Esther’s Blog: When govern­ments fail, peaceful civil diso­be­dience is of crucial impor­tance for a healthy democracy

5 July 2023

Last Friday, on 1 July, the Netherlands commemorated and celebrated Keti Koti, the abolition of slavery. The Netherlands had been guilty of slavery for decades, and therefore a crime against humanity. Slavery was formally abolished in Suriname and the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 1 July 1863. However, this was not so in practice: enslaved people were still forced to continue working as such for another decade. So, for many people the real date on which slavery was abolished is in fact 1 July 1873. This crime against humanity still affects all layers of our society today. Not only in the form of institutional racism from the government, but also in the many forms of everyday racism that are still painfully real in many tiers of Dutch society.

Not only were the apologies offered by King Willem-Alexander during last week’s commemorative event a fundamental and necessary step in coming to terms with the country’s past; he also asked for forgiveness for the role played in this by his own ancestors. He said: “The system of slavery is illustrative of the injustice of the legal system during this period in history. World War II taught us that you cannot hide behind laws to the extreme. At some point, you cannot ignore your moral duty to take concrete action.”

This is a lesson we should never forget. Fighting injustice is and will always be of crucial importance, particularly when this is not easy. Actions like these will help us process our past and build a healthy future together.

Esther Ouwehand with colleague Sylvana Simons listen to the king apologize for the role played by the Netherlands in slavery.

Stop investing in injustice

Last month, the team at the Party for the Animals put out various calls asking people to stop investing in the destruction of our planet, animal suffering and the violation of human rights. One of these was to table a package of proposals to abolish fossil fuel subsidies. Even today, big polluters such as Shell are receiving financial support and benefits from the government. Tens of billions in government grants are used to finance the polluting aviation, shipping and manufacturing industries, which effectively means that tens of billions that could be used for the benefit of society are being spent on the destruction of our future. It’s time to change that! The polluters should not be paid; they themselves should be paying! If the government adopts our proposals, we will move closer to meeting climate targets and freeing up billions to invest in a healthy future instead of giving this money to polluters.

On top of this, €400 billion in agricultural subsidies have been spent at European level in the past seven years. In practice, this equates direct investments in animal suffering, an unhealthy living environment and the destruction of nature. Again, the Party for the Animals says: abolish these grants and invest this money in healthy agriculture, in which no animals are exploited. As it stands today, government subsidies are mainly lining the pockets of agribusinesses, while farmers themselves are not benefiting from them. A healthy future for farmers can only be realised by adopting a green agricultural system, without the exploitation of nature, soil, water and animals.

However, last month marked a breakthrough in the European Parliament. On the initiative of the Party for the Animals, the Parliament voted in favour of measures to combat animal suffering in the clothing industry. The European Commission will be required to start banning animal-unfriendly practices, such as the use of fur, down plucked from living birds, kangaroo leather, angora wool and wool from mistreated merino sheep. The European Parliament also wants the clothing industry, which is currently a huge source of waste and serious pollution, to become more ecologically friendly and circular. Finally, parliament put out a call addressing the abominable working conditions in this industry. All over the world, the human rights of clothing industry workers are being violated and these people are subjected to sub-human conditions. It is our moral duty to change that.

Positive change is imminent

More and more people are starting to realise that the current situation is unsustainable, and that change is necessary to keep our planet liveable for humans and animals. And that change is imminent. But, just like all major revolutions in history, we see that change is always accompanied by turbulence. The moment change is imminent, the establishment does all it can to defend its financial interests. It is therefore important that we continue to speak out for and work towards a healthy, just future. That we continue to require our governments to defend the public interest, rather than the interests of big privately owned companies.

People all over the world are therefore taking to the streets, actively demonstrating to stop the destruction of our planet, for which movements such as Extinction Rebellion sometimes engage in peaceful civil disobedience. History has shown that peaceful civil disobedience is an essential part of a healthy democracy if the current government of a given state refuses to protect fundamental rights. And that is exactly what is happening today. So, to all those who are doing their bit against the climate crisis, against nature destruction, against human and animal rights violations: your battle is our battle.

Cheers, and until next month!

Esther Ouwehand
Political Leader of the Dutch Party for the Animals