Going to prison with radical pragmatism ⛓ Letter from prison

Today I watched the daily topics on the TV with the distorted picture in my small room. In it, the CDU politician Dobrinth revealed that harsher punishments should definitely be applied to the climate activists. Shortly before, the news anchor had told of 13 people who had now been locked up in Munich for 30 days because of blockade actions. I am one of them.

My small room is a cell in the Stadelheim JVA - women's department. The risk of being locked up for longer is one I consciously took. But I would not have expected that a single day of blockade actions in Munich would lead to the judiciary deciding to lock me up for so long.

Charlotte Schwarzer | Photo: (c) Stefan Müller
Charlotte Schwarzer
Photo: (c) Stefan Müller

We went on Thursday, November 03.11rd. in Munich at 10:30 a.m. on a large street in the middle of the city. There were two groups, one for each direction. We went on the pedestrian green light, put on our safety vests and held the banners. They said: “What if the government doesn’t have this under control?” and “€9 and 100 km/h for everyone”.

The moment right before I go out on the street is always the worst; my stomach does somersaults in grim anticipation of getting in other people's way. As expected, it's loud, people come up to me and tell me why exactly they have to move on or curse us. I understand their anger and I tell them that, it makes some people even angrier. But the blockade stands and nothing moves anymore, after a short while we sit down.

When we hear the sirens of an ambulance, we quickly open an emergency lane, but the RTW ends up just driving over the footpath. Suddenly we notice a police car coming towards us and most of us stick to the road.

Only Clemens next to me and I remain, because we are responsible for the emergency lane and remain mobile.

Maria is sitting to my left and when she has glued her left hand on, I also squeeze a tube of superglue into my left hand, Maria gives me her right hand. There are a few people walking behind us on the crossing, some of them standing on the edge for a long time.

I hear the classic “Go to work!” a few times, but some people also ask questions. The people in the car right in front of me have now gotten coffee, are rescheduling their notary appointment by phone and seem very interested. Leo, sitting further to the left, has started giving a speech about the climate catastrophe. After a maximum of 45 minutes of blocking, the police redirected all the cars that were in front of us. There are quite a few police officers there.


Some time later, when we were checked and searched and loosened on the street - with soapy water, brushes and wooden sticks - we were carried from the intersection to a van. Maria and I are still stuck hand in hand, we're just being taken away together. At least 5 police officers are carrying us, we don't defend ourselves, but we don't cooperate either. We would rather continue to disrupt because it is necessary. After a long wait in a small area in the courtyard of the police station - we talk about what it was like for us and how we are doing now - I am called in to be processed. The detective is friendly, even if I don't sign anything. After the formalities have been clarified, I will voluntarily make a statement because, despite all the bureaucracy, we must not forget what this is about.


“I will continue to engage in peaceful civil resistance, at least until December 02.12.2022nd, XNUMX, because the government is currently not acting to protect our livelihoods. As soon as you let me go, I will sit on roads again, in places with a lot of traffic, and possibly tape myself.”

The colleague on the other side of my detective's desk raises an eyebrow as he types my statement. She asks: “Even today?”

It's early afternoon, I'm hungry, but otherwise I'm feeling pretty good. So there’s nothing wrong with a “yes.”


When everyone has been processed and released about 2 hours later, we take stock. We are standing right in front of the police building complex, nice people from Munich brought coffee and cake and I got a few falafel bags that were way too expensive for everyone. Two people are already getting new banners because ours were confiscated. The basic survey shows: The majority would want to start another blockade campaign today, and there is no major resistance from the others. We have glue. When we are finally ready, it is already dark.


We go to the same intersection again as in the morning. It's rush hour traffic and it's time to go.

This time I'm sitting on the edge next to the sidewalk and am therefore closer to the passers-by. A woman with a deep, breathy voice stands there and is extremely angry. I hear her words, but I look ahead. The fact that we are present and do not get involved in heated discussions is extremely important for the safety of everyone involved. I hear that a commotion is breaking out on the other side of our row, towards the middle of the street, but I have to be present on my side and absorb the discontent.

I was later told that a car driver and a cyclist almost came to blows, the bike clattered to the ground and someone dragged one of us onto the central reservation. Too much happened to describe here during the entire blockade, which lasted from around 19 p.m. to midnight. There are a lot of people out and about and I have a few conversations, some of them very constructive. The police are poorly staffed at such a late hour and so everything takes much longer than during the day. At around 24:21 p.m. we collectively lie down on the cold street and Leo makes a spontaneous statement that this can be understood as a symbol for all the people who are already dying because of the climate catastrophe.

He gave speeches almost constantly in both blockades, which I could never do and find very impressive. I'm not good at remembering numbers, but he was churning out climate facts and quotes.

After we have all solved it, the processing follows. It's going much faster than the previous afternoon, and the police officers are also tired. They tell me that I will be taken into custody overnight and brought before a judge the next day. At around 4:10, after being searched for what must have been the XNUMXth time that day, I finally collapse onto a mattress in a cell and am asleep within seconds.


The next morning I tell the judge the same thing I told the police officers. That I will continue to disrupt until the government responds to our demands or until December 02nd. There is always some part of our demands that the government can meet quickly and easily. This would mean that we would stop the disruption immediately - but unfortunately it has never happened before. The judge is more interested in December 02nd than in the climate catastrophe and I explain to her that I have decided that I can definitely keep up the disruption for that long. She doesn't really want to, but because of my determination and honesty she decides that I have to be locked up in the correctional facility until December 02nd. She says it was my decision. To some extent I agreed with her, but in that moment in court it was hers too.


If you're wondering, dear reader: No, I'm not sure I'm doing the most sensible thing, the best thing, to bring about the change that is necessary. You might not expect this answer from a person who goes to prison for protesting. But it is the truth.

I do think that what we are doing – blocking, disrupting – is necessary. I've been looking for a career for some time that feels meaningful to me. I studied biology, then learned to work as a yoga teacher and finally started training as a medical masseuse. It was only when I came into contact with people who were engaged in non-violent civil resistance in 2020 that I realized what I had been missing until then: the honesty to bluntly acknowledge and speak truths; and the courage to act accordingly. I became a sub-culture in which these values ​​are not just the exception but the rule.


I assume, dear reader, that you agree with me that the climate catastrophe must be contained as quickly and as comprehensively as possible. If you still need convincing, there is enough scientific literature that you can read. As I said, numbers and quotes are not exactly my strengths. I would rather answer the most frequently asked question. It's not "Are you crazy?" (IMAGE) or "Don't you have a job?", but rather the question of why we block individuals instead of going straight to politics.

The simplest answer is that this has been tried for years and the situation hasn't changed much. This brings us to Einstein’s good old definition of insanity (“doing the same thing and hoping the result changes”).

Roadblocks do not target the individuals being blocked. In order to get the government to act, pressure from the population is needed. It is too easy for them to overlook (because at least it is not reported by the press) when, for example, ministries are occupied or fossil fuel infrastructure is blocked. This statement is based on experience. The polarization that occurs when seemingly uninvolved people are drawn into the conflict is the most important aspect of our form of protest. Only when people become angry do many people feel the need to have an opinion, to take a “side”. For or against us? Or maybe: “The demands are reasonable, but you’d better stand in front of the Bundestag!”


But why are we so confident that this polarizing approach works? After all, the federal government has not yet directly implemented any of our demands. Various examples from history - the suffragettes, the American civil rights movement - show that discussion-sparking civil resistance can be very effective in situations of great injustice. There is no question that great injustice prevails, because our livelihoods are not protected and the people in the world who are least responsible for the climate catastrophe are already dying, while Olaf Scholz is telling lies and pretending to be the climate chancellor.


I do these actions out of love because I see my responsibility to do whatever it takes to protect lives. It is necessary for governments to act and this requires pressure. Our requirements are therefore clearly understandable and can be implemented quickly. They are relatively small compared to our vision of a more comprehensive, democratic approach in which everyone looks for solutions together, for example in citizens' councils. Implementing this vision in detail is not the task of the last generation. At the moment we want to counteract people's ever-increasing feeling of powerlessness. The fear that it is already too late to contain the climate crisis and that politicians won't act paralyzes us. It must give way to the realization that protest can make a difference. Only with hope can the climate movement regain strength. And this strength is necessary to implement the comprehensive, big visions together.


There was a funny experience in the blockade on the evening of November 03rd that is worth sharing here:

When the police were already there, I suddenly heard someone behind us shouting angrily, he couldn't be heard. I thought nothing more of it. A little later, however, I heard an announcement from the same direction from Simon, a person who was actually supposed to film us. He introduced himself and then explained: “We are sitting here because the police are blocking the bike path. The operations manager could have parked his car 3m further in front or 3m further back. But he put it in the middle of the bike path.” Simon and the angry person were sitting on the bike path in front of a police car that was parked across the street. There was a bicycle next to them.

At first I found the situation very unpleasant because, in my opinion, they were using the means of civil resistance, which I don't think should be used lightly, for such a small problem. In addition, in such a situation the police could of course decide to take Simon and the people who are probably unprepared for this into custody. But just a few seconds after his first announcement, Simon spoke again: “If I see it correctly, the vehicle behind us is now being moved. We see: Civil resistance works!” The vehicle actually drove forward a few meters. I had to smile about this situation.


Unfortunately, we don't have much time, which is reason enough to try out everything we can think of. As soon as we realize that a form of protest is not effective, we don't waste energy.

It’s trial and error, you could call it “radical pragmatism.” Who would have thought that a load of mashed potatoes on a pane of glass in front of a painting would trigger more discussion than the fire alarm in ministries. But if that's the case, then bring on the mashed potatoes!

The price for not trying everything now – peacefully, non-violently and with a lot of love – is decidedly too high.

And who knows, maybe in a week a lot of people will start to be interested in the fact that I'm sitting behind bars here because of a single day of action. If that means we get a €9 ticket or if just a few people find their own through my determination, it will have been worth it.


See you on the street,

Charlotte Schwarzer

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