On Friday 15 March, young people worldwide left their classes to march for their future at #youthstrike4climate. This global action was inspired by 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg who started missing classes every Friday to campaign outside the Swedish parliament in the name of climate change, an initiative now being coined as ‘Fridays for Future’.
While Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for this action, students everywhere are making slightly smaller strides towards change. Florence Lonergan, a sixth-form student, organised the march in Norwich. In attendance were sixth-formers, UEA students, and even an entire primary school class accompanied by their teachers from across the region, including King’s Lynn and parts of Suffolk, too. This is the second strike Lonergan has organised, the first being February’s Fridays for Future a month earlier.
When asking Lonergan why she decided to do this, she told me she ‘saw no one had registered a strike for Norwich, so I thought if no one else was doing one then I would’. There is much criticism globally about students using this as ‘an excuse to get out of school’, or ‘to get attention’, but Lonergan has clearly shown this was not a selfish act. She saw that no one else had the time or motivation to organise action and had taken initiative. She highlights how she’s ‘always been aware of climate change to an extent’ but she’s become ‘more and more invested in the future of our world’, along with millions of young activists. It has indeed been on the radar of many of these activists for their entire lives, with the average age of protesters on Friday 15, like Thunberg, being 16 years old.
Despite this not being my first foray into the world of activism, I was inspired to join the march by environmental sciences lecturer Andrew Manning. As with many students, the prospect of having to catch up on a full day of lectures and seminars was sadly enough to deter me from taking action. However, upon receiving an email from Manning informing the cohort of the protest, and his intentions to teach his lecture twice to allow us to participate, many ENV students thought again. I spoke to Manning about this decision; he wanted to attend the protest but couldn’t due to his duty to teach. He feels that ‘It wouldn’t have been fair on students to insist that they attend my lecture on an alternative date just because of my own views (despite how important they are!)’, so the next best thing he could do was enable us to demand change ourselves and even highlighted that he feels it would be ‘quite appropriate’ if the Vice Chancellor endorsed action in line with #fridaysforfuture, which is an ongoing movement, along with mentioning his desire to see more university staff at protests in the city when they are not teaching.
Moreover, the stereotype has long been held that activism is for the more ‘alternative’ among us, many of my peers have expressed worries that they ‘wouldn’t fit in’ at a protest. And while this may be true for past actions, I think it’s clear in history that when something is this important, activism transcends social boundaries. It takes going mainstream for real change to occur. We need only look to the action of the Suffragettes to see that it wasn’t just the ‘alternative youth’ demanding change. Despite this, it’s clear to myself, and Manning, that protesting ‘has to be an individual decision’. Marching around the city centre with a banner isn’t for everyone and I understand that. Manning highlighted that ‘people can have very different ways of being an activist’, activism can be making a change in your family, in your household or on social media. It could even be working hard now to gain an influential position later in life when you can act to make policy change on a larger scale, or as Lonergan rightly said ‘reusable coffee cups and straws can make all the difference’. You may not have the time to protest, but there’s little excuse for not making small lifestyle changes, and that doesn’t make you any less of an activist.
I’ve seen many a student disregarding climate action as something they ‘don’t have the time for’, or ‘too science-y for me’, but whether we like it or not, as Dr Read says this is ‘going to be a permanent emergency marking the entire lifetime of young people today’. This isn’t just a matter of a scientific news story, and it’s not something I believe we have the right to choose – it’s our future now whether we like it or not. When I asked long-time activist Read what his words of wisdom are for young people beginning this journey, his advice was ‘be in it for the long haul’, which although slightly disheartening is entirely appropriate. While this is going to affect our generation more than any before and we are likely to be dealing with it our entire lifetimes, we might not see the improvements we aim for before we die. Philosophical activists like Read are campaigning for change to allow future generations, whom we may never meet or talk to, to be able to enjoy a life like ours.
The next strike is in London on 12 April (owing to it being the Easter holidays). Come along with banners and chants to use your voice for your future.