By Koko Christiaanse
On Monday, June 1st, thousands of protestors filled Dam Square to protest against racism despite coronavirus regulations. We reached out to some of the AUC students who joined them to make a stand.
The protest was part of an international movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who was suffocated by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Institutionalised racism, police brutality, and racial violence were amongst the big issues participants came to protest against. Ange Asare, first year Social Science student and upcoming member of AUC’s student council, describes the protest as, “a friendly reminder racism is still an issue outside the United States. Racism is a worldwide problem and we have come now to realise that we need to change for good.”
Students say that, although the protest was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, the issues that the movement addresses are equally pertinent to the Netherlands. Asare says, “Racism is so deep rooted in our (Dutch) society and is one of many issues people of colour face on a daily basis (…) It is easier to point the finger at a different country or someone without looking at yourself first.”
Florence de Graven, first year social science major, says, “I am so done with seeing black people treated like less. I saw so many posts on Facebook saying, why are you protesting something that is in the US, and I think that’s the biggest problem, it is not only in the US, it’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere in the world.”
Although the organizers of the protest, Kick Out Zwarte Piet and Black Queer and Trans Resistance NL, anticipated between 250 and 300 people, the protest attracted so many that protestors spilled over to adjacent streets. Phoebe Spence, second year Humanities major, says, “It was so big, it was so loud, when people were chanting there was a literal echo.” The turnout, while unexpected, produced an encouraging and supporting atmosphere. Asare says, “I was truly amazed and inspired by the amount of people who were present at the protest and seeing people gathering worldwide, speaking up and actively being a part of the change.”
According to students, the protest at the Dam was an emotionally charged event. De Graven says, “as a minority, to see all these people fighting for equality, it made me cry, and it makes me feel like I finally belong somewhere, and people are finally listening to me.” De Graven described that many others in the crowd displayed similar emotional reactions. Spence says that the emotional weight of the event inspired her to think about her role in combating racism in everyday life. She says,“I had to go sit on my own for a bit and just think, and I took a few minutes or hours to emotionally disentangle what happened.”
The protest was criticized in the media for having taken place during the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, the Dutch politician Julius Terpstra called the protest “a slap in the face to our healthcare workers.” Carmen Koppert, third year Social Science major, says that her family sent her articles criticising the protest while she was standing on Dam Square. She says, “I was very disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of media that even asked one person, what is so important that you are neglecting these rules and actually standing there.” Koppert says that the “very negative” posts on Facebook from her conservative hometown prompted her to evaluate her views of the world and the media.
Despite disagreeing with negative press, students had to make weighty decisions in attending the protest. De Graven says, “I’ve had the coronavirus, it is not fun, it’s not games, but we’re fighting against this racism that’s been around for hundreds of years […] I feel like it’s more important to fight against racism because it hurts more people every year, every day, every minute.” Koppert, who will be refraining from returning to her hometown for two weeks after the protest for her at-risk family members, says, “I would have preferred it to be corona-proof, but when I was there, I thought, this is too important, it doesn’t matter.”
Festival organizers did place crosses on Dam square to indicate where people could stand, but the crowd made it difficult for protestors to abide by, or even notice, the crosses. Spence says, “I had the mindset of: I’m young, if I can’t go out and protest, who can? I’m also living on my own and not connected to at-risk individuals.”
On Friday, June 5th, AUC sent an internal email voicing that AUC stands “in solidarity with the worldwide movement to condemn police brutality and structural racism, in the wake of the horrific death of George Floyd.” However, students are critical of this limited response.
Asare says she would like to see more proactivity from AUC in putting their words into action. She says, “A lot has been said, but not much has been done. Being part of a ‘diverse’ community, it is not sufficient to simply have empathy for us and sharing your sympathetic words, actions speak louder.” De Graven is unsure of how committed AUC is to their statement. She says, “There’s only a small community of people of color at AUC, and I sometimes feel underrepresented […] I feel like AUC as a community should have more teachers who are people of color.” De Graven is also critical of the fact that AUC did not voice their statement publicly.
Students say that the fight against racism is long from over. Asare says, “The year 2020 will be a year that we will finally accept the need for a change, become part of the change and work for change. A year we finally band together as one human race, instead of pushing each other further apart. It will not happen overnight, but we need to start taking proper steps to the right direction.”
Another protest is planned in Amsterdam today at the Nelson Mandelapark.