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Activism, agency, and the escape from mundane domesticity: The curious case of Judith Beadle, 43 year-old mother of two, climate vandal and self-gluing street activist

Meet Judith Beadle.

She is a dead-eyed 43 year-old Letzte Generation activist from Berlin who first came to the notice of the German public for gluing herself to a Munich street last November. The action won her nearly a month of preventive custody in Munich-Stadlheim, where she reports her vegan preferences were not initially respected. “But that’s okay,” she told the Abendzeitung. “We knew about the risk of jail, but no matter how great it is, we won’t let it get us down.”

Days after her release, Beadle went to an Autobahn near Munich and sat briefly in the centre lane, until a policeman dragged her away. “Judith Beadle blocks the Autobahn by herself!” jubilated the Letzte Generation Twitter account, but in response to critical comments, our brave activists backtracked, pleading that the roadway was “already closed” when she entered it.

Two weeks later, Beadle glued herself to yet another street in Munich, winning herself a ticket back to jail for the holidays. “I would rather forego Christmas with my children than watch as they’re robbed of their future,” she told the press.

There followed a few months of quiet, and then a great escalation, which would make Beadle among the most prominent Letzte Generation activists in Germany. With a few others, she attacked the facades of upscale shops on Kurfürstendamm in Berlin with orange paint – “for the climate and against the rich.” She seems to have been personally responsible for defacing this Rolex outlet:

Three months later, while her charges for the Berlin attacks were still pending, Beadle travelled to the island of Sylt, a popular holiday destination. There, she and other activists sprayed orange paint across the bar of the Hotel Miramar.

She explained to journalists that

A few super-rich people are fuelling the [climate] disaster with luxury emissions and the government is simply watching while the world goes up in flames around us. I don’t want to have to watch my daughters grow up into a world where everyone has to fight over food and water, just because a few insist on living out their luxury excesses.

As I write this, Beadle finds herself back in the Munich-Stadelheim jail where she started. The police have locked her up once again as part of an effort forestall attempts by Letzte Generation to disrupt the International Motor Show. She’s set to be released on Tuesday.

Until last year, Beadle lived an ordinary life, working as a freelance web-designer in Berlin-Wedding. She has two daughters, one 10 and the other 12 years old. Her husband is English; he works as a small-time stand-up comedian, though his activity seems to have fizzled out early last year. His last promotional Facebook post, from 31 March 2022, predates our activist’s foray into street-gluing by eight months.

I suspect it was around this time that Beadle was radicalised. She tells the story in a jail interview she gave to the Passauer Neue Presse on 6 January 2023:

You might say I was mobilised by a street blockade. In the two years before that, I dealt a lot with the climate crisis and we changed a lot as a family: we stopped flying and reduced our meat consumption to almost zero. I also went to climate demonstrations with the children. But every time there was new data on greenhouse gas emissions, the extinction of species or critical tipping points in the Earth’s climate system, it was clear: We’re still on the way to destroying our livelihoods – since last year at an even faster pace! … When I realised this, I felt incredibly powerless and hopeless. Yes, but then I saw these determined people sitting in the street and I knew immediately: I don’t have to accept as unchangeable the destruction caused by business-as-usual politics, I too can resist it and denounce my passive complicity in this injustice. That gave me a crazy sense of agency and I emailed Letzte Generation the same day to tell them I wanted to join.

Notably, Beadle’s chronology places the origins of her climate anxiety not with Greta Thunberg’s emergence in late 2018, but around the start of the Covid pandemic. It was at this time that she and her family stopped booking flights (easy to do back then), avoiding meat and – most likely during the Summer of Floyd – attending climate demonstrations. In the broadest sense, Letzte Generation is an astroturfed, foreign-funded operation, but I suspect Beadle is typical of its rank-and-file members. Their radical, hysterical approach arises from social dynamics unleashed by pandemic restrictions. Prolonged isolation, overmuch time at home and feelings of disempowerment all play important roles here.

Beadle often foregrounds her children and her anxiety over their future in her statements to the press, but when writing about her innermost motivations, a different picture emerges – one that is much more about her desire to escape the passivity of ordinary life and finally act in the world. In the same interview, she concedes that being locked up away from her daughters over the holidays was “very sad” for her, but also says she has been delighted to receive “an incredible number of letters” from people “who write that we are giving them new hope for a future.”

[I]n addition to sadness, I also feel a great deal of gratitude for having the opportunity and privilege of being able to work together with many other courageous, determined and loving people of the “Last Generation” for the survival of us all, and in turn to experience gratitude and encouragement.

Via climate activism, Beadle escaped her mundane domestic existence and her tedious home-office job, and joined a new community of hippies and rabble-rousers. Life on the road with Letzte Generation is more colourful and interesting than life at home designing websites for pay. Now she gives press interviews at every opportunity, she receives fan mail. Suddenly, as never before, she matters.

These impressions are confirmed by the most recent interview Beadle provided the Frankfürter Allgemeine Zeitung from the Stadlheim jail, published this morning. She landed there after some street blockade, the precise location of which she can’t remember, because despite repeated actions targeting Munich she doesn’t know the city. She again tells the FAZ reporter that it was her feeling of “powerlessness” which drove her to activism; before joining Letzte Generation, climate anxiety had come to cost her a great deal of energy. She describes the opportunity to protest as “liberating” and as a “privilege” for Germans, because “the worst thing that can happen to you here is that you end up in custody.” She says that jail, where she shares her cell with three fellow activists, reminds her of a youth hostel. Again her veganism is a problem; sometimes, salad is the only thing she can eat for lunch.

The husband – remarkably absent from her prior public statements – finally makes a brief cameo here. She says she extracted his assurance that he could “manage family life” before her latest adventure. As elsewhere, she insists that she has the full support of her family, but she also says her older daughter recently asked why she, of all people, has to do this. She concedes that it’s hard on her family, but she conceives of these hardships as “shared activism.” Her husband and her children, in dealing with her prolonged absences, managing the home by themselves, and asking for help from their neighbours, are also helping to save the climate.

She is currently no longer working as a freelance web designer, there is no time. Beadle reveals that this has already entailed financial hardships. She used to work full time, but now the family only has her husband’s income… Their financial reserves are almost exhausted. And there is a lawsuit pending against her over the paint attacks in Berlin. She doesn’t have the means to pay the fines that are expected …

Beadle says that Letzte Generation envisions a new political model for the Federal Republic, one in which a “social council” consisting of “all groups in society” consults with technocrats to “propose concrete measures for climate protection,” which the government will then force through the Bundestag.

She insists that Letzte Generation will not let up …

“We will protest with maximum pressure.” Many new activists joined over the summer. In Berlin, their number has doubled; Beadle estimates that there are now at least 500. The climate activists have announced that they will launch a major new wave of protests in the capital in the middle of this month.

“All we are asking is that politicians abide by their own laws,” Beadle argues. Article 20a of the Constitution, she says, obliges the state to protect the natural foundations of life …

Ultimately, Judith Beadle sees her actions as a kind of self-defence. Effective climate protection measures have been delayed for decades, she said. “We have no other means left,” she says. “Everything else has simply not been effective.”

Like many self-styled radical activists, Beadle’s views are astoundingly naive and conventional. She’s currently passing her abundant time reading books on “civil disobedience and role models like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” and she sees herself as a civil rights agitator in the tradition of the British suffragettes. She knows the street blockades enrage motorists, but she clings to the belief that after their anger passes, they’ll come around to her way of thinking. In other words, she expects others to react as she did.