SCHOOL STRIKE FOR CLIMATE 19th JULY 2019
John Paul de Quay
It looks like rain.
None of these youngsters are dressed for it. Fueled with passion and anger these teenagers are impervious to precipitation. The heavens open before we set off on our march, leaving a bedraggled bunch of protesters without umbrellas or raincoats huddled beneath the patchy shelter of one of the squares trees. How topical. The statue of Lloyd George seems to have taken off his hat, with one arm extended out from the protecting canopy above as if to say, “come on everyone, its just spitting”. From this angle Sir Winston Churchill stands immovable against the rain, looming menacingly, and rather begrudgingly down at parliament; the intended recipients of the student led protests.
The protests have reduced in size since the last one I attended. The masses seem to have diminished to a core group of die hard campaigners and hangers-on. It is a disappointment to see such a noble army dwindling. Is it the rain that has put the other youngsters off? Surely not. The shrinking numbers aside all the sodden troops trudge on with considerable determination. It was hammering down. Even though (rather smug with myself) I had thought to bring an umbrella, I looked like I had just gone wading in the Thames.
I am struck by the lack of obvious support from religious and other institutions. The Friday school strike for climate seemed to be sponsored entirely by the Socialist Worker, who had definitely been over ambitious in their banner making efforts. Piles of banners reading “Kick out the Tories, Fight for Socialism” lay saturated and in risk of being swept away with the current. Many, however had already found their way into the hands of the students. It seems more like a socialist recruitment drive than a protest, bringing politics into what should be an entirely non-political subject.
Prior to the march I stop to meet with Anya and Al, who are members of the UK Student Climate Network which is the group which hosts the climate strikes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I catch up with them whilst the others dart about making final preparations. They tell me about the aims of the UKSCN;
DEMAND 1-SAVE THE FUTURE
The Government declare a climate emergency and implement a Green New Deal (see appendix) to achieve Climate Justice.
DEMAND 2-TEACH THE FUTURE
The national curriculum is reformed to address the ecological crisis as an educational priority.
DEMAND 3-TELL THE FUTURE
The Government communicate the severity of the ecological crisis and the necessity to act now to the general public.
DEMAND 4-EMPOWER THE FUTURE
The Government recognise that young people have the biggest stake in our future, by incorporating youth views into policy making and bringing the voting age down to 16.
As we march it is rather striking that even amongst the die hard crew there seems to be a belief that when it comes to saving the planet the ball is in the governments court alone. Contrary to this view, the inspiration for these marches; schoolgirl Greta Thunberg at the time I write this has just sailed to New York rather than flying, not just because it sends a message but because it is the right and good thing to do. ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. We all have power and we should do all that is within our power to do. One very simple thing is to turn up to a protest. The protest itself; a simple demonstration of this personal power of freedom of expression, a human right. However when exercising your rights make sure you bring suitable clothes, otherwise you end up dashing off for a disposable plastic poncho from the offie round the corner. Two pounds. Bargain. An example of a misuse of power that keeps the current system in place.
I am greatly impressed with Anya. A few weeks earlier she was delivering a talk at a multi-faith assembly in Church House (Church of England HQ) as part of the “The time is now’ Mass lobby on the 26th June. A day that saw an estimated 12,000 constituents speaking to over 195 MP’s about climate change, asking them to commit to zero emissions by 2045. Among these 12,000 lobbyists was a large contingent of Catholic school groups (with proud teachers) engaging politicians in a genuine conversation about our common home.
Anya addressed a packed Church House, talking alongside the former archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams among others. She herself of the Quaker community spoke of the need for both personal and governmental change in our fight against our ecological crisis, motivated by the belief that we are all of God and therefore equal. Climate change; a grave injustice must therefore be addressed.
The mass lobby day saw Anya being supported by the multi faith community, the student protest march has been a stark difference. I am aware that encouraging strikes puts institutions and organisations in difficult positions but there must be some ways that they could be represented, so that we don’t end up with the march being hijacked by a particular movement, thus polarising the climate issue to belonging to a particular political ideology, consequently diminishing its perceived credibility by those who need be persuaded.
Anya tells me about the next strike on September the 20th. ‘This is a global strike where we’re encouraging adults, unions and everyone to come out and join us’.
If these protests are to make a real difference then it requires everyday folk. So long as the topic of the environment continues to carry the stigma of being a leftist hippy fad it will do no good in convincing those that need be convinced. Signs such as “f*** you CO2” whilst showing a basic level of rhyming indicate little in the way of compassionate world view. We should not be carrying banners that breed division but rather carrying a diverse array of banners from different faiths and institutions such as scouts and brownies, cadets, sports clubs uniting over a common cause.
I personally would need convincing in the way that principles of the Green New Deal were implemented. However my concern for technicalities is less important than supporting a movement that seeks to tackle humanities greatest catastrophe, against a doomsday clock, saving and improving the lives of potential Billions of my brothers and sisters. The only way I can influence the debate is get involved.
One sign raised above the others crystallises the debate. Making clear sense above the chaos.
You can read Anya’s full speech from the mass lobby here: www.quaker.org.uk/our-work/our-stories/a-seventeen-year-old-quaker-s-urgent-call-for-climate-justice
Find the nearest strike to you: www.ukscn.org/events
Read other articles on the School strikes on our Magazine.
APPENDIX: THE PRINCIPLES OF THE GREEN NEW DEAL
Totally decarbonise the economy of the United Kingdom through a government-led, ten year mobilisation for a just and prosperous transition including the infrastructure needed to benefit all communities and workers.
Create millions of new, well-paid and secure jobs ensuring sustainable and meaningful livelihoods for all workers, including those in today’s high emissions sectors.
Massively reduce social and economic inequalities with investment targeted in communities where it is most needed in the UK as a result of historic and current oppression, and the green economy that emerges will operate equitably and work in the interest of these communities.
Protect and restore vital threatened habitats and carbon sinks, and ensure the provision of clean water, clean air and green spaces, securing a safe and healthy environment for all.
Build a resilient society prepared for the impacts of climate change that are now unavoidable, readying ourselves in unity to meet these challenges in ways that protect the most vulnerable, including: deindustrialised communities, the global south, deprived rural communities, communities of colour, migrant communities, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the homeless, people with disabilities and young people.The green new deal which they are promoting, which aims to implement policy through government to decarbonise our economy and alongside the transformation of our transport infrastructure, change the way we grow food, manage land, and the way we work.