Michelle Barthel, pictured, became a climate emergency activist in spring 2019. She is pictured at the Rotondes' urban art game "Ready to Play?", by Alain Welter
Photo: Jess Bauldry
Luxembourg activist Michelle Barthel is among those who founded a Luxembourg chapter of Extinction Rebellion. She tells Delano how, over the past few months, activism has become a way of life for her.
Luxembourg nursing student Michelle Barthel is smartly dressed and looks well-rested when I interview her. It is hard to believe two days earlier she had a short night sleeping in a coalmine in Germany with civil disobedience protest movement Ende Gelände. Her sleep was interrupted by police, who arrested and physically carried Barthel and 2,000 others from the mine to a temporary holding pen.
“We got a 24-hour ban on returning to the site,” she says, adding that she didn’t give her name and there were so many protestors, police didn’t even take fingerprints.
The 23-year-old will shortly finish her studies in Luxembourg. She pauses when I ask if it worried her that a criminal record could impact her future career chances. “You could see it that way. I see it more that when I’m looking for a place to work and the boss doesn’t want to hire me because I’m fighting for a better future, then I don’t want to work there.”
Michelle Barthel, left, is pictured with friends at a march for action against the climate emergency. Photo: Michelle Barthel
Barthel’s confidence suggests a lifetime of climate campaigning. But before March 2019, she had only ever been a “passive” campaigner, donating money to causes like GreenPeace. Barthel says she fell into activism after exam procrastination led to her to watch a series of TedTalks about zero waste. “I was so shocked. I always thought that if we faced an emergency like this, it would be in the media and people would only talk about that. But this was not the case.”
She attended the Youth for Climate Luxembourg meetings and the 24 May march. She was also in parliament when déi Lénk called for recognition of a climate emergency. “At that point we saw that nothing happened […] And we said we need to do other stuff, we have to be more radical in a peaceful way but with actions which have more impact.”
The answer Barthel and other activists found was to create a Luxembourg chapter of Extinction Rebellion (XR), a civil disobedience group using non-violent resistance to protest against climate breakdown. Founded in the UK in October 2018, the movement prompted thousands of people fearful of their children’s futures to block roads and bring traffic to a standstill.
In Luxembourg, XR is slowly gaining momentum. Its first action, disrupting the start of the ING Marathon to raise awareness of the main sponsor’s financial connections with fossil fuel activities, attracted five protestors. A few weeks later, some 30 protestors picketed a finance minister meeting at the Congress in Luxembourg. “It was more an action to show we’re still here and we’re not giving up until you change something,” Barthel says.
The XR movement focuses on civil disobedience and welcomes initiatives from its followers, provided they adhere to its broad principals. It also stresses the importance of training—so that activists are knowledgable about the climate emergency, and can communicate effectively and non-violently. “It’s not just that you take a banner and do it. You have to think about a lot of stuff,” Barthel says, adding that she will organise a series of training sessions for the summer.
She and other activists are also working towards their next action. “The 27 September is the day of the global strike. We’re working with unions and we want everyone to strike for the climate emergency.” The activists hope to work with unions to provide some legal certainty for participants, as she explains, “Here, you only have the right to strike when you’re not paid enough.”