Protesting: the result of critical thinking


Reason to write this letter is the column by Willem Mulder of May 28 – the one about the Calimero Complex. Mulder critically writes about action groups more often, but the argumentation he uses in this column is exceptionally short-sighted; difficult to swallow from somebody who claims to care a lot for scientific values.

Mulder writes that critical thinking should take central stage at a university. Activists are in particular people that reflect critically upon the world we live in. Not only do they question morally debatable decisions, whether it is the cooperation with Shell or Technion, but they also act upon these questions. The way they choose to do so: a demonstration.

Is that the only way? Of course not, there are countless ways to do something: voting at elections for example, writing an opinion piece like Mr Mulder and I are doing, or just talking about it with (fellow) students, colleagues, et cetera. One is in my opinion not better or worse than another. The point is that demonstrations – in the end – are the result of people that think critically and connect this to an action. Considering this, it is not surprising that “colourful climate clowns” – as Geenstijl responders call us – also make statements about other matters than the climate.

“Us” yes, I should mention. I relate to the ideals of these “Anglo-Saxon social activists” (I still don’t get what the word Anglo-Saxon is doing there, but okay), so I participate in actions and also – for University Rebellion – help organizing them. In the case that this is the question that you are now asking: yes, I do have an agenda with this letter. Namely, correcting a few misconceptions about protests in general and in particular about the people in Eindhoven that partake in them.

Based on Mulder’s column, he seems to think of it all as trendy hassle. Is that a justified accusation? I would not say so. It is perfectly logical for protesters to copy one another. In Dutch we say: “better well stolen than poorly invented”. This is very much applicable to demonstrations as well. If a strategy (for example, setting up an encampment on a university campus) gets international recognition, it is probably a successful strategy in terms of raising awareness. At some occasions, copying goes even further than that. The occupation by University Rebellion of May 2023 was part of End Fossil – Occupy!, during which over 75 educational institutions have been occupied in twelve countries. What do you mean, flavor of the day?

According to Mulder, activists don’t use the instrument of discussion. I suppose Mulder never took the effort to visit a demonstration, because in that case he’d know that this is simply false. I participated in a University Rebellion occupation myself, in March earlier this year. Over the course of two days, I have had many conversations with students that came to have a look. Some people agreed with us, some did not, many somewhere in between. I have experienced this as very interesting conversations, and I learned a lot. I hope this also goes for the people with whom I have had these conversations.

In similar fashion, Mulder blames Bram for being a "broken record", based on one interview by PowNed during the encampment protest for Palestine. Bram has to repeat himself quite often, but is this due to himself, or due to the questions that are asked? If you watch the interview back, you can clearly see that the PowNed journalist tries to persuade the protesters into saying something stupid, by editing away the context in which things were said. An interview by the ED at the same demonstration shows that the activists in fact do have something relevant to say. Or, a little longer ago, an article by NOS / OmroepBrabant about the ocupation by University Rebellion in December 2022. But has Mulder watched or read anything else besides PowNed?

Mulder finishes with a paragraph about the effectiveness of protesting – so allow me to do the same. He suggests that these actions are ineffective, don’t accomplish anything and don’t resonate within the community. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Design Academy (because yes, these action groups are broader than just the TU/e) has frozen its ties with Israeli educational institutions. The TU/e has become a little more transparent about their third stream funding. As far as I know, at least three study associations currently don’t sign new sponsoring contracts with the fossil fuel industry. Sure, more than enough is still to be done, but there are definitely achievements as well. And there is more. Mr Mulder has written a column on this, as did I. Who knows, maybe an interesting discussion will unfold under one of our pieces. And maybe, people in the corridors might be talking about the protests and the cause that is protested for. So raising attention about the genocide in Gaza, or the climate crisis? Mission accomplished.

Thomas van den Doel is an Applied Physics student and member of University Rebellion. The views expressed in this column are his own.

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