By Koko Christiaanse
— Waking up before dawn, packing a sign, strapping on the prepared backpack, and biking to the Rijksmuseum in the brisk October air; this is what morning looked like for AUC students who participated in the Extinction Rebellion protest on Monday, October 7. The afternoon, however, looked very different. For some, it involved being “administratively relocated” to a remote location in Westpoort, for others, the afternoon was spent in Bijlmermeer jail.
The climate protest was banned on Friday by Major Femke Halsema, as it involved blockading the Stadshouderskade, an important traffic junction in front of the Rijksmuseum. According to de Volkskrant, Halsema stated in an open letter to Extinction Rebellion that as the blockade would limit people’s right to move freely, it is not a legitimate form of protest. Concerns were also raised about the protest blocking emergency exits of the Rijksmuseum. Halsema therefore instructed Extinction Rebellion to move to Museumplein instead. Activists came to Stadshouderskade anyway – with the police waiting for them.
The blockade was part of “Rebel Without Borders”, an international week-long series of planned actions organized by climate activist group “Extinction Rebellion”. Some of these actions included civil disobedience, such as the blockade on Monday. The blockade consisted of rows of protestors sitting in a locked-arm formation on the road, enclosing a small space for tents, toilets, and signs. Non-blockaders could also be found in this space, dancing, playing instruments, and singing. Extinction Rebellion intended for the Blockade to last all week.
The first protestors, including some from AUC, arrived at the scene at approximately 5:00 am, where the police had already blockaded Stadshouderskade. Protestors then made their way through to Stadshouderskade at approximately 7:00 am, and began to set up tents and form the blockade. According to Tomas Resink, Second year Social Science student, most arrests were carried out between 9:00 and 9:30 am. The Volkskrant reports a total of 90 arrests carried out at the scene. At approximately 2:00 pm, police began to pull protestors out of the blockade and placed them on busses. By 5:00 pm, the blockade had been disbanded and protestors administratively relocated to Westpoort.
Extinction Rebellion has a substantial unofficial presence at AUC. The AUC-oriented Extinction Rebellion group chat has 49 members as of today. “AUC protest”, a Facebook group with over 150 members, demonstrates AUC student’s engagement in civil activism. It was therefore not a surprise that over 15 AUC students attended the protest, some of whom were arrested by police. Arrestees were taken to Bijlmermeer police station.
“I was one of the first five to be pulled out of the pile, and I was arrested around nine,” said Charlie Pittelkow, second year Social science student. “We waited in a police van for like half an hour, then drove to bijlmermeer.” Pittelkow became involved with Extinction Rebellion after joining Extinction Rebellion’s AUC group chat.
“At one point my affinity group was asked to sit down in the blockade, but we moved up as more people got arrested in the front. We were the last people that got arrested at that time,” said Merel van Berge Henegouwen, second year Humanities major at AUC. “They dragged us out of the crowd, and then went over to the van, they checked my ID, took my belongings.”
Extinction Rebellion pre-organizes their protests together with their supporters. They also offer “Non Violent Direct Action” trainings, which they recommend their supporters to attend before protesting as a preparatory measure. Protestors are divided into “affinity groups” – a group of people who have their own group chat and agree to stick together during civil disobedience.
At the blockade, protestors were divided into “arrestable” and “non-arrestable” groups. “Arrestables” were advised to write the number of Extinction Rebellion’s lawyer on their arms, as to be guaranteed access to legal counsel in the case of being arrested. “Arrestables” were mobilized to form the blockade, whilst “Non-arrestables” stood behind or moved to Museumplein. Protestors were also assigned personal numbers, which they can shout out when being arrested so that Extinction Rebellion can log who is taken from the crowd.
Despite these measures, not every aspect of the organisation was as streamlined as expected. Pittelkow said said, “we were non-arrestibles, we weren’t supposed to be in the first lines of the blockade. My group joined in the second and third row, but the first row needed more people, so I thought, why not?”
Access to Extinction Rebellion’s lawyer was more restricted than anticipated.“Everyone had the same lawyer, and there were about ninety people who got arrested, so the lawyer didn’t have time for everyone at the investigation,” said Pittelkow. Arrestees were told that if they chose to disclose their identities, they would be released after six hours. According to Pittelkow, this was less time consuming than remaining anonymous whilst waiting for the lawyer.
Police at the scene of the protest were characterised by protestors to be polite and generally friendly. “The police were friendly” said Pieter Parlevliet, second year Science Major who was eventually administratively relocated to Westpoort. Pittelkow said, “Honestly, the police were really cool. […] They were nice, joking around in the police van.” Police were also seen casually chatting with protestors at the scene.
Despite the positive reactions about the police at the scene, the police at Bijlmermeer were noted to be inconsistent and unclear towards arrestees. According to van Berge Henegouwen, some arrestees had their phones confiscated in the police vans whilst others did not. Pittelkow detailed how during the intake process, some female protestors were permitted to keep their accessories, such as watches and hair ties, whilst she had hers confiscated, including various piercings. The police were also inconsistent with applying the rule that only one layer of clothing could be worn.
Protestors were kept for unusually long periods of time. Police informed protestors they would be kept for six hours. Despite the announcement, Pittelkow was informed she would be held for longer once her six hours were spent. Van Berge Henegouwen says her cellmate was informed that the “Officer of Justice” could extend detainment up to nine hours. “You can’t do a lot once in the cell, they weren’t really nice,” said van Berge Henegouwen, “They told us to just be patient, they kept telling us that. Nobody knew it was going to be this long.”
Protestors who were administratively relocated were left in the dark by the police as to whether they were arrested or not. Zoe Peña, second year Humanities student, explained “we literally had no clue [what was going on]. We found out from other rebels on the bus that had a phone and were texting people on the outside. We were literally never told anything.”
Despite the arrests, the activists remain determined. Pittelkow said she would “for sure join future events” and is planning to remain involved with Extinction Rebellion. Van Berge Henegouwen added “We are in a climate crisis, an ecological crisis, and the Dutch government and a lot of governments aren’t doing anything. If we don’t do something now, we won’t have a future. If I don’t do this, nothing is going to change.”