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End Fossil: Occupy occupies Minnaert building
Wednesday 3:30 pm, one last demonstration: "We will be back".
Dozens of protesters gather in front of the Administration building, carrying signs. They want to underscore their demands to the Executive Board one more time. The vice-president of the university, Margot van der Starre, and the student assessor, Anneloes Krul, go downstairs to meet them. The students are singing in the rain, saying that they are happy about the Executive Board's first step, but not satisfied yet. As a last action, the students cut the ties they're wearing around their necks, symbolising the ties they think must be broken between the university and the fossil fuel industry. They would like the university to do much more, so they issue another ultimatum: if UU isn't more specific by May 31, this week's occupation is going to be followed by another one. "We will be back." They stick this slogan to the doors of the Administration building and leave after about half an hour.
Protesters in front of UU's Administration building. Photo: DUB
Wednesday, 3:20 pm, activists leave the building and the occupation is over
The activists pick up all of their stuff and leave the Minnaert building while shouting slogans like "UU and Shell, break up." Other than that, the departure goes smoothly. At about 2:00 pm, the group begins to disperse: mattresses and blankets are put into bags, signs and flags are taken off the walls, and the sound system is switched off, marking the end of the occupation.
The activists look back on the experience with mixed feelings. "I'm incredibly proud of this team, which got together less than three months ago," says the spokesperson, Bobbie. But he feels as though the Executive Board barely addressed their questions.
"Every time we started talking about one of our demands, they would mention the small steps they have already taken," Bobbie continues. "But something happened here anyway and now we can work on our next steps." If UU does not comply with their demands, End Fossil: Occupy does not discard the idea of a second occupation. Before leaving, the activists hang a banner saying "We will be back."
But that does not mean that they are going home. As a last demonstration, they march from the Minnaert building to the Administration building. On End Fossil: Occupy's WhatsApp group, activists invite others to join the group at the Minnaert building at 3:00 pm to "make one last statement, loud and clear."
Protesters packing their things to leave the building. Photo: DUB
Wednesday, 1:00 pm, Anton Pijpers visits the building unannounced. UU is going to use the term "climate emergency" in its official communication
UU's President, Anton Pijpers, pays a surprise visit to the Minnaert building. After the Executive Board's answer on Tuesday, 6:00 pm, the student assessor Anneloes Krul urged it to meet the activists one more time to discuss the three demands. It's been decided that, from now on, UU will use the term "climate emergency" in its communication materials. According to Pijpers, the fact that the university is not using this term yet makes it "look like it does not consider climate change urgent or important." According to him, UU itself is not in a state of emergency. "But we see that other parts of the world really are in a state of emergency as a result of climate change." As for the second demand — that the university should declare a climate and ecological emergency, calling for climate justice — UU is only going to fulfil it partially. Spokesperson Bobbie thinks this is a step in the right direction but he reminds Pijpers that the university should do a lot more. "We're not there yet. Far from it." On Instagram, the activists write that they disapprove of UU's reaction last night. They call the message indecisive as "it does not meet our demands" and does not make any "clear commitments."
Anton Pijpers reading a statement to the activists. Photo: DUB
Wednesday, 9:30 am: Activists evacuated in Rotterdam
In small groups, the activists bring their stuff to the hall of the Minnaert building. Some of them have matresses in hand, while others cram everything into their backpacks. This is the last day of the occupation. The lights were turned on at 6:00 am today, instead of 5:00 am. There was a party last night as well but the atmosphere was less exuberant than the night before — certainly an effect of the disappointment they felt after their failed act in the Administration building.
Although UU students managed to avoid an evacuation, the same cannot be said about Rotterdam, where the police intervened violently last night. Twelve activists from OccupyEUR were arrested during the evacuation of a building belonging to Erasmus University, reports the Erasmus Magazine (article in Dutch, Ed.).
This is not the first time such an occupation happens in Rotterdam. In the Erasmus building, the protest started at 10:30 am and, at 2:00 pm, the executive board of that university sent them a warning, saying: "Your presence is hindering classes and even exams. If this goes on, we will take action." The board also wrote that the activists were not willing to talk. In the afternoon, security called on the occupiers to leave the building by 7:30 pm, otherwise their "social safety" could not be guaranteed. Most of them obeyed but twelve students decided to stay anyway, hooked inside a circle on the floor. They were taken by the police while shouting: "What time is it? Time for solidarity!"
The Erasmus building being evacuated by the police on Tuesday, May 9. Photo: Elmer Smaling/Ersmus Magazine
Tuesday 6:30 pm, things almost escalated
After meeting with the Executive Board this afternoon, the activists of End Fossil: Occupy issue an ultimatum: they threaten to escalate things if the board does not meet their demands by 5:00 pm. Shortly before 5:00 pm, the university answers that the deadline is unattainable and asks for one more hour. Meanwhile, as the occupiers follow a workshop on climbing as a form of activism and a yoga class, seven activists head to the Administration building. This group wants to get an answer in person before 6:00 pm. At 5:56 pm, their spokesperson tells DUB that the plan is to occupy the Administration building if the Executive Board does not meet the demands.
They leave a little bit earlier because the building closes at 6:00 pm. The Executive Board then sends an answer by e-mail, saying that the university will draft a framework for collaborations with the fossil fuel industry by August 1. This document will also cover career-related activities. In addition, the university acknowledges that there is a climate crisis.
In the meantime, the university's crisis team seals the building hermetically and no one else is allowed in (including the press). The activists are urged to leave the building. They say they are disappointed in UU's answer. "They always give the same answer: 'We acknowledge the urgency but we're taking another route.' We know this answer by heart now," says spokesperson Bobbie.
After deliberating, the group ends up deciding to leave the Administration building and go back to the Minnaert building. "It wasn't worth bringing matters to a head at this point. Especially because we heard that, if we don't leave, the Minnaert building will be evacuated as well."
The tweet below reads: "The Executive Board and the student assessor, Anneloes, met with the students occupying a space in the Minnaert building. End Fossil Occupy Utrecht made two demands with which they want UU to comply by 5:00 pm."
Het College van Bestuur en student assessor Anneloes hebben vandaag een gesprek gevoerd met studenten die een ruimte in het Minnaertgebouw bezetten. End Fossil Occupy Utrecht heeft daarbij twee eisen gedeeld waarvan ze willen dat de UU deze voor 17.00 uur inwilligde. [1/6] pic.twitter.com/86PI5Ggf3Q— Utrecht University (@UniUtrecht) May 9, 2023
UU's Administration building was closed hermetically at 6:00 pm. Security made sure that no one entered the building. Photo: DUB
Tuesday, about 3:00 pm, discussion with the Executive Board: activists want demands to be met by 5:00 pm today
After lunch, the Executive Board meets with the activists in the Minnaert building. By raising their hands if they agree or keeping them down if they disagree, everyone present can participate. The board reacts to the statement "the demands made by End Fossil: Occupy can be met quickly" by keeping their hands down.
UU's Vice President Margot van der Starre is the first one to speak on behalf of the board. She stresses that the university aims to have a carbon-neutral campus by 2030. "To achieve that goal, UU decided to purchase a field of solar panels."
UU President Anton Pijpers follows by saying that the activists' second demand — that the university should be transparent about its ties with the fossil fuel industry — is the easiest one to implement. "We want to be transparent and that's something that can be done quickly. Before the summer break, even." Rector Henk Kummeling agrees with that. But the first demand, to dissolve all partnerships with fossil fuel companies, remains tricky. Kummeling: "We share the sense of urgency about the energy transition but we must research if this transition wouldn't go faster with the help of fossil fuel companies."
The students consider that a naive idea. According to one of them, fossil fuel companies are untrustworthy partners. But the board simply cannot agree with the demand to sever ties completely. Pijpers: "I understand your frustration and the university agrees that more should be done." But he underscores that UU must remain in touch with the fossil fuel industry.
New partnerships cannot be off the table either, adds Kummeling, who really thinks that fossil fuel companies could potentially accelerate the transition. He notes, however, that UU should establish preconditions for these partnerships, which is why the university intends to present a plan by summer about how these collaborations can be stirred in the right direction.
Moreover, the rector stresses the importance of the Deep Democracy sessions to discuss this issue further. The next one is scheduled for Monday, May 15.
The activists then declare that they want to see the Executive Board do something to demonstrate that they can be taken seriously, and they should do it fast: by 5:00 pm. They don't specify how the university is supposed to do that but they threaten to escalate things if the deadline isn't met. The meeting ends with chanting: "UU, you should break up!"
Tuesday 2:00 pm, Utrecht Young Academy supports the activists
The Utrecht Young Academy also expresses its support for End Fossil: Occupy. The organisation says in three tweets that it has been calling for more attention to the climate crisis for years. The young scientists are glad that UU's Executive Board approached the occupiers in a constructive way. They also ask the board to have clear moral boundaries when it comes to engaging with the fossil fuel industry and to be transparent about this relationship. In addition, the Young Academy would like sustainability to be a prominent part of all study programmes.
UYA has stressed urgency of the #climatecrisis for a couple of years, and in this we support the actions of @EFOUtrecht. We are happy that the @UniUtrecht board is in constructive conversation with students & staff on the role of UU in the crisis and the energy transition. [1/3] https://t.co/DlXFip6fDO— Utrecht Young Academy (@UYA_Utrecht) May 9, 2023
Tuesday 9:00 am, porridge for breakfast
At 9:00 am, all occupiers are awake. Breakfast is being served: there is fruit and oatmeal on the table, up for grabs. The sleeping space is empty. “The lights were on at 5:00 am, so it was hard to keep sleeping”, says one of the students.
Lies, one of the activists, is satisfied with how the first day went. The occupiers were in a good mood and talked a lot about the demands, especially the need for the university to stop collaborating with companies in the fossil fuel industry. Besides, the Dutch media paid a lot of attention to the occupation, the occupiers even appeared on the RTV Utrecht channel. The thing Lies is most looking forward to is the meeting with the Executive Board, set to happen this afternoon. "I was one of the students present in an earlier conversation at Dom Square. They were mostly white men and there wasn't a lot of discussion. They just heard several opinions and that was it. I hope we'll manage to convey our views properly this afternoon."
Tuesday 12.00 am, the calm after the rave
The occupiers are having a quiet night at the Minnaert building when one of them takes the role of DJ upon himself. Soon everyone is dancing and jumping but there is no alcohol or drugs, as agreed with the university. A separate space is designated for sleeping, where the lights are softer. Around midnight, everything goes silent.
Monday 18:30 pm, the occupiers may spend the night
The activists and sympathisers are allowed to spend the night at the Minnaert building, as long as no one enters it after 10:00 pm, when Minnaert is supposed to be closed. Those inside the building may get out, however. The building will be opened the next morning at the usual time.
The Executive Board came over around 6:00 pm to make agreements about the night ahead. The activists had already announced their intention to stay in the building until Wednesday so if everything goes according to plan, they will sleep two nights there. The Executive Board says UU has no problem with that because the university agrees on the urgency of the climate crisis and finds it important to facilitate a conversation about the topic. However, they set a couple of conditions to let the occupation go on: no alcohol or drugs should be allowed in the building and no one should be able to enter it after 10:00 pm. With these conditions, the Executive Board aims to prevent people with other intentions from accessing the building, thus guaranteeing the safety not only of the occupiers but of the students and staff making use of the building as well.
The occupiers agreed with the conditions right away. Their own rules say that the consumption of alcohol and drugs is forbidden inside the building anyway. The 10:00 pm curfew also comes in handy for End Fossil: Occupy as they were planning on holding a couple of workshops and a rave after dinner. Their programme ends at 11:00 pm and resumes at 8:30 am the next day when it is time for breakfast.
The student assessor Anneloes Krul and UU's President Anton Pijpers talk to the occupiers about the night ahead. Photo: DUB
Monday, around 15:30 pm: "We're going to party tonight"
The atmosphere is cheerful. Liset gives a lecture about how a small group managed to convince the pension fund ABP not to invest in fossil fuel companies anymore. She tells the audience that something that starts small can have a big effect in the end. Meanwhile, in the compartments, others are studying. What do the other students in the Minnaert building think of the occupation led by End Fossil: Occupy?
"The protest is meant to be disruptive but, since it is such a small group, it doesn't yet feel as though much has changed because of it," answers Doris, a student in Applied Data Science. "We're still able to study quietly here." Tom, a student in Artificial Intelligence, is sitting opposite her. He admits not knowing much about the protest but he thinks that is it a good sign.
Souad studies Pharmacy and is also studying in one of the compartments. She didn't know what was going on in the building at first but said she sympathises with the demonstration. "I think it's a beautiful initiative. These small steps we're taking now will lead us to an even more beautiful future." She is just not sure if this action in particular will work. But she agrees with the activists that UU should be more transparent — in fact, that would even be beneficial for her own programme: "At Pharmacy conferences, the speakers invited are all money-oriented instead of analysing the entire processing procedure of medicines." In her view, that analysis should be done in a more critical way.
Jera, a student of Global Sustainability Science, is excited about the protest. "I'm going to sleep here too. I'm curious about how things will go once the building shuts its doors. We're going to party tonight!" He finds that such a demonstration is a good way to make oneself heard. "I also appreciate its educational aspect as we go deeper into the subject that way." He is referring to the lectures and debates that will be held during the occupation. But that's not all: one can also borrow books or repair pieces of clothing there. The only thing Jera is not sure about is whether he agrees with the first demand made by the occupiers: that the university should cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry. "Maybe there are ways to collaborate in a more sustainable way. I still have to think this through."
Liset tells the audience to persevere. She says a small group can make the world a better place. Photo: DUB
Monday 13:35 pm, Scientist Rebellion supports protest from End Fossil: Occupy
Scientist Rebellion, the protest movement comprised of scientists worried about the climate, officially supports the occupation of the Minnaert building. "We stand behind their wish to abolish the collaborations between universities and fossil fuel companies and establish a more transparent policy," says PhD candidate Arthur Oldeman, who conducts research about climate dynamics at UU. He's been a member of Scientist Rebellion for a year. He refers to a similar occupation, carried out by his organisation at VU Amsterdam, which has reached its goals: in April, VU Amsterdam was the first Dutch university to sever future ties with the fossil fuel industry.
On Tuesday, he will give a speech to the occupiers about scientists' engagement amidst a climate crisis. Other activists from Scientist Rebellion have been invited to give speeches during the occupation.
On Sunday, May 7, Scientist Rebellion held a demonstration in Amsterdam (as depicted in the photo below). Other protests are planned for this week as well. In an open letter to the executive boards of Dutch universities, the activists demand all programmes include the themes of climate and sustainability.
The protest that happened on May 7, 2023, in Amsterdam.
Monday 12:20 pm
The university reacted to the occupation with a thread comprised of six tweets.
Concerned students have occupied a room in the Minnaert Building. They are demanding that UU cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. We share the sense of urgency. The climate crisis is one of the single greatest challenges we face as a society. [1/6] pic.twitter.com/DNAIRtqFNM— Utrecht University (@UniUtrecht) May 8, 2023
Monday, 10:10 am: Opening speech
"We're scared to death," says Bobby, a member of End Fossil: Occupy, in her opening speech, which kickstarted the occupation. She goes on to tell about the huge amount of stress she suffers from living amidst a climate crisis. She doesn't want to wait any longer to take action. Then, she announces the activists' three demands: first, that the university severs all ties with companies from the fossil fuel industry, such as Shell; secondly, that UU must be transparent about its dealings with these companies and finances related to them; and, finally, that the university must fight inequality within the institution and become a truly inclusive university.
"We don't want to hear how inspiring we are, we want action. The university has the power to change things. It's not too late but the later we act the more people die from climate change and the harder it is to turn the tide."
Moments after the first statement, UU president Anton Pijpers walked in and got a cup of coffee from one of the students occupying the building. "They want us to immediately cut all ties. The university has been pondering how to deal with these industries for quite some time." He has no problems with the fact that activists have chosen the Minnaert building for their occupation. "They don't want to disrupt lectures and seem well organised," he declared. Whether they will be allowed to stay for three days depends on the university's capacity to guarantee the safety of activists, students and staff in the building.
Monday, 9:50 am
Activists from End Fossil: Occupy gather at Pnyx, in the Utrecht Science Park, and a group of thirty to forty people head to the Minnaert building. They set up a programme of activities for today. From the roof of the building, some of the activists hang a banner that reads UU shell break up. Inside, tables are being rearranged. Lectures will continue as usual. The opening speech will be around 10:00 am.
The occupation was announced last week but the activists didn't say which building they would occupy. The group presented a list of demands to the Executive Board. Other activists such as Actiegroep Fossielvrij Hoger Onderwijs Utrecht (The Utrecht branch of the Fossil Fuel Free Higher Education movement, Ed.) published a letter of support (available in Dutch only, Ed.).
Why is this happening?
The occupation of the Minnaert building, in the Utrecht Science Park, is part of a whole month of occupations announced worldwide. The action is called #MayWeOccupy. This week, similar protests will take place in Delft, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Wageningen and Velp.
End Fossil: Occupy occupied several universities across Europe last week. They had three goals: demand scientists sever their ties with the fossil fuel industry, raise awareness of climate problems in society, and stimulate young people to engage in radical resistance.
In November and January, buildings from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, TU Eindhoven, and the University of Amsterdam were occupied as well. In April, VU Amsterdam announced that it will no longer start any new partnerships with companies from the fossil fuel sector that do not act in accordance with the Paris Agreement. As for UU, the university invited students and staff to discuss a potential breakup with the fossil fuel industry.
The scientists from Scientist Rebellion will be joining the students of End Fossil: Occupy in this week of protests. Through their campaign "The Science is Clear", they are calling on colleagues to carry out peaceful protests to push governments to adopt emergency measures to contain climate change. They also started a petition asking universities to establish mandatory climate courses for all students.
This week of protests began on Sunday in Amsterdam, where about a hundred scientists and musicians held a demonstration together, asking for a fairer climate policy. The so-called Science and Music Climate March walked from Dam Square towards the NEMO Science Museum, passing by the building of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW in the Dutch acronym).
With information from HOP, the news agency covering higher education in the Netherlands.