Creating a better world while we fight for it – How Ende Gelände is centring the struggle for justice during the pandemic

Ende Gelände is an alliance of people from around 70 local climate justice groups and camps, all fighting for a phase-out of coal and other forms of power that are damaging to the climate, effective-immediately. Since they were founded in 2015, Ende Gelände have always rooted their work in a transformative political vision, going through a lot of transformations. Most recently, the alliance has been finding ways to become more inclusive, following the need to overcome racism and ableism. 

Ende Gelände activists set up tents and other banners together, dressed in white jumpsuits.
Ende Gelände activists setting up. Photo courtesy of Dora.

When speaking about the importance of inclusion in the climate justice movement, Dora, a member of Ende Gelände, said “if you’re a group who do climate justice activism, ‘justice’ means fighting for a better world, overcoming barriers and discriminations.

Since 2019, Ende Gelände has been working on addressing criticisms  of the ways in which their climate activism operated from a very white, privileged perspective. “Much like XR, Ende Gelände always had a blasé approach to being jailed”, says Dora, “It wasn’t our goal but there was always a risk it would happen. Legal counseling and anti-repression work was happening – but implicit assumptions that stemmed from white privilege, like an arrest being nothing more than an inconvenience, were present nonetheless. ”

Being actively anti-racist

Explaining how Ende Gelände responded to criticisms, Dora said “although we should have acted sooner, we’ve now taken up the challenge, we didn’t just brush off the criticisms and we took them seriously. We’ve had an anti-racist working group that is doing both overdue and amazing work within Ende Gelände for over a year now. ” So far Ende Gelände’s anti-racist working group have worked on publishing the alliance’s self-reflection which addresses topics such as racism in the climate justice movement in Germany, allyship and cultural appropriation.

The group also created an antiracist guide for Ende Gelände’s action this summer, containing links to useful resources such as anti-racist advice centres based across Germany and information on how to report racist incedents. The guide also outlined what support there would be at the action for BIPoC, such as a safer spaces tent, a 24-hour support telephone line and legal aid workshops, which were also for people without German passports.

Ende Gelände activsts move together, clad in jumpsuits and masks
One of the Ende Gelände fingers. Photo courtesy of Dora.

Centring disability liberation

Ende Gelände also responded to criticisms of ableism within the alliance by adapting the way they separated work between people in actions. Ende Gelände goes into actions operating as several separate groups of people called ‘fingers’, which walk or paddle together to reach the target. The idea being that by dividing, it becomes harder for authorities to prevent everyone from reaching the action’s targets. Ende Gelände set up a multicoloured finger, which Dora explained “tried to make actions accessible for folks with limited mobility and special needs.” The finger was initially seen as a success in 2019 when the multicoloured finger blocked an access road which enabled another finger to get into a coal pit.

But following setting up the multicoloured finger, Ende Gelände received further criticisms; the finger was “seen as an extra space for folks with limited mobility and special needs”, rather than central to the action, Dora explains. The alliance responded to this criticism by further adapting their model this year, running an action in which each finger operated by addressing a different accessibility barrier. “The yellow finger, which I was the spokesperson for, addressed mobility barriers by agreeing not to run at any point in the action. What organically happened during the action was to walk at a slow-ish pace so that folks in wheelchairs didn’t feel stressed or pressured to keep up.”, states Dora. The red one addressed barriers to people who are hard of hearing by using sign language within the group, and the pink one addressed barriers for neuro a-typical folk by creating silent spaces within the action.

Reflecting on this model, Dora said “it was definitely the correct way to go, to not single out some folks with a special treatment for those who have additional needs. I think the direction we’re going in right now is the correct one, which is trying to come up with spaces and rules that are accessible to everyone and in doing so, create the better world we are fighting for.

“That was something that worked really well in the yellow finger. What we did as far as we could was to not just fight for a better world, but create that better world while we were fighting for it. It really felt like we weren’t just fighting for a distant future of ‘maybe someday everything will be okay’, it really was this more just society starting to exist among us and between us.”

Dora acknowledges that Ende Gelände’s work in this area isn’t over: “We definitely still have ways to go and ways to improve in working towards coming up with rules and behaviours for everyone. As a group who is fighting for justice, we cannot rest ourselves on ‘hey, we’re doing something good already, stop criticising us’. We have to reflect on what we do, and if there are criticisms we have to take them seriously, accept and embrace them.”

Ende Gelände activists carry a banner as they move together.
The yellow finger moves. Photo courtesy of Dora

Organising with Covid

Another way Ende Gelände have been working towards making their actions inclusive is by making them as Covid-safe as possible. “There is an obvious limit to how Covid-safe we could make our events”, explained Dora, “as the police kettling and pepper spraying people makes it difficult for them to stay distant or keep their masks on, but we did what we could.”

We refused to be shut down by the pandemic”, said Dora, “we developed a hygiene concept, which lots of people worked on over a number of weeks. We limited contact by setting up more fingers and camps than usual, splitting up the whole action to create as many separate groups as possible to limit the sizes of any potential infection chains.”

The group also set up an anonymous contact tracing system, where everyone used a trackable ‘Corona ID’ rather than their names. “In the end we didn’t need to use the contact tracing system, as we haven’t had a single reported positive case on either of our last two actions”, said Dora.

When asked what advice Dora would give other groups looking to make their actions more accessible, she said “The two guidelines I would give are, first that you should come up with behaviours that just include everyone and work for everyone, rather than creating special treatments for some people. Secondly, don’t single out people with experiences of oppression and ask them how to solve their own oppression which puts the burden right back on their backs. Systems of oppression aren’t created or upheld by the folks who are impacted by them, it’s the job of those with privilege to dismantle them.”

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