End Fossil Leiden University & TU Delft – Preparing the Occupation of our Universities

“ Guess who’s back? THE PEOPLE’S UNIVERSITY.

May 9th, we occupy.

We occupy for better education and working conditions. We occupy to demand that the EUR cuts all fossil ties.

Because this university is our university. It is time to reclaim it.

May 9th, we occupy! Mark your calendars. Bring your comrades. Tell your students! ”

With these lines, the student group EndFossilEUR announced its third occupation of Erasmus University. This action is not isolated. Under the slogan “May We Occupy”, the international network of students ‘End Fossil : Occupy’ called for disruptive and civil disobedient occupations of universities across the world in the month of May. “Starting May 2nd,  students around the world will occupy hundreds of schools and universities to end the fossil fuel era. We start as students, but we want to inspire all of society to take radical action with us. This time, we are calling out society to join the youth and to disrupt, blockade, interrupt and/or sabotage the fossil economy on the streets, the squares, the offices, the headquarters and the infrastructures”.  The occupation of EUR (Erasmus University Rotterdam) will take place under the wider Dutch branch of the organization, EndFossilNL, which announced on their social media accounts: “Dutch universities continue to work with the criminal fossil fuel industry. Collaboration continues to enable their destructive business, which results in the death of people in the global south and which is threatening the future of the entire world. We say NO MORE! All universities must CUT THE TIES! We won’t tolerate these criminals on our campuses any longer while our world is being set on fire. We will rise up, occupy, and FIGHT ON OUR OWN GROUNDS for climate justice and a fossil-free world. We will RECLAIM our institutions, and reshape them to put people over profit. Our planet is on fire, so we have to act now. Who will fight for your future if not you?”

Getting to know about these actions, I asked myself: ‘What about Leiden?’ My question was answered when I saw that a joint branch of EndFossilNL was established by TU Delft and Leiden students. These students will occupy TU Delft in May to demand the university to cut its ties with the fossil fuel industry. Whereas nothing has been planned yet, it is just a matter of time for Leiden University will also be affected. To discuss how to pressure Leiden University to cut its ties with the fossil fuel industry, and to expand the small EndFossil community at Leiden, an Open Strategy Meeting took place in The Hague’s Leiden University College on the 20th of April. Before the event, I asked a few questions to one of the members of the group.

When did the student movement start? Did it start in Leiden or in Delft? Why did the two merge?

“If I remember correctly, it started in October 2022, when people started to organize and form groups”, leading to the first event in November, when “we organized a panel discussion in Wijnhaven about the university’s role in the climate crisis. That was actually the same day that students in Rotterdam occupied their university.” 

“Leiden and Delft are very close partners, so I think that it was a conscious choice to get them together. They have very different interests as well, TU Delft is a very technical university, so obviously they have much more ties [with the fossil fuel industry], while Leiden University has less obvious ties. But if Leiden University has less ties with fossil fuels [industry], why do they keep supporting TU Delft?”

How does the student group relate with the wider End Fossil movement?

“The big End Fossil network is responsible for the finances and legal matters of the occupation, and makes sure that everything goes well. We are mostly in contact with the other End Fossil branches to discuss our occupations and the different strategies that we have. For instance, there is a project that wants to put together all the information we have about Dutch universities’ ties with fossil fuel, putting it all in a report, in a huge information act”

Have you already presented your demands to the universities?

“Yes, both of them. We are more in contact with TU Delft, Leiden is still a bit iffy about meeting up and discussing their ties, while Delft has been more open. Leiden is a bit less active in that sense. We did reach out to them, we met with them once, but without much success”

What are the pros and cons of having one group for both Leiden and Delft?

“Organizing is a bit more complicated, especially for finding a place that works for everyone to meet. This also means that we need to do outreach on both sides, with a limited capacity.” The organization’s member added that the two “universities work in different ways”, and their ties to the fossil fuel industry are different, thus “the focuses are a bit different in the two universities. And since there is a majority of people from Delft in the group, our focus has mostly been on TU Delft. This is understandable, but it also means that it is more difficult to move forward with Leiden and create an End Fossil community”

This is made even more difficult by the separation between the student community in Leiden and The Hague. “We were thinking of establishing a central group in Leiden, that coordinates [the groups in] all faculties, also because the university board is in Leiden. However, most actions have been organized in The Hague”

What are your strategies to involve more students? 

The community dimension of these student movements is essential: “Something super important is that occupying and organizing activism is very tiring, which means that we also need time to take care of ourselves to recharge, have a good time with friends, watch a movie, hang out”.

Another aspect that helps, in this sense, is that the organization is divided in “different circles that take care of different things. We have a Media circle, we have Outreach, which helps people to get involved, an Arts circle, which designs posters and stickers, etc. These different committees are composed of a limited number of people who work together as a group. Then we meet up all together at least once a month to see what everyone is up to.”

The student body already comprises a few student groups that fight for their rights and for the university to become more decolonial, feminist and generally intersectional. Is intersectionality a concern that is taken into account by your group? And How do you ensure democratic decision-making and horizontality?

“This is a difficult question. As to the horizontal structure of the movement, I can confirm that we have no one ‘on the top’. We do not have a leader, our structure is rather based on trust and communication, trust in the capability of taking action. So we have a lot of meetings together, in which we discuss our points and any concern that comes up.”

Building on that, she adds that “you cannot have an environmental movement without fighting on other fronts, because different struggles have a common source. Tonight, for instance, we are meeting with Students For Palestine to start a conversation on possible ways we could make the university more democratic. We want many people to join and ensure diversity. Our problem is that our movement tends to be inegalitarian as we chose the tactic of occupation, which marginalizes people who cannot be as safe to face arrests in the same way as white people because of racism, sexism [and/or] transphobia. This is a question that often comes up: ‘how do we get more students involved, while ensuring diversity?’ We strive to connect and integrate different student groups that want to fight against the neoliberal university. We are open to involve more people, but we do not want to impose our tactics and take up more space than we should”.

What do you think about occupations and other disruptive practices of civil disobedience?

“We don’t have concrete plans yet for Leiden. Delft will be occupied in May, and the security staff knows about it. We decided that our movement will follow certain rules, e.g. not involving drugs and alcohol while occupying. We are still trying to understand which would be the most strategic places to occupy, while ensuring to open a conversation, debate and discuss with other students. We also plan to organize fun activities during the occupation, dance activities, bands playing music, reading and others”. 

“For the Delft occupation, we do not intend to disrupt classes, as we do value education and we don’t think that this is the problem. We want to stay in the university and make a statement. Our slogan is ‘we will occupy until you cut the ties’, so our goal is less to disrupt classes but to stay as long as the university cuts the ties. This can create different situations. In some universities, the police were called in, which means that we would soon be dragged out of the occupation. In Eindhoven, in contrast, they stayed a full week, sleeping in the university, and eventually were successful. Our tactic is the same.”

Why should our peers in Wijnhaven join the student movement, and how should they do that?

“First, I want to make a point about the fact that End Fossil is not just about disruptive actions and getting arrested. We also have positions that are just for organizing logistics, creating spaces to talk, social media, arts and design, as well as research into the university’s ties with fossil fuel. So anyone who wants to join needs to know that they can be part of End Fossil without joining the occupation or any other action. It is important for us to support each other, whatever role we take.”

“The first step before joining, would be to get the conversation started. Talk about this with friends, professors and start a discussion. Understand what is happening. Everyone who thinks that the environmental crisis is a pressing issue that is affecting everyone, and connected to other issues that stem from our destructive economic system, should join the movement. It is also a matter of justice:climate change will affect everyone, but groups that are already oppressed and marginalized will be affected even more. So, even if you are already an activist on other fronts, you should still join End Fossil. Anyone is welcome, and needed. If you know how to paint, play music, or if you like to cook, or you know how to access and organize food distribution, if you are interested in our research team, if you like dealing with social media or using canva, if you wanna bring in anything new or if you wanna just talk to us, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!”

To join, everyone is encouraged to send a message to the instagram page @endfossil.lu.tud, which will redirect you to the group’s private group chats and invite you to our meetings. If you don’t want to join but you would just like to stay updated about End Fossil’s events, you can enter the broadcasting whatsapp group chat here. End Fossil needs an active community in Leiden University, both in Leiden and The Hague. As students of International Studies, we can start by asking each other a rather simple question:

Shall we occupy Wijnhaven next year?

By Federico Arcuri


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