Newcastle day of action for climate change. Photo: Newcastle Counterfire Newcastle day of action for climate change. Photo: Newcastle Counterfire

Climate change is bringing young people on to the streets, where they are talking about system change, reports Newcastle Counterfire

The new youth movement continues to take to the streets to demand action on climate change, as around 200 people marched through the centre of Newcastle on Friday 12thApril, before assembling for a rally at Grey’s Monument.

The movement is gathering support from wider layers.  Though a youth initiative, the demo included supporters of all ages from various parts of the labour and social movements, such as trade unionists, People’s Assembly activists, Extinction Rebellion, and local Labour and Green activists.  There also continues to be an awareness of the wider politics.  “We want system change not climate change” announced Bethan of Extinction Rebellion from the open megaphone, “Today we are behind you in solidarity.”

As evident from the two previous rallies in Newcastle, this movement has gone far beyond any focus on individual morality.  Instead, young people are deploying the language of insurgency and making connections to wider issues of democracy and wealth distribution. As one female student said:

We live in a society where the people who run it are so disconnected from the rest of us.  They hate us, they just want to make money.  It’s about profit!

This, and many other similar contributions, drew massive cheers.

That young people have been so quick to make these kinds of generalisations shouldn’t come as any surprise.  They have grown up with austerity, a growing wealth gap, an increasingly punitive education system (one mother told of how her son has been expelled by his academy for his involvement in climate strikes), and a growing abyss between the empty rhetoric of politicians and the people they claim to represent.  They are turning to each other for alternatives, and for the sense of urgency over these issues young people have seldom, if ever, seen from the establishment.

Standing underneath the monument to Charles Grey – a man often credited with the abolition of slavery – one young activist powerfully emphasised the role of mass resistance from below in transforming society:

While he was Prime Minister, slavery was made illegal.  And now they want you to believe that slavery was made illegal because he grew a conscience.  That’s not how it happened.  Slavery ended because slaves fought back.  They said no and we’re going to say no again!

Many young people are acutely aware of the scale of political change needed, and how it intersects with other struggles.  Calling for support from people of different parties, organisations and trade unions, one Year 10 student talked of the need for a “green new deal… to make sure that everyone’s livelihood is protected and to create a more equal society.”

The demonstration received support from the Labour candidate for North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, pledging that his first action if elected would be to declare a climate emergency, but that this is a movement which should be driven from the grassroots upwards – that young people should “become the politicians”.

Tony Dowling of North East People’s Assembly reinforced the theme of linking up the different struggles by emphasising the role of climate action in a mass movement against austerity and neoliberalism.  The runaway train of free market anarchy must be confronted in order to enable a shift to renewable infrastructure and green jobs.  Tony called for further support from the trade unions.

Following the protest, young people assembled for a meeting to plan the next steps for the movement.  While the self-organisation of young climate activists goes from strength to strength, there is also evidence of a generalisation taking place, with a focus upon an unequal and undemocratic system which causes misery and alienation for millions of people, not least the young.

The next day of action is planned for Friday 24th May.