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Foto: Daniël Rommens

In toga, with viola, or “just” with placard: these UvA academics are blocking the A12 this weekend

Sija van den Beukel,
8 september 2023 - 18:49

UvA academics will also be on the A12 in The Hague on Saturday, September 9th, protesting for the abolition of government fossil fuel subsidies. What drives them to do this? “Democracy is not just about elections, it’s also about moments like this.”

This Saturday, Elly Morriën, associate professor in the Future Planet Studies bachelor’s degree program, will play the viola in the A12 tunnel box. Together with XR Musicians - professional musicians and experienced amateurs affiliated with the action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) - she will play the Dies Irea from Mozart’s Requiem to abolish fossil fuel subsidies.

Foto: Vincent van Kleef (Soul2Soul photography)
Elly Morriën

Morriën researches soil carbon and struggles daily with the question of how and how much carbon dioxide we can put back into the earth through plants and microbes. Innovative solutions alone are not going to do it. “That’s why we have to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible,” Morriën says over the phone. “I cannot separate myself as a person from the science. That’s why I feel I should also speak out as a scientist.”


This is Morriën’s first time participating in a climate demonstration, and it was not an easy decision. “At first, I found it difficult to actively speak out as a scientist about my climate concerns. I teach facts and not opinions. But now the situation has become so urgent that I don’t think we can take a neutral stance as scientists any longer: People just aren’t listening. Civil disobedience is now the only way to get climate on the agenda.


A cheap viola

Music was a comfortable entry point for Morriën. “Music de-escalates, connects, and supports. At the same time, that means she will be in the illegal blockade next Saturday and not in the legal “support demonstration” a little further down Reagan and Gorbachev Avenue. In the blockade, then, the chance of arrest is considerably higher. “I bought a very cheap viola especially for the demonstration.”

“I bought a very cheap viola especially for the demonstration”
Foto: UvA
Yolande Jansen

Should it come to an arrest, Morriën has been strictly instructed by XR. “The most important thing is that the demonstration be completely nonviolent. We exercise our right to demonstrate, but if it doesn’t feel right, you step out of the action.”


Scientific elites

In addition to a possible arrest, Morriën sees the risk of becoming a target of the right. "They of course seize such opportunities to say: See, at the university there are only left-wing activists who indoctrinate you with left-wing thinking.”


Yolande Jansen, senior lecturer in social and political philosophy at the UvA and Socrates professor at the VU, also sees a political backlash emerging now as awareness of climate change grows. “Climate activists are being represented as the scientific elites who want to push ‘ordinary’ people in a certain direction. As a Belgian minister said on the opinion program Op1 last week: Ordinary families want to be able to take a plane to Marseilles. I think that contradiction is going to be played out more and more.”

“Climate activists are represented as the scientific elites who want to push ‘ordinary’ people in a certain direction”
Climate strike for education

On Friday, September 15th, the national climate strike for education will take place on Malieveld at 11:30 a.m. Earlier that day, a procession will leave from Leiden walking behind IPCC Report to Malieveld. There, an IPCC Report reading marathon will be held. There will also be music performances, lectures, and demonstrations. You can find more information here.

That is precisely why it is important to get high attendance this weekend, said Jansen, who will appear in a toga on Saturday along with scientists from other universities. “It is important that people understand that climate change is not only a problem of the future but one that is already causing major disruption in large parts of the world, and soon it will be everyone’s problem,” she said.



How many UvA graduates will be in The Hague on Saturday is hard to say. They are divided among various Signal and Telegram groups. Still, Morriën feels that the number of people speaking out is increasing, “People are also seeing the consequences more and more: like this summer where floods, forest fires and extreme heat are the norm.”


Gerrit Schaafsma, a doctoral student in climate change and civil disobedience agrees. “I see a lot of enthusiasm about this protest. My feeling is that there will be a big turnout on Saturday. Besides, more people tend to come when the sun is shining.”

Gerrit Schaafsma

Gandhi’s salt march

According to Schaafsma, the demonstration next Saturday has the potential of becoming a turning point. “If you look at the history of civil disobedience, there are many examples of demonstrations that were not appreciated at the time but turned out to be important afterwards.”


“Take Gandhi’s salt march,” Schaafsma continued. “When Gandhi carried out that protest march it had little to no political impact. But in the period that followed, it turned out to be very important for India’s independence. I think the occupation of the A12 could serve a similar function - I’m not saying it will, but it could.”


According to Schaafsma, it is up to citizens to hold the government accountable. Civil disobedience can be an important tool for that, a subject on which he wrote an opinion in the NRC with Yolande Jansen earlier this week. “That’s the only way democracy can work. Democracy is not only about elections, it’s also about moments like this.”