This has gotta be the dumbest right wing fake scandal Berlin has been in many years — right up there with U.S. reactionaries claiming that children are identifying as cats and using litter boxes. So have you heard? Politicians from across the spectrum have been claiming that climate activists have been “putting lives in danger” with their “radicalised protests.”
This is not true. As Exberliner news blog reported, last Monday, October 31, a cement mixer ran over a 44-year-old cyclist in Wilmersdorf. This is a tragedy — but a depressingly predictable one. Since Berlin is built for cars, about ten bike riders are killed every year, while around 600 are seriously injured.
Politicians had never sounded so enraged about a dead cyclist
This time, however, the police claimed that an emergency vehicle had been on its way to free the injured woman from under the massive truck. But it had gotten stuck in a traffic jam on the inner-city highway A100, because climate activists from the group Letzte Generation were blocking the offramp. As the cops said, it’s time to “say goodbye to the fairytale of a harmless protest” — these blockades were costing lives.
Thus began a Hetzkampagne (campaign of hatred) led by the far-right tabloid BILD and dutifully repeated by all the parties from the AfD to the SPD. Even the so-called Greens chimed in to condemn “protests that endanger the lives of people.” Climate protests are all well and good — now they had crossed a red line.
Politicians had never sounded so enraged about a dead cyclist. If they wanted to prevent almost one case of vehicular manslaughter per month, there are many simple, cheap measures that would help: adding bike lines, blocking roads to cars, reducing speed limits, etc. But no, they’re only interested in persecuting climate activists. The irony is that cyclists are never bothered by blockades — it’s easy to get around them by bike.
That poor woman died the following Friday. At a memorial bike ride two days later, activists placed a white “ghost bike,” as they do almost every month. None of the oh-so-enraged politicians had down to pay their respects.
So far, so dumb. But as the SZ reported on Friday, the whole story was fake. Yes, an emergency vehicle had been stuck in traffic. But the emergency doctor leading the operation had decided that no such vehicle was needed. The freeway blockade made no difference one way or another. The city government had gotten her report three days earlier, and hid it until it was leaked. As far as I can see, none of the politicians who jumped onto this right-wing bandwagon, all the way up to the German chancellor, have corrected their statements.
Germany’s traffic laws were created by the Nazis to guarantee the supremacy of car-driving Übermenschen
It is well known that Letzte Generation always leaves a Rettungsgasse, a corridor for emergency vehicles to pass the blockade. The problem was that the cars had refused to form such a corridor, in violation of the law. It’s no surprise: the German Red Cross has reported that in 80% of traffic jams there is no such corridor. Prosecutors could be going after every single driver from the A100 for blocking an emergency vehicle — but instead, they are going after the activists.
Even if Letzte Generation had very indirectly contributed to one death — which they did not — this whole fake story distracts from mass death caused by cars every single day. It’s not just about the 50 or so people killed each year in collisions — thousands more are killed by fine particulate matter emitted from motors and tires. Do these thousands of easily avoidable deaths cross any “red lines”?
Germany’s traffic laws were created by the Nazis to guarantee the supremacy of car-driving Übermenschen. Even today, this is a country where murdering a four-year-old-child will get you a €200 fine, as long as you kill by car (to be fair, after the uproar, the punishment became six months of probation). Is it fair to call a reckless driver a “murderer”? Well, they are far more directly responsible for ending a human life than a climate activist has ever been.
The government of Bavaria has now put 15 activists into prison for a month. They were not convicted of any crime — this is 30 days of preventative detention without trial, because they might otherwise block roads and endanger lives. Frankly, I had not realised that was possible in postwar Germany. The justification is that, even if they didn’t endanger lives, they might have. With this logic, every single car driver in Germany needs to be thrown into prison immediately and indefinitely — they are a far greater threat to innocent bystanders.
But of course, nothing of the sort will happen. Germany is run by the Nazi billionaires who own the automobile industry, and the politicians who do their bidding.
As the last UN Climate Report confirmed, the Earth will experience far more than 1.5 degrees of warming. Humanity is barreling towards a catastrophe. We are already starting to see increased floods, droughts, fires, famines… and this will only get worse. But capitalist politicians can’t do anything that would endanger next quarter’s profits.
I’ve been disappointed to hear some on the Left say that these highway blockades should be rejected because they make normal people late to work. I hate to break the news, but civilisational collapse is also going to disrupt a commute or two. Plus, what form of protest can avoid every inconvenience for everyone? When the workers of Paris stormed the Bastille in 1789, I bet somebody was late to work.
We need a revolution to break the power of fossil capital and put the economy under democratic control.
Climate protests are about preventing mass death. These protests are not in fact “radicalising” — given the stakes, they are astoundingly moderate. With climate apocalypse on the horizon, they are politely requesting that corrupt politicians in the pockets of fossil capital introduce speed limits. They are throwing soup at the protective glass in front of paintings. This isn’t even property destruction, properly speaking, as the damage can be repaired with a paper towel.
We need so much more than that. We need a revolution to break the power of fossil capital and put the economy under democratic control. That requires a mass movement of workers — the people who manufacture the cars, drive the trains, produce the electricity, and generally have the power to transform everything.
As Walter Benjamin put it, it’s like we’re all on a train, and the capitalists are driving us off a cliff: “perhaps revolutions are an attempt by passengers on this train—namely the human race—to activate the brake.” Yes, we need an emergency brake. And no more dumb conspiracy theories that instrumentalise a dead cyclist.