On September 20th, I was not able to see any of the masses in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Far more than 200,000 have come together on a Friday morning to mark the climax of months of school strikes all over the country. Not only in our capital, but in more than 500 further locations from the North Sea to the Bavarian mountains, roughly 1,4 million Germans went on strike. While they were demanding our government to finally act on the climate crisis after years of fruitless debates, I was sitting only meters away in a windowless conference room near Pariser Platz. Being one of the thousands of volunteers for the Fridays for Future movement, my part was to try to make sure that the voices of the people would not go unheard in the digital spaces. Seeing the pictures on my laptop screen while hearing the songs and shoutings through the walls made the impression to me as if we really were in the eye of the storm. All of us were working tirelessly to make sure that this storm would not pass.
September is long gone now. But even after that, we have not stopped demonstrating. On November 29th, we were able to again mobilize more than 630,000 people in Germany to strike with us on our fourth global strike. It was a similar day to the one in September – but the feeling was different then already. Our mood shifted from the celebratory summer strikes to more furious ones in autumn and winter. What had happened in between was a government which had not only again ignored the demands of scientists and whose decisions can be interpreted as a move-away from the 1.5 degree-goal of the Paris Agreement. But it was not only our mood that had shifted in those few weeks: everyone was certain that 2020 had to be the year of climate action. And while we felt like science was telling us this every year, it has never been as crucial as now.
Of course, much of this has changed by now. Our last campaign before COVID-19 started in January when we pressured German giant Siemens AG to withdraw their involvement in one of the most disastrous coal-mining projects on the planet. While the fires in Australia were raging, they were planning on providing the so-called “Adani coal-mine” (named after the Indian company Adani) with critical signal infrastructure. Our message was clear: Stop supporting a coal-project which has the consequences to move the entire globe over the 1.5-degree-threshold on its own. In a campaign that lasted several weeks, hosting dozens of Fridays For Future strikes in front of Siemens buildings all over the country and meeting with Joe Kaeser personally, we were able to create worldwide attention to the cause.
While our protests did much damage to Siemens’ image, we were not able to stop their involvement in the mine. Furthermore, these strikes might have been the last ones for the rest of this year.
Since March, we have had to cancel all of our planned physical actions due to COVID-19 and the risk
associated with gathering thousands of people at once. With the new pandemic, the global focus on climate action was gone in a minute – not only for the media but also for us personally. It took some time to cope with the situation and to try to understand which effects the virus had not only on our families and the ones most in danger to it but also to the climate crisis. While many argued that the virus has lead to a massive decline in GHG-emissions, this does not justify any relaxation of climate measures: Our response to COVID-19 has to be socially and environmentally just or else the rebound after the pandemic will only result in even more emissions.
“Our message [to Siemens] was clear: Stop supporting a coal-project which has the consequences to move the entire globe over the 1.5-degree-threshold all by itself.”
This time, on 24th of April we were not placed in a windowless office room in Berlin but in our own apartments all over Germany. Instead of trying to gather hundreds of thousands in more than 500
German cities, we made sure that our protest was virus-free and did not endanger anybody. On top of digital actions and a nationwide livestream in which we placed prominent musicians, actors, scientists but also our own strikers, we urged our followers to send thousands of demonstration signs to our capital. During the livestream, a couple of us managed to lay them out in front of the German Bundestag and create a picture which was seen all over the media in the evening.
This way, we were able to overcome the filter-bubbles to which our online-protests would have been limited. Still, we were able to gather more than 200,000 views during the two hours of our livestream on various platforms as well as more than 40,000 tweets under our hashtags alone in Germany. Some media outlets concluded that with that we have “set bars for protest in times of COVID-19” and held the biggest online-demonstration in German history.
This day has shown not only our politicians but also business leaders that we will be following their activities in the upcoming weeks and months very closely. More than every before, we have to put people first when it comes to outpouring billions of taxpayer’s money to cover the costs of this pandemic. Since this may be the only opportunity we have left to rebuild our economy in a way that is socially and environmentally just, we will not back down.
Let us not allow them to put billions down the drain. Let us make them #FightEveryCrisis!
Nick Heubeck is a 20 years old student of communication and policy. He is partly responsible for press and campaign strategy at Fridays for Future Germany and tweeting at @FridayForFuture. He is a guest contributor for The Beam.