School students spoke to Feyzi Ismail at the second Youth Strike 4 Climate in London on Friday. They are informed, defiant and resolute
The students say that this is a movement that had to happen, and they are right. The scientific consensus is that global warming is reaching crisis point, and millions of children understand that they will bear the effects. To be young right now, the future couldn’t be scarier. Except when you’re doing something to change the world.
In recent months, students all over the world have forced parents, teachers and politicians to pay attention. According to Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who inadvertently kicked off the global movement, over 1.4 million people in 125 countries were on the climate school strike on Friday. The movement looks set to grow.
Below are extracts from interviews at the climate strike in London on Friday 15 March, including an interview with one of the main organisers, Anna Taylor. The students are young, overwhelmingly female, informed about the scale and severity of the climate crisis and their messages are clear: the government must act now to change policy and force companies to cut emissions.
Perhaps most inspiringly, the students are making links between climate change and the capitalist system, and it’s resonating. They are increasingly arguing for the need for change – changing the rules, changing the politicians and ultimately changing the system.
Olivia, Evelyn, Kira, Amber, Evie (14-15 years old) / The Grey Coat Hospital
What made you want to participate in the climate strike today?
Because we want climate justice and because the government has been ignoring us for so long. It’s like not fair because they have spent so long going on about Brexit and it’s not important because our planet is dying, and we can’t just ignore that.
Was there opposition to the strike from your school?
Yeah, massive opposition. It’s quite sad because it’s almost like the school don’t want us to go and march here because they want to prioritise our education. But then at the same time what’s the point in prioritising our education if we won’t even have a future because of climate change?
What did you have to do to get here?
We kind of just, we kind of went against what [the school] said, and did what we thought was better because if we just stayed in school, we wouldn’t be able to show that we want change.
What would you have done if they had said you can’t go on the strike?
We would have gone anyway!
What about your parents?
My parents are supportive because it’s really important for us, and they like understand that our future is really important. With my parents, it took a lot of convincing. I think they are mainly just worried about our safety, but they support the actual cause completely and I think that’s like a really important thing.
Are you still in a minority at school?
Yes, but we really hope it grows. We think it’s really important that if everyone comes together and spreads this awareness about climate change and how things are like affecting our planet, then maybe the government might actually do something about it.
What’s your message for the government?
Change now! This government is annoying us. We’re probably going to die if they don’t do something about it and our planet is going to die. They really need to sort themselves out. And can they please just sort Brexit out already because it’s so unimportant compared to climate change.
You were chanting for Jeremy Corbyn. What do you think a Corbyn government could do?
In the last protest [Corbyn’s] response to the protest was really good because he understands that this is like an important cause. Theresa May’s response was a lot more negative because she thought that we should be in our education, but we think we shouldn’t have to study for a future that no one is trying to save.
Anna Taylor (17 years old), strike organiser
What’s your role in organising the climate strike?
I first set up the event page on FB and I set up the UK student climate network which helped organise the strikes as well.
What have you been doing to mobilise different schools?
Social media has had a massive impact and also we’re working with regional organisers across the UK so there are lots of students helping me and that’s why it’s grown so quickly.
How do you see this movement evolving?
We will keep striking until the government listens to us and considers our demands.
What’s the situation at your school?
I am still in a minority in my school, but it’s grown quickly, and the strikes are raising awareness amongst students that this is the greatest crisis facing our generation and they’re starting to realise they do have to stand with us in order to protect our future.
How do you see this movement growing, also in terms of making alliances with other groups?
We’re just going to keep growing and keep getting support. It’s a student-led movement and students do have power and we do have a voice, and this is demonstrating that. Hopefully the political leaders of the UK will consider meeting with us soon to discuss our demands and I think it will continue to grow and more people will join.
What are your demands?
The first demand is for the government to declare a state of climate emergency in the UK; the second demand is to reform the national curriculum so that it accurately portrays the crisis; the third demand is to honestly portray the crisis to the public; and the fourth demand is to recognise that as youth, we have the greatest stake in our future by incorporating our views into policymaking.
Yasmin, Abbey, Connie, Viv, Lourdes, Miranda, Maggie (12-13 years old) / Sixth Form Girls School, Twickenham
What brought you here, what are you concerned about?
Just our future, cause it’s not like everything is going well. The strike really needs to raise awareness. And because today is like the strike about kids coming off school, it’s showing that our future is more important than maybe like a day at school? And we need to like express that. It’s been really hot in February, and some people don’t believe in global warming, which is so silly. They need to wake up. We came here to try and make a point.
What did you have to do to get here? Did you have to negotiate with your teachers and parents?
We’re actually not allowed to be here. Our school sent out a letter saying they recommend not going – it’s unauthorised – but they didn’t say don’t go. A lot of teachers were fine with it, and our Art teacher is the one who told us about this. We had to call up the school and say how we’re going to march.
How did you feel going against the school?
It kind of felt good. Our whole school probably knows about it, but it feels like we’re proving the point even more by going against them, so they know even more what’s happening. We feel like we have the moral high ground.
What did you have to do to mobilise?
We told our parents and then we asked everyone who was going, and then made a group chat, and we organised everything. In our class, there’s like 7 of us, but the thing is, loads of people wanted to go but because of their parents and the school they couldn’t. But there are a lot of people in different years in the school who are going.
Do you think more people will want to come next time? Do you think parents will start to relent?
Yeah, if we tell them about it. If it’s a positive thing and seen as good, then they might change their minds.
What is the goal?
It’s shouldn’t be an angry act, it should just be spreading awareness. We just need to show them that we kind of care about this world so we should start. And that we care enough to leave school and that’s really important, our education. We’re quite young, and it’s showing that we know what’s happening and all the problems.
Where do see the movement going?
I hope we do this often. More and more people are trying to realise what’s going on, and talking about it, and they might decide to go. Everyone should be sharing this on social media and telling everyone, so I think if we have another strike like this, there will be way more people because they will know more about it.
What’s the best way to mobilise then?
By talking about it and putting posters up. My friend started a hashtag too.
Sam, Tom and Ben (15-16 years old) / University College School
Why are you on strike today?
Climate change is such an important issue and we need to stop it now. The government doesn’t seem to be listening to young people and so we need to show our support and show that we care.
Are your energies directed towards the government in particular?
I think it’s a mix of things. I think this protest can also like generate momentum for more youth strikes around the world, and that would be great thing. The government would make more of an effort if they believe that more people were interested in the issue. But also, systemic change is quite important.
How do you see systemic change?
I think socialism is definitely growing forward. Capitalism is ill-equipped to deal with a crisis of this scale, that affects all of us.
How did you mobilise in UCS?
Thanks to Tom, it was his idea! We started a petition and we asked the headmaster whether we could sort of take the day off to come and protest, and they said if we really wanted to, we could.
And what if they had said no?
I mean, I would have gone anyway, and I think there would have been a few of us. It’s good that the school understands that it’s something that we can relate to and it’s very, very important for us.
What about next month?
Um, we’re not sure, but we’ll definitely try and go again and get our school to change, yeah. It was pretty widespread this time, probably about 30%, but a lot of parents wouldn’t let their children go – parents had to email in to give permission. In our year we had quite a lot of people because I could talk to them. The more protests there are, the more people will feel comfortable to go to them.
Where do want this movement to go?
I think we definitely need to focus on systemic change, not just like neoliberal capitalism. But I think we need to try and really make a strong effort to extend the movement beyond climate change because it’s all interlinked and I think we really do need a socialist system to stop climate change. And focusing on very specific issues would be harder to get a huge group of people to support, but if we show that any solutions to this particular problem will be supported by everyone.
What’s your message for this government?
We need to change. It’s not going to work if we just focus on individual solutions, it’s about widespread systemic change. The government can’t just make a few more low emission zones and hope that keeps everyone quiet. And this isn’t just a message for the government, it’s a message for people actually trying to instil change. This issue is something that has to keep going and it’s not going to go away that quickly. Everyone has to get involved.
Aisha, Robin, Pramiya, Cerys (14-15 years old) / Wickham High School
What brought you to the climate strike?
We feel that the government isn’t doing enough to combat climate change. And yes, we’d encourage us as individuals to do more but there are also major corporations who keep releasing a lot of greenhouse gases and sometimes politicians avoid regulating them to try and win votes, for example, or for whatever reason, they’re not doing enough. So we as students think that it’s our future so we have a right to speak out and we want to compel them to do more because this is a crisis.
How did you mobilise in your school, to get your friends to come out?
We just spread the word amongst people because there were some people going already. There were multiple groups from our school who decided to take part in this, and school as a whole was quite neutral on it. They weren’t allowed to express a voice on it. And students were putting up posters around school to spread awareness, and on social media.
Did most of the students come?
A good portion of the students have come. The strike last time, not as many people went as people that are going now, and a lot of people are going now. So it’s enough to notice that there are missing seats in the classroom, that people are missing. Which is enough to make a difference.
Do you think it will be bigger next time?
Yes, it keeps growing.
How do you see this sort of pressure linked to other activity?
Obviously this is quite a big thing, but we as individuals can also do smaller scale things – so simple things like recycling, reducing water consumption, and eating less meat. But at this point, because we’re nearing 2030, when the IPCC says it’ll be irreversible, we are forced to do bigger things. So we can’t just get away with doing small things. Although it’s nice to be spreading the message and saying I believe in climate change, we also need to act on the message.
Are you mobilising in your wider communities?
We have an environment society at our school, and I think as a whole our school is quite good on the education side of it. We’re just hoping that doing a youth strike for climate, that might encourage so many adults to see how passionately we care about it and how this is a big issue for us especially, as children sometimes we feel like there is little we can do. We can go on strikes, we can go on protests, but we need the adults by our side, so hopefully other groups of people will see us and be inspired to do their part.
Video interviews in London and Newcastle
Feyzi Ismail teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is active in UCU
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