By Milan Matthes Kale
The sky was filled with grey November clouds as Vebjørn Bjelland Berg began the journey towards Amsterdam Center. He was joining the climate march being held that Saturday, November 6th, 2021, and though it was predicted that 20,000 protesters would attend, the energy seemed to fall flat. Only one of the several friends Berg had invited showed up. Yet, the duo was quickly joined by an acquaintance of Berg, who had fished him from the crowd of mostly mask-wearing protesters, his tall stature and almost shoulder-length blond hair giving him away. This was not Berg’s only run-in with friendly faces — his place as an active member in the movement was clear.
While standing in the midst of the protest, in a wool sweater knit for him by his sister, Berg, mentions his disillusionment with the effectiveness of such mainstream climate protests. Continuing, he notes that though energy may be shifting away from the climate movement at the moment, it will rise again. The crucial next step, says Berg, is to continue building a strong undercurrent of community, solidarity, and resources so that when the next wave of energy hits, activists can capitalize. And this is exactly what he has been trying to achieve:
“Everything he thinks about is related to the climate and the ecological emergency,” explains Berg’s long-time friend, “I don’t think he would be able to settle for anything else right now. It’s his calling, what he knows he has to do.”Torbjørn Reitan Fyrvik
Coming to mundane protests is for him an obligation of showing mass support, but taking part in civil disobedience is where Berg sees his true contribution to the battle against climate change.
Waking up at 4 am on a cold October morning two years earlier, Berg and his small team of activists were ready. They, like the many other groups scattered around Amsterdam, were trying to reach the front of the Rijksmuseum, making their way around police lines. The goal was simple: set up a blockade on both ends of the street to shut it down. With around 900 people joining, the blockade was successfully in place, and one of the most impactful actions on Berg’s life was underway. He sat, arms and legs linked with a community of activists on either side. Intermittently wandering around the center of the blockade where people congregated freely, and even ended up detained by the police twice, coming back in the hopes of feeding his fellow activists.
“It was so unbelievably energizing. It felt really communal, like when we do this together, we’re strong. We’re strong together,” effused Berg with a smile. “I could feel that power so much more than the one of the march. In part, because this was with nobody’s permission.”Vebjørn Bjelland Berg
Living as a full-time activist is a privilege that many cannot afford, according to Berg. But his Norwegian background and the student loans he has been able to stretch out through living conservatively while studying at AUC, have granted him this as an option after his studies — even if only for several months. The biggest drain on income is rent, something he can avoid by living on a small sailing boat lent to him by Daan Dorr, the founder of De Sering, where he often works, or by house-sitting for friends and colleagues. And although these living situations can be less than ideal, at times depriving him of electricity, running water, or enough space to stand, it is a sacrifice worth making for Berg.
Working and spending time at De Sering — a people’s kitchen in Amsterdam that often hosts the Extinction Rebellion and other climate activists — has been one way that Berg has found a sense of community in his activism. Before the pandemic “he started coming over for the cheap food and company,” Dorr explained chuckling — a meal there costing only €2,5. It was only after graduating from AUC in the summer of 2021 that Berg and Dorr sat down for some drinks, and spoke about the future of De Sering. It was here that Berg expressed his interest in helping out, and while “a lot of people said: ‘I want to help out,’” explains Dorr, “he is the one that did it.”