Police violence, and particularly psychological violence, has always been part of the struggle against coal in the Rhineland.
For decades, RWE relied on direct and less visible violence by police and security forces to repress resistance, embedded in a range of counterinsurgency strategies.
From beatings to intimidation, rape threats and use of pressure points, outright lies and misinformation – the company has always been able to count on the support of state forces – police and politicians.
For a long time, the head of the Rhinish police force was himself a paid member of RWE’s advisory board, and politicians of all levels have had lucrative side jobs at the company.
Their PR and CSR work, including the nature restoration work, and the support by regional media led to the image as good neighbour and ‘responsible corporate citizen’ among large parts of the public.
Police have long collaborated with RWE on the ground, retweeting RWE press messages, using RWE vehicles to transport protesters, and outsourcing the most difficult tunnel eviction work to RWE’s private fire brigades.
Not only is the company deeply embedded in the German political landscape, but it has managed to build dependencies and revolving door-relationships through payments to politicians. A quarter of its shares are owned by towns and cities in the Rhineland, making them dependent on RWE’s financial success.
Yet, RWE’s image has long been crumbling, thanks to the work of campaigners and land defenders who have put their bodies in the way and attacked the company in every way they can.
Lessons learnt: critical solidarity and meaningful alliances
What is inspiring and amazing about the Lützerath resistance is not whether Greta Thunberg has come to give a speech, join the sitting blockade, or is carried away by police.
Or indeed whether it’s 35,000 or 50,000 people who come to march along with the demonstration called for by a coalition of groups, even though that might be something unimaginable in the UK context.
What is much more amazing is that for years and years, people have been fighting back, risking their own lives, building community, spending time in prison, in tree houses, and underground, to stop RWE.
Living the future they want to see, and coming together despite the attempts by police, media, and politicians to divide and conquer, framing them as eco-terrorists and eco-extremists, and asking communities to distance themselves from the more radical ‘elements’ of the resistance. Unsuccessfully.
The Lützerath resistance is very diverse – we see eco-anarchists and liberal environmentalists, Fridays-for-Future kids and church groups.
There is no such thing as ‘the’ climate movement. And while people will vastly differ in their political views and ideologies, and despite political pressure, conflict, and tensions, there has been no “distancing” from actions and forms of protest over the past week, as so often occurs.
Unlike in earlier anti-coal protests in Germany, there was no condemnation, no appeals for ‘nonviolence’ or ‘peaceful protest’. People have embraced a diversity of tactics, not letting the state and RWE divide and rule.
Don’t trust the Greens
A second, rather unsurprising lesson for many of us, but all too painful for the mainstream environmental movement, is: “whatever happens, don’t trust the German Green Party”.
The political deal that allowed for the eviction of Lützerath in return for the “saving” of five other villages and the expediting of the German coal phaseout from 2038 to 2030, was negotiated and agreed with RWE under a Green coalition government.
Not only was Lützerath sacrificed under the deal, but by increasing the amount of coal extracted annually, the advanced phaseout led to the same amount of coal burnt, and carbon emitted, just in a shorter time period.
The German government will never take the action necessary to stop climate catastrophe, it’s up to us.
Hit them where it hurts
As stricter policing laws are being introduced in the UK and elsewhere, we need to rethink how we act and protest – not playing by their rules.
In and around Lützerath, we have seen sitting blockades, digger occupations, tree-sits, and people gluing on to structures and treehouses. But we have also seen non-violent sabotage, night actions, burning infrastructures, and other unaccountable actions.
Harsh new policing and assembly laws in Germany did not deter actions but made them more creative, building on a long history of combative action.
There is a lot to learn from them, and from our own past experiences with direct action in the UK, from the road protests to anti-GMO struggles. And centuries of combative resistance by indigenous and land-based communities across the world!
Rather than focussing on spectacle and media attention, what has worked is shutting down machinery, costing corporations money, making it more difficult to operate every day.
Just like the police will never actually follow the law when policing protest – and just like we will never actually get police accountability, why should we?
Don’t fall for their narratives
All too often we engage with the narratives of the state, constantly answering the same questions around energy security, violence, and alternatives, rather than putting forward our own stories and narratives.
We end up discussing carbon emissions, rather than power and liberation. We listen to professional activists, rather than community.
It’s not a coincidence that we are currently seeing a crackdown on alternative media and anarchist publishing collectives – from the assault on 325.nostate to the raiding of the German Radio Dreyeckland just two days ago. Our stories are powerful.
Let’s avoid self-policing and censorship, obsession with action consensus and action agreements, and celebrate autonomy and radical solidarity, mutual aid, and support.
This does not mean watering down our politics, of course, or pretend this is ‘beyond politics’, but bring together anti-coal, anti-police, anti-border, anti-colonial and anti-state struggles.
And let’s fight back against the categorisation as activists, divided along identities, and push for collective total liberation.
For abolition and liberatory politics
Black radical thinkers have long brought together resistance against prisons, police, and pollution, and our friends in the US have been fighting toxic prisons for years.
Police brutality in and around Lützerath should serve as a reminder that policing is integral to extractivism and the ecological harm it causes, and central to enforcing ecocide.
We need a culture of resistance, not an activist culture, with people living, loving, breathing resistance, rather than neatly fitting into activist categories.
Be disruptive and joyous: “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution”, Emma Goldman said long ago. “Love, live, resist”, as the banner says.
The struggle continues
The eviction of Lützerath is over, according to police, but the fight is not. This is a fight against coal, against police and fossil capital, against false green solutions, and for a different life.
The last few days have seen a diversity of actions against RWE, and solidarity actions across the world, involving the burning of Amazon vehicles in solidarity with imprisoned land defenders, blockades of German embassies and more.
People have shown that they will not let RWE get away with ecocide – blocking coal train tracks, excavators, and infrastructures, occupying offices and roads, and sabotaging machinery.
As police continue to protect fossil capital, enforcing ecological destruction, people continue fighting. For a different world.
Dr Andrea Brock is a lecturer in international relations at the Centre for Global Political Economy, University of Sussex, UK.