A new kind of seed sprouts from muddy puddles

Jonna Klicksocial scientist

After a few rainy days in late autumn, Lützerath turns into a mud hole. As the grey haze of November slowly descends upon the world and the last leaves desperately cling to the branches of old trees, leaves that have already lost their beautiful and extravagant red and golden tones, not much beauty remains; at least, none that’s worth fighting for. And the worst part of it all, as the days become shorter and shorter, we easily forget the beauty of the movement that unfolds here.

Lützerath is quite small, with little to it. It certainly isn’t the name that one would expect to someday adorn the title of large newspapers. With a few houses and farms crammed together, only a handful of families live here, even in its heyday. Flat lands, fields, and surprising fertile earth surround the village. What made Lützerath so special isn’t the actual story of the small village, but rather the story of its destruction, that is to say, the story of the fight against the destruction of the tiny town. Lützerath only partially borders fertile land. The other part surrounding Lützerath doesn’t appear to be much upon first glance, a kind of desert. The ground had been excavated by gigantic rotary excavators, the largest drivable machines in the world as RWE, the operator of the ignite mines, would announce, proud of German engineering ingenuity. More than the land, they also dug up the stories of greenwashing that German politicians have loved to tell since the first climate summit 26 years ago: The stories of pioneering the energy revolution and the underlying fairy tale that suggests that there could be a green economic growth and with it, green capitalism.

One only has to look into the hole called “Garzweiler surface mine II” to understand that the words of these politicians were just that: words. No actions followed, only plain and simple lies. The Rhenish lignite mining region is the largest source of CO2 in Europe. And here, where surface mining is still devouring entire villages, causing fine dust pollution and lung problems, emitting mercury, and draining the groundwater causing streams and wetlands to run dry, is where all kinds of people have come together to change something.

On the days when Lützerath looks like a mud hole and the forgotten sun cannot shine through the sky blanketed by a grey haze, its beauty cannot be immediately seen. Treehouses can be seen in the naked trees, but examined closely, all they really are, is just a pile of boards with plans pinned to them. There’s something else entirely one would have to look at more closely in order to understand the magic of this place: its people.

What do a bankrupt dairy farmer, a 70-year-old militant vegan, a medical student, and a vagabond carpenter have in common? That they, perhaps randomly or perhaps in a long thought-out decision, chose this place to fight and to feel alive. They give clear meaning to the sentiment “It cannot go on like how it is now”. Change won’t come at the hands of government policies: We have to fight for it.

The question that this giant hole in the landscape poses is a much deeper one than the question of energy provision. That Germany still burns coal during a climate crisis, despite historically being one of the countries with the largest contribution to global warming, is plain lunacy. And yet it’s still economically rationalised. In the world of capitalism, the prudent way of maintaining our livelihood isn’t important. Even human needs aren’t directly important. What is important is trying to create as large a profit as possible; that is, as much profit for the homeland as possible. This requires a stable and self-sufficient energy supply. And that’s why the paddle wheels continue to turn: not so that the lights turn at home or the ventilators at the hospital continue to work, but so that German military, chemical, and steel plants can continue to produce and export their wares. Thus, Germany maintains its competitiveness and continues to exhaust the remaining CO2 budget while other countries that have contributed much less to the climate crisis do not have enough hospitals or even streets. In this way, as many people as possible have to work and pay the taxes that the state relies on. It is why little change can be expected from such a state.

If change won’t come from the country itself, where will it come from then? The answer is simple and complicated at the same time: from us. We are the ones that create the economy through our daily actions: by working and buying, by obeying and submitting, by studying, buying train tickets, building cars, by waitering. We are the ones that create these social conditions. There is no other force outside of society that is guiding us. Neither the government nor Bill Gates creates our living conditions. And no one could maintain this economy if we all stopped trying to create it. But here is where the answer becomes significantly more complicated: We aren’t doing this consciously. Our actions are not the result of us deciding that they are good. That is why it’s so tricky: We can’t simply decide against one action and for another. If we don’t work, most of us will not have access to the things we need. If we don’t buy a train ticket, we end up in prison. If we don’t build cars and instead decide to work for an “ecological” company, that company will very likely no longer be ecological once it begins to successfully exist in the market and is able to offer us a secure livelihood. By working there, we contribute to its accumulation of capital and create the kind of economy that will destroy ourselves and all other forms of life.

The fact that we are the ones who create this economy means that there is hope for change. The fact that it is so difficult to act differently and still meet our basic needs in this economy means that we are deafeningly powerless. But we can collectively overcome this impotence. And this is what brings so many different people together in a place like Lützerath and in places where fossil capitalism destroys the basis of existence: We need us. We need everyone who comes here regardless of how big their differences are. We depend on one another. In Lützerath, this has become clear because this dependency is not overplayed by separateness as it normally is in capitalism; it is not overplayed by the illusion that money is just money and with this, the fact that what we buy with it does not represent all the work that others have done for us. In places like these, people are active without compulsion and without direct compensation; they build treehouses, cut vegetables, clean compost toilets, do public relations work, or plan blockades simply because they feel it is important. Our common problems are discussed in plenums and in various working groups where everyone is allowed to speak. This form of coming together is entirely different as that of the market where money divides and isolates us, where we are exploited and must win against others. That is why we see in it a new kind of seed, one of solidarity and a free society.

Such a society and the blossoming of this seed naturally do not stand unopposed: Too many things that we would need to produce what we need to live lie in private hands and only serve to aggrandise capital. The state protects these hands with its property rights and its armed enforcement bodies, the police. Therefore, a transition into such a society will not occur without friction. But life in Lützerath isn’t without friction. The threat of eviction so that RWE can make a profit looms over everything that emerges here. Even societal problems such as racism and the patriarchy do not stop at the gates of the protest camps.

Sometimes, it’s all as stifling as the grey November sky. And it creates misgivings, but never the desire to give up. Misgivings can be surprisingly productive and can lead to a quizzical progress. That is why so much hope lies in this tiny town, even when it sometimes descends into a mud pit. This hope does not come from the CO2 emissions we can spare if the coal in Lützerath were to stay buried, but from the social process that begins here and perhaps will go further than we are currently able to imagine.

Translation: Kali Thaker

Photos: @catwithanicecamera

VOILÀ ist ein Kooperationsprojekt von MM, M und der Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. Das Projekt wird gefördert von der Stiftung Kunstfonds (NEUSTART KULTUR, Projektförderung für kunstvermittelnde Akteur*innen) und Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH.

VOILÀ is a collabarotive project by MM, M and the Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. The project is funded by the Stiftung Kunstfond (NEUSTART KULTUR, project funding for art-mediating actors) and Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH. 
VOILÀ est un projet de coopération entre MM, M et la Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. Le projet est soutenu par la fondation Stiftung Kunstfonds (NEUSTART KULTUR, Projektförderung für kunstvermittelnde Akteur*innen) et Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH.