While parts of the Amsterdam population are still in deep mourning over the removal of our beloved “I amsterdam” sign at Museumplein, others were able to see the removal of this symbol of individualism as an opportunity to come together as a community and take a step towards saving the planet.
Toward the end of 2018, the large block letters in front of the Rijksmuseum have been removed not only to drive mass tourism away from a limited space, but also to divert from the individualistic spirit the words represent. Despite the excellent pun, the sign projected values the city’s administration does not support. An emphasis on the collectivist nature of Amsterdam is new mayor Femke Halsema’s preferred image to present.
The North Holland branch of the Partij voor de Dieren (Party for the Animals, PvdD) decided to take advantage of this landmark’s fairly recent absence and organize an event tying the capital’s community spirit with a statement regarding environmental issues.
On March 2, the party, including candidates for the upcoming provincial elections on March 20, met up with enthusiastic volunteers at the former location of the sign to pick up trash around Museumplein. The catch: the trash is collected to build the letters for a temporary new sign with the words ‘WE PLANET,’ a phrase used to not only enforce a sense of collectivism in the community but also to put some salience on environmental issues plaguing the Dutch capital.
“We want to make a statement about what us human beings are doing to our earth; we are not only polluting it, but also destroying our own environment. We don’t have a particular view on the removal of the old sign, but we chose this iconic spot to link it to the old letters and therefore point out that we are all in the same boat.” states Ines Kostic, the PvdD’s second candidate on the list for the provincial elections. According to her, the statement is supposed to oppose the focus of many other political parties on economic growth and financial success, giving the general public a distorted image both of priorities and of politicians’ abilities.
The PvdD presents strong opinions on environmental issues on a local level. Fabian Zoon, first candidate on the party’s list for the provincial elections, claims that “littering is a major problem. Every piece of plastic that is not thrown away properly ends up in the ocean one way or another. We only have one planet, and we need to be very careful with it.” In fact, the municipality has been enforcing fees for littering and disturbing the public peace since last year, but pleas to keep the city cleaner have not stopped.
Lammert van Raan, a parliament representative of the PvdD, sees these issues on a larger scale. “The whole world has a big littering problem: 250 billion tons of plastic are produced every year, and 50 million kilograms disappear in the environment in the Netherlands alone.”
“We see a political party as a tool to change the world, to help. But you can’t change the world without people”
Van Raan recognizes major opportunities in this project to gain awareness in the public eye; although the streets around Museumplein seem quite clean on first sight, the amount of trash collected within two hours declares otherwise. In addition, the statement is also directed towards current politicians: “The time of giving the industries their freedom to solve environmental issues on their own terms is over. The idea that this is the industries’ problem and that they will solve it is childish. Now is time for sterner measures.”
The involvement of volunteers and enthusiastic outsiders is essential for the effectiveness of this project. “We see a political party as a tool to change the world, to help. But you can’t change the world without people,” Kostic says. “By involving people in this project, we are able to make them realize the importance of these issues.”
Involvement ensures awareness because people get to be part of the solution. An interactive campaign often has more reach than one-sided messages. Irolt, a volunteer, traveled from Utrecht to be part of this project. He believes that if everybody could pick up some trash every day, there would be great changes in the environment. In order to do that, though, people need to be inspired by projects like this and see the more entertaining parts of helping. But he hopes that if everybody does their part, it will make a large impact on the local community, as well as helping the world beyond Amsterdam.