUT! Students and staff will have AUTONOMY! Another world is possible, and we are building it through collective struggle.
In solidarity with those fighting for autonomous spaces and fossil-free universities,
End Fossil Amsterdam
20 January 2023
*more sources and information on our website (click links): www.universityrebellion.nl/facts