Sunday, September 23, 2018

Death in Hambach Forest

Last Wednesday a young journalist named Steffen Meyn fell through a little bridge connecting the canopies of two trees, and he died of his injuries. Most people will probably never know the name Steffen Meyn, or Hambach Forest, and if they do, it will be from a some 30-second news story on TV that will provide no useful context.

A collection of people have been trying for the past six years to prevent the last remaining trees of the Hambach Forest from being logged. I've been there many times, to entertain the troops. The forest has been steadily reduced year after year since 1978 in order for a giant energy company to mine the lignite coal underneath it. For six years now, local people and others from around Germany and elsewhere in the world have been forming encampments within remaining areas of forestland. The treesits made of recycled materials, climbing ropes, and zip lines are familiar sights for anyone who has been involved with forest defense in North America and many other parts of the world.

And every year, the police raid the encampments to clear them of people and destroy everyone's belongings – also something very familiar to people conducting such actions in other parts of the world. What has happened thus far every time the police destroy a camp is people set up another one -- in the next area of the forest that's going to be cleared for the next round of logging and mining to take place, in what is Europe's single biggest coal mine.

The protectors of the Hambach Forest released a short statement after Steffen Meyn fell to his death. In it, they immediately put his death into a global context, stating that Steffen was the 67th person in the world to die in 2018 in defense of the environment. They linked to a piece in the Guardian about the first 66 who died.

Many of those 66 deaths involved people the media might dub “environmental activists” who were very directly killed by police or by armed thugs employed by an energy company.

While Steffen Meyn's death may not have been as direct as that, he absolutely belongs in this list of the slain. For anyone who has been involved on the ground in a campaign like the defense of Hambach Forest, this is obvious. But for those who haven't seen up close what goes in, here's the thing:

There is a sort of escalation of tactics that takes place during a police raid. At each point along the way, both sides have decisions to make. Those trying to protect the trees have to constantly re-evaluate their current predicament and decide what risks they're now willing to take to save the trees they're occupying. At each point, the police, or at least their commanding officer, has to constantly re-evaluate the situation in terms of how much they're willing to risk the lives of the forest protectors in order to accomplish their goal of getting the people out of the trees.

This is not a game, and anyone engaging in civil disobedience of this kind knows that, especially if they've ever done it before. It's often referred to by advocates as “nonviolent civil disobedience,” but the police around the world are generally unaware of the first word in that phrase, and people committing nonviolent civil disobedience actions around the world are routinely beaten or otherwise physically mistreated by police. This is true throughout the western world, without exception – including in Scandinavia, in case you're wondering.

When people lock themselves onto trees, they know the police will try to remove them. When the police try to remove them, they know they are risking the lives and physical safety of the people in the trees. When the police take away ropes and other climbing gear, they know they are escalating the situation by doing so. When folks in the trees refuse to comply with the police despite the fact that their climbing gear has been confiscated, they know they're now taking an increased risk.

In one of Steffen's final tweets, he mentioned that there is no police tape in the canopies. He couldn't be on the ground doing his job as a journalist to document what was happening at the forest with police tape everywhere saying it was a closed area that no one could enter unless they were a cop. He chose, under the circumstances, to do his job from twenty meters up.

Steffen Meyn was not shot. He fell from a tree and died. For the people who loved him, this distinction is probably unimportant.

Hambach Forest

Between Aachen and Cologne you will not see a sign
To indicate you're passing Europe's biggest lignite mine
But if you get off the Autobahn, walk across the forest floor
You'll come upon a moonscape where there are no trees anymore
There were hardwoods here for miles all around
For a thousand years it was common ground
But what was once the Burgerwald is now a massive hole
With giant diggers digging up the coal

In the Hambach Forest

What was once held in common in the 1970's
Was given away to the energy company
Where once upon a time they gathered nuts and firewood
Now 10% remains of the trees that once stood
You can meet the neighbors who recall the days
When they played among the trees before they were taken away
Finally some of them began to organize
They couldn't just watch as the last tree dies 

In the Hambach Forest 

People came from all over to shut down the machines
They built barricades and treesits and tried many different means
To resist the corporation, to resist the riot cops
To try to do the things they could to make it stop
With each passing year, with each new camp people made
More treehouses destroyed, another flood-lit, night-time raid
More confiscated climbing gear – in conditions such as these
It was just a matter of time before someone fell from the trees

In the Hambach Forest 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Building Cultures of Resistance

A culture of resistance can be built, and it can also be methodically dismantled, and sabotaged. Recent weeks have provided a lot of illustr...