The climate protest in Belgium enters a less friendly phase. After taking to the streets to 70,000 people in marches in December and January, and after 11 consecutive weeks of student demonstrations every Thursday, the frustration is obvious. Few doubt the achievements of the mobilizations: the fight against global warming will be one of the axes of the electoral campaign for the Belgian elections of May 26. But those peaceful gatherings, accompanied by music and free of incidents, have proved ineffective until now to take forward the new law that cuts pollutant emissions in Belgium, the great goal of the climate outraged.
The resistance of the Belgian Parliament to adopt the rule despite the pressure on the street, has soured the spirits of social leaders, and has led to a change in strategy. "What will change is the method of action, which is more focused on civil disobedience and non-violent direct action," warns Johan Verhoeven, of the collective Act For Climate Justice. The first demonstration of that turn came on Sunday, when half a thousand activists blocked the street in front of the Belgian Parliament, an area in which political acts are prohibited.
The call, under the motto Occupy for climate, -In a nod to anti-globalization Occupy Wall Street of 2011- took the security forces by surprise, who soon deployed a wide security device and closed the access to the place to prevent their number from increasing. The agents negotiated with the young people to move the improvised camp a few meters away to leave the restricted area, and they did so. Small groups formed outside the security perimeter. On one of the sides, 37-year-old Mustapha, and François, a 31-year-old cook, tried unsuccessfully to break through. Both prefer to hide their names for fear of reprisals. His presence is an example of the transversality of the attendees. Mustapha was encouraged to participate in the marches concerned about the deterioration of the planet, while François accumulates years of activism. He defines himself as a communist and says he is fascinated by the movement of outraged Spanish people.
The agents did not try to evacuate the protesters who blocked the road by force, but they faced those who chanted slogans next to the police cordon. One of the youths was arrested when he used a megaphone without having been provoked. And a group of a dozen people, including an environmentalist deputy and this journalist, were arrested, their hands tied behind their backs, and taken to a van. Finally, despite the fact that at first the agents ignored the journalist's accreditation repeatedly, after half an hour a police officer ordered the release of both.
They just got me tied down by the wrists of a police van in Brussels. This is the moment when the police prepare to tie our hands behind our backs. To a group of people who asked for measures against climate change and me, who covered the protest. Explanation below👇 pic.twitter.com/MBWivle43V
- Álvaro Sánchez (@ Alvaro1984) March 24, 2019
The activists slept in tents in the middle of the street, and during the morning they changed the camp. His intention is to maintain the pressure until this Tuesday morning, when a commission of the Belgian Parliament must decide if the deputies vote the new climate law, for which it is necessary to reform article 7bis of the Constitution. The law, elaborated by a group of academics, contemplates a reduction of polluting gases of 55% in 2030 compared to 1990.
Artists, NGO members, and young people like Anuna De Wever, the great inspirer of the student protests every Thursday, went to the encampment on Monday. All of them fear that the pull of climate demands on the street, unprecedented in Belgian history, will not suffice to change the system, and that citizen outcry will be diluted. "There were many historical demonstrations in Belgium, and we see that nothing happened, none of the demands came out, if they do not vote this law before Tuesday there will not be an opportunity in years," says Verhoeven uneasily.
The press covers and the vague political promises are no longer enough. And together with the lack of domestic ambition criticized by the organizations, they also regret that Belgium did not take advantage of the European summit last week to give a boost to the climate issue on the continent. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, who in recent times dealt with the street chaos caused by the yellow vests, was the most critical of the European leaders. "We do not respond clearly to the commitments of the Paris agreement or to the youth that manifests itself every week," he said during his speech in Brussels on Friday.