German climate justice movement leaders speak

March 15, 2019

Two leaders from the German organization Ende Gelände, a group dedicated to protecting the environment from climate change through mass demonstrations of civil disobedience, spoke at Brandeis last Thursday. Movement leaders Daniel Hofinger and Dorothee Haeussermann spoke to a room of 28 attendees at Brandeis as part of their U.S. tour.

“Ende Gelände” is German for “here and no further.” The organization utilizes a variety of techniques to fight against the fossil fuel industry in Germany. Their more traditional methods include public protests and legal action.

In their talk at Brandeis, called “Scaling Up the Resistance: Strategies and Stories from the German Climate Justice Movement,” Hofinger said that those methods are important, but that “for some of us we need to go one step further and do civil disobedience.” He continued, joking, “you know, Thoreau and Walden Pond or whatever, you’re read it all probably.”

Ende Gelände trains people to use their bodies to stop coal from being produced and transported. In the presentation, Hofinger showed pictures and videos of Ende Gelände volunteers, dressed entirely in white clothing that covered their faces, positioning themselves on train tracks and in front of heavy machinery. The activists do not destroy infrastructure or hurt workers. Hofinger said that the police are not treated as their enemies, just as obstacles. Their only goal is to stop the production of fossil fuels.

The pair wanted to communicate why the movement has had so much success in Germany. Haussermann admitted that the environment within Germany might just be different than in the United States, saying, “It’s important to recognize we have a culture of civil disobedience.” She said afterward that she believes that culture is not the only difference, and emphasized a key part of the Ende Gelände philosophy.

Haeussermann spoke about her suspicion that the culture of civil disobedience in America emphasizes participants’ willingness to be arrested. In Ende Gelände, she and Hofinger don’t want any of their volunteers to have to make sacrifices. They want to create a culture where this necessary resistance is easy to take part in. Participants do not bring identification, and they move together in such large numbers that it is near impossible for a police force to arrest all the demonstrators. The organization provides legal networks and support to the people that do get arrested. She showed more pictures of people smiling and laughing, both at the resistance training camps and while positioning themselves on train tracks.

Ende Gelände has had successes in the past, said Hofinger. In September of 2018, the energy giant Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) tried to clear the Hambach Forest next to its coal mine in order to dig for lignite. Ende Gelände built nearly a hundred tree houses in the forest to occupy the area. When police managed to destroy the tree houses, Ende Gelände organized a crowd of 50,000 people to camp out on the edge of the forest, Hofinger explained. This action bought enough time to win a court case that delayed the destruction of the forest until the end of 2019, and Ende Gelände is planning how to continue their resistance.

At the end of the presentation, Hofinger asked the audience for any questions. Multiple members of the audience were concerned about how Ende Gelände could maintain its momentum as a movement. Haeussermann replied eagerly, saying “people really enjoy being with Ende Gelände. It’s empowering.”

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