Three young people in front of an orange background

Three activists from the Hand in Hand alliance Photo: Miriam Klingl

The “Hand in Hand” alliance wants to unite civil society. But what can come after the demonstrations?

BWarm, yellow and red slips of paper are wandering through the rows of seats. The folding chairs are packed tightly together on this Wednesday evening. Anyone who arrives late for the meeting in Berlin-Kreuzberg has to lean against the wall for the entire three hours of the plenary session. Voting cards are not available for all of the 70 participants either.

“Feel free to divide the pieces of paper into two if there aren’t enough,” someone calls from the front.

“I thought we were indivisible,” someone else calls back, laughing.

The idea of ​​organizing an alliance against the far-right from within civil society is not new. The “Indivisible” alliance organized politically broad-based demonstrations six years ago after the AfD’s poll peak. They did not survive the pandemic. They disbanded in 2022, partly because there were too few activists.

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As early as November 2023, a then loose association called “Hand in Hand” dared to make a new attempt. People from Unteilbar, climate activists and human rights activists want to take to the streets against the shift to the right. A few weeks later, the CorrectiveResearch into a secret meeting of right-wing extremists sparked a nationwide spontaneous movement against the right in which more than a million people participated.

The movement is already on the streets

When an alliance forms to prepare a large demonstration, it is usually a lengthy process. Too few activists, too much to do, too little time. This time it is the other way round: the movement is already on the streets. Everyone wants to do something. But how can the spontaneous demonstrations become a sustainable movement?

It is Wednesday, 10 days until the next big demonstration in Berlin. Over biscuits and fruit, the disparate group tries to find common ground. Young climate activists meet experienced human rights activists. People from ProAsyl sit next to Omas gegen Rechts. The German Bicycle Club, Caritas, associations for educational work and remembrance work are part of the network. More than 1,000 organizations support Hand in Hand.

“In the past few weeks, the process has overwhelmed us. But that’s exactly how movements work,” calls Bruno Balscheit from a corner of the room. The rush of organizations is exactly the attention they need for their action, he says, running his hand through his blond curls. Before Hand in Hand, the 25-year-old was involved with Fridays for Future. Even then, he and other activists had been thinking about how to start a civil movement against the AfD.

Young man with hoodie

Bruno Balscheit from the Hand in Hand Alliance Photo: Miriam Klingl

When he heard about the Hand in Hand meetings in autumn 2023, he got involved, he says on the sidelines of the plenary session. In the beginning, there were many full-time employees there, people who worked for NGOs in their jobs. “It was all very tough, we discussed details for hours,” he says.

As the work of the movement slowly progressed, he got together with other younger people in the network, and in early January they built a website, created mobile material and came up with the slogan “We are the firewall”. And then came the CorrectiveResearch.

Most of the time, all it takes is a spark to mobilize the entire group, he says. It worked with Hand in Hand. There are now more than 40 people active in working groups on the program, financing or mobilization. Ten other people, including Bruno, keep an overview of the network. Some of them know each other from their previous work. In the plenary session, they usually share the same opinion and want to move the network forward quickly. For others, this is too much.

Anything between 50,000 and 500,000 participants is possible

“We need brakes and pushers in the group,” says Balscheit, “that’s the only way we can find good compromises.” Christiane Möller, who is there for Grandmas against the Right, sees it similarly. Too often, movements have dissolved because of political differences. Therefore, the sometimes laborious discussions about statutes, lists of speakers and programs are irreplaceable. Will the motivation remain after the big demonstration? She firmly believes so. “The pressure from the right is far too great, so we must continue to focus on what we have in common and the success of the AfD and the general shift to the right.”

A cardboard box with a heart painted on it with the inscription

Antifa is handwork Photo: Miriam Klingl

To this end, Hand in Hand is also joining forces with conservative voices. In a café, the social media team is shooting videos for Instagram. Bruno sets up the tripods and directs the light at the chair in front of him. Outside, women are walking past to do yoga; inside, they are planning the mobilization against the far-right. The student fears that people are exhausted after the last two demonstrations in Berlin and that too few will come. Anything between 50,000 and 500,000 participants is possible. “We are mobilizing in Berlin to address politicians and send a signal to other capital cities.” After that, they want to increasingly go to the smaller towns in the east to provide support there.

They are trying to mobilize for the large demonstration on social media and on the streets. Düzen Tekkal is also speaking on this day in front of the camera that Balscheit has set up. The activist and CDU member is part of the network with her human rights organization Háwar. Not everyone in the alliance agrees to give conservative voices a platform. But the large demonstration in Berlin should be about more than just party affiliation. In order to mobilize the largest possible number of people, compromises must be made, that is how most of the alliance see it. Then you don’t just shout that everyone hates the AfD. Because at the core, it is not about linguistic subtleties, but a stable union against the far-right.

But how many people does the network convince? In Dresden, Hamburg and Kassel there are local groups that have adopted the name and slogan and are planning action days. The fact that decisions made in Berlin are not being adopted there has not bothered the group so far. In Berlin, parties are not allowed to sign the appeal, but in Kassel they are part of the action.

“A demo for us”

And on the streets in Berlin?

Tareq Alaows walks through Kreuzberg with flyers and posters. No bar around Kottbusser Tor is spared. The migration activist is one of the better-known faces of Hand in Hand. The team advertised the flyer campaign with him on social media. Ten people answered the call, more than took part in the last campaigns, he says. A fish restaurant, Spätis, bars – he walks into every bar with an orange and purple poster. All but one or two shops agree to have their walls covered.

“The demonstration is against right-wing extremism. So for us, you know?” he calls out to a man in a Lebanese restaurant. Even though there has been a lot of support in recent days, there is still criticism, particularly from the migrant community. “I understand that not everyone feels equally heard, but that should be a reason to come to us and engage in dialogue,” says Alaows. In recent years, he has often stood up for the rights of migrants alone or with a small group. That is different today.

Transparency note: The taz Panter Foundation signed the “Hand in Hand” appeal and donated to the organization of the day of action.