By Kama Wojtuszko
“We are not invaders, we are the university,” writes the Amsterdam Autonomous Coalition* (AAC) in their press release following the occupation of the ABC building at the UvA Roeterseiland Campus on May 16th. As the three demands – decarbonise, democratise, decolonise – posed to UvA during the January occupation of the former Amsterdamse Academische Club have not been met, the AAC organised another occupation. Riot police, authorised by the College van Bestuur (CvB), arrested 14 students occupying the hall of the ABC building. They were released the next day.
In the month of May, there have been 70 occupations of European schools and universities, including 6 across the Netherlands in the past week. Behind these efforts is the international initiative ‘End Fossil: Occupy’, which aims for transparency and cutting ties with Big Oil. The occupation of UvA scrutinised the university’s involvement in research projects funded by Shell. As a result of the occupations, the VU has banned future collaborations with fossil fuel companies that do not adhere to the Paris Agreement.
Furthermore, AAC’s demand for an autonomous student space still stands. The UvA has not granted the Amsterdamse Academische Club such a space since the occupation in January. Additionally, drawing on the history of police violence against protesting students, another demand: “Cops off campus.”
Before the threat of eviction, the hall of the ABC building was blossoming with various student initiatives such as banner, patch and jewellery making or clothing repair workshops. As an alternative to the privatised canteen, Bakers Without Bosses and Antikantine provided complementary food. Moreover, students engaged in an occupation-themed capture-the-flag: ‘Capture the Balaclava’. All was accompanied by panel talks explaining the demands of the occupation and live music. “We are simply reclaiming what is ours through peaceful direct action,” writes the AAC.
“The excited mood and everyone’s enthusiasm was pretty contagious,” says Kleo**, an activist from AUC. In their opinion, the action’s slogan “reclaim the university” was reflected in the variety of activities and proposed alternatives to how the university functions. The event demonstrated the determination of UvA students to “act upon what we want our university to look like.”
Spike, another activist from AUC, felt that through the creativity and panel discussions, students managed to take back their space. “For once, the university felt like it was a place that was run by students […], and not like a neoliberal corporation,” they add.
During the day, there were a few police officers walking around the building. For Spike, this was symbolic and reflected the neoliberal capitalist structure of UvA. “You have a cop walking into an educational institution. What does that mean for academia?” Spike asks.
However, following the authorisation of the CvB for the riot police to evict students from the building, the lighthearted atmosphere shifted. In light of the January occupation, students knew what was coming. It took the police over two hours to begin eviction, but as soon as they arrived, violence broke out. The AAC’s Instagram page features video footage of police violently tackling supporters outside of the ABC building.
“I was not surprised to see it [police violence towards students] happen again,” Spike comments. They describe the police’s behaviour towards the students protesting outside: “Eight to ten police vans showed up at the campus. It rankled me to see unarmed protesters get beaten up by cops.” In their opinion, police suppressing any kind of academic disapproval undermines democracy.
The future of UvA’s collaboration with Shell remains undecided. According to the university, negotiations are set to continue throughout May and June.
*Amsterdam Autonomous Coalition is a coalition of the following UvA student groups: University Rebellion UvA, Autonomous Student Struggle, Activisten Partij UvA, Mokum Kraakt, The Decolonisation Club, ROSA Radical Students, Students for Justice in Palestine (SRP) and ROOD Socialistische Jongeren
**name altered for safety reasons