Maria Mesquita, António Assunção – April’s Eleven: Political trial on the 50th anniversary of the Portuguese Revolution

Two activists, who are currently facing charges alongside nine others for protesting climate breakdown, argue that we must take inspiration in how to change the system from the revolution which overthrew Portugal’s fascist dictatorship half a century ago.

Maria Mesquita and António Assuncão are militants in Climáximo, a Portuguese anti-capitalist collective campaigning for climate justice.
Picture by Jeanne Menjoulet

From 22-24 April, we are in court for having taken part in a political protest. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Portuguese revolution, 25 April 1974, we’re not the only ones facing political persecution. In recent times, cases of trials and convictions of people who stopped consenting to this system that is leading us to climatic and social collapse are piling up in the courts and the sentences are weighing on the shoulders of climate justice militants. 

In Portugal this year we celebrate the struggles that fifty year ago brought down a dictatorship and ended a deadly war that only served the fascist regime. For 48 years people were fighting, resisting and organising against an unjust system. Many were deprived of their freedom and even of their lives.

Today, it’s time to face reality: we are living through the greatest threat humanity has ever faced – the climate crisis. This threat is no accident. It is a war declared by governments and companies on the planet and on society. They have known for decades that burning fossil fuels would lead to the collapse of civilisation through the degradation of living conditions. Yet, they chose to continue doing so, in a coordinated and premeditated act whose only (irrational) rationale is the accumulation of wealth. 

Now it’s us, the normal people who didn’t make any of these choices, who are suffering the consequences. It’s the 10th hottest month in a row, drought threatens the country, fires ravage forests and heat waves kill people every year. At the same time, the far-right is on the rise and repression of political protests is increasing. This is climate collapse in real time. As they show us time and time again, governments, institutions and companies are not going to solve this – delegating that responsibility to them would be like asking the dictator to end the dictatorship in 1974. 

We have to ask ourselves: what were the people who defended life and liberty doing 50 years ago? They certainly weren’t sitting back and waiting for the dictatorship to fall of its own accord. For decades, all dissent, whether against the dictatorship or the war, was cruelly punished extra-judicially and judicially, with political tribunals whose aim was to preserve the structure of the regime. Everything they did was illegal, against the law and, if they had failed, they would certainly have been tried and sentenced. But what do people think today about what was done on 25 April and in the months that followed? As with many other social transformations, such as the end of slavery and women’s suffrage, history has exonerated the resistance.

The end of the fascist dictatorship in Portugal was only possible because the people took to the streets and because, above all, they stopped consenting to an unjust system and to war. None of this would have been possible if everyone alive in April 1974 had consented to the regime or waited for the dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, or his successor, Marcelo Caetano, to put an end to it. Today, we must do the same: stop consenting to a system that is killing us. 

We celebrate the struggles of those who came before us, but we cannot do so while ignoring the fact that we are living through the greatest crisis in human history and that it is we, all the people alive right now, who have the agency to stop it. This judgement is not about eleven of us, it’s about those of us now alive did to stop the war on society and the planet. Only grassroots climate resistance can change the system and prevent climate collapse. 

We know who the real criminals are, we know that they sit in governments and corporate boards while we sit in the court’s dock. We know that they sit in luxury jets while we suffer the consequences of floods, droughts, famine and fires. We refuse to accept war and the collapse that the continuation of normality entails. We have a responsibility not to consent to the destruction of life, we have a right and a duty to continue fighting for everything we love in every way possible and necessary. For this we need everyone. When the story of how society stopped the climate crisis is told 50 years from now, which side were you on?

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