In Germany, thousands took park in an historic mass civil disobedience action against coal

Thousands took part in Germany's larget-ever civil disobedience against the coal industry on October 27 and 28. Photo: Tim Wagner.

After the recent successful defence of the Hambacher Forest against the threat of destruction by coal giant RWE, more than 5000 people joined a mass civil disobedience action on October 27 and 28 in the coalfields of the German state of North-Rhein Westphalia (NRW).

The action was called by Ende Gelaende, an anti-capitalist environmental group committed to non-violent direct action tactics. It aims to win an immediate end to coal production at Europe’s biggest open-cast mine, the Hambach lignite (brown coal) mine.

Police harassment of the protesters included the eviction of their entire camp on the night before participants were due to arrive, and kettling of activists arriving on a specially chartered train. Organisers were able to relocate and set up a base for direct-action environmentalists from all over Europe.

On the morning of October 27, huge column of people marched towards the now-infamous Hambach coal mine, run by the European energy conglomerate RWE. The column was able to split into six “fingers”, each with separate tactical goals.

One finger occupied the huge digging machine at the heart of the Hambach mine, effectively shutting it down for the day.

The high point of the action came as activists from two fingers broke through a police cordon and crossed a motorway to gain access to the train tracks transporting lignite from the coal field to the nearby power stations.

Police were powerless to prevent about 2000 people from occupying the tracks, which remained occupied the entire night. With temperatures just above freezing, the activists unpacked their rucksacks to produce sleeping bags, food and emergency blankets.

It was the afternoon of October 28 by the time police were finally able to clear the tracks of protesters.

Organisers called the event Germany’s largest-ever act of civil disobedience against coal. 

And with a recent survey showing 73% of the German population in favour of a quick end to coal production, and with the Green Party riding high in the polls, Germany’s young direct action environmentalist movement looks set to go from strength to strength.

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