activists arrested during International ‘Rebel Without Borders’ Week
By HENRIKE FREYTAG | November 25, 2019
Cover photo by Charley Rousset / The Amsterdammer
On October 13th 2019 the group Extinction Rebellion blocked the Blauwbrug bridge in the early morning.
From October 7 to October 12, 2019, climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, arranged several blockades to raise awareness about the current climate crisis during the international ‘Rebel Without Borders’ Week. More than 1,000 activists committed acts of civil disobedience with the intention of forcing Dutch politicians to acknowledge and act upon the climate emergency. In total, the police arrested approximately 260 activists from the blockade of Stadhouderskade (Monday October 7) and from the occupation of the Blauwbrug (Saturday October 12). Officially, the blockade was not given permission by the municipality and the activists were offered the Museumplein instead. Despite the Mayor’s ban, the blockade took place.
After a week of several acts of civil disobedience, the activists caused the last major disruption of Rebellion Week on the Blauwbrug on October 12. At 9:00 am, that bridge was one of three locations in the city occupied by protestors, hindering the city’s general traffic flow. Extinction Rebellion activists were sitting, standing, lying and chanting on the bridge while a boat was placed in the middle of the bridge. Those who were lying on the floor entangled their arms and legs; while some glued their hands to the boat or the concrete.
According to the police, 380 activists were part of the blockade at Blauwbrug and more than 130 were arrested in the morning. Lex van Liebergen, the police spokesperson at the protest, claimed that the arrests and the disassembling of the protest was completely legal due to the protest’s violation of the citizens’ freedom of movement. Mayor Halsema issued an emergency order (noodbevel in Dutch), which indicated that the activists were perceived as a direct danger to the safety of the city. The remaining 250 activists, who could not be brought to the police station due to the cells being full, were displaced to a remote area of Amsterdam. After being dropped there by buses, the activists were free to leave and the bridge was free for traffic to move again at 2:30 pm.
The police interference was criticized by the Extinction Rebellion’s police liaison Michiel, who stated that it was illegal. Michiel described the communication with the police during the occupation of the bridge as respectful and polite. He went on to say that once the police noticed that the demonstrators were peaceful and strictly non-violent, they generally behaved in a calm and professional manner. However, he mentioned that violence was used in some instances. Furthermore, Michiel claimed that his communication with the police was sometimes delayed. For example, the police warned the protesters to leave voluntarily before they began to arrest everyone on the bridge, including children. The interval between the warning and the closing of the bridge, was only 13 minutes, which he felt to be too short. “I think some people felt unhappy that they went in too quickly, that they were trapped inside. So they did not want to be arrested but somehow did not manage to get out on time, but in general, the people who are here know that they will be arrested. That’s part of our strategy,” Michiel concluded about the situation.
Nevertheless, the Extinction Rebellion protest at the Blauwbrug has had quite a positive impact. For instance, Ahmed a 19 year-old tourist from Sweden witnessed the protest by coincidence. As he was watching the blockade, he felt inspired by it. According to Ahmed, “It’s really awesome that they are doing this, it’s a really good cause and I hope it makes a difference.” Coming from Malta, he said that although climate protests are not very frequent back in his home country, he considers them extremely important. Moreover, he deems the actions of the police at the Blauwbrug as a clear indicator of the activists’ impact: the mere fact that the police were present shows the significance of this protest.
The decisions made by Mayor Halsema and the actions of the police were a major topic of discussion for Dutch political parties. VVD, FvD and CDA were critical and stated that the police actions should have been stricter. BIJ1, in contrast, argued that the police should not have confiscated food and water from the protestors, condemning the police’s actions as inhumane.
Since the Extinction Rebellion is a non-hierarchical organisation, every member can initiate an event independently. A recent government report projects that climate change goals such as reduced emission of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases will not be satisfactorily met in the Netherlands, so further climate protests by the group can be expected.
All photos and videos in this article were taken by Charley Rousset on the 13th of October 2019.