“What do we want? CLIMATE JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!” Reflections from the UK #ClimateStrike – Nikita Shah

Reflective contributions and pictures from: Lauren Pett, Catherine Cameron, Nigel Thornton Kate Cerna, Mark Kelleher, and Lucy Stone.

On Friday 20th September the Agulhas team joined millions of people around the globe in the #ClimateStrike in London and Salisbury which had been inspired by, organised, and coordinated by a movement set up, not by Unions, not by adults, but by schoolchildren and youth.

The day was filled with chanting, speeches, performances, marching, witty banners and placards. Here are some of the team’s collective reflections and pictures from the day.

Walking in to Parliament Square and across a sea of drifting protesters on Mill Bank, I was struck by the diversity in the ages of the people; young and old, student and worker, three generations of families with buggies and face-painting; parents, grandparents and children; all lending their time to the greater good. Present were the adults who were invited to join the children in their protest about their stolen future. The collective power of so many thousands of people gathered in the late September sunshine uniting their voices against climate change was more than impressive, it felt like a sea of change and a moment of genuine impact.

It wasn’t your usual kind of protest; the first thing I encountered when entering the park where the rally was taking place was the large sandpit filled with nursey-age children and their parents dressed in multicolour playing in the sand, painting placards and passing around picnic sandwiches. And although the messages on those placards were of anger and frustration, the prevailing mood amongst the protesters was actually pretty light-hearted, inspired.

The crowds stopped and listened to multiple speakers throughout the day, but the most inspiring speeches of the day came from two young fantastic speakers from Malawi; the teenagers linked the impacts of climate change to their livelihoods, the overall economy of the country, health, development and their future. Which in contrast to some of the more overtly political messages from the politicians and columnists, conveyed a message that was deeply personal, energised and above all, urgent. To hear experiences of those that are directly impacted was evoking. The messaging around climate change remains largely negative emphasising the need for action from a place of panic, fear and urgency. Perhaps a shift towards a positive story of what might be possible could also be a productive call to action.

What continues to surprise me is hearing young activists recognising the colonial legacy and implications of empire on climate change in the present day. The youth are so aware of who will be affected the hardest and how their livelihoods will be impacted the most. Though climate change does not recognise race or class, it is the indigenous people, ethnic minorities and the Global South at large who will face the consequences the hardest. The speeches were filled with the recognition of privilege that those in the Global North have and how decades of capitalism and the obsession over GDP growth and profit margins, without counting in the dire costs to the environment have contributed to climate change. I heard the hurt and disappointment in their voices, offended that the generations that came before failed to do their part to promote climate justice. Yet these activists use these feelings as a catalyst, motivation to continue on as inspiring change makers mobilising support from young and old around the world.

What further stood out was the powerful use of art, music, theatre and performance that juxtaposed rhetoric around policies and academic literature. From the performers draped in red robes, protesting amongst the crowds ushering images of emergency, blood spill and death of species to the group of young women rapping and theatre kids performing a song all about their perspectives on climate change to the creativity on the banners, placards and face paint.

On my way from the rally to join the march in Parliament Square, I met a group of parents with their children who had only just met. While some were committed activists, others had joined in protesting for the first time. I asked them why they had decided to come with their children on the day, and their responses were the same: the day was not about skipping school or taking the day off work, or causing trouble. It was about morals, education, right and wrong. It was about fighting for the future.

While understandably the focus has been on the huge numbers of people gathering in London, it’s worth noting all the many towns and cities across the country who also turned out for the climate strike. In a way, this is a more interesting reflection of public opinion. A group of parents from schools in Wiltshire, gathered together to support teenagers from schools in Salisbury, and were joined by many grandparents and people of all generations. Several hundred people marched through the streets, behind the young people. An inspiring speech by the headmaster, who called on the adults to not leave the responsibility to young people, for us to step up and take responsibility as adults, teachers, parents. He said there were many pupils in his schools with high levels of anxiety. That their engagement in the school strikes was helping with this anxiety, providing a sense of community and agency. But we cannot leave this to the teenagers.

Overall the #ClimateStrike has been a really inspiring, positive experience. Joining millions of people leaving school, work or whatever else they were doing on a Friday lunchtime to gather together to demand change and climate justice in one of the largest global climate protests the world has ever seen. People individually can often feel so irrelevant in the grand scheme of climate issues, but partaking in protests such as this makes you feel like there is hope. That you are not just one person, but part of a community that is growing in strength and number. It is great to see that young people are leading the charge organising sit-ins outside Downing Street, leading chants and giving the whole event an unwavering energy, it’s an awe-inspiring display of the power they wield. I feel that protesting is the most valuable thing you can do alongside personal lifestyle changes. There are so many reasons to join climate strikes and I for one have joined because change must occur now, because I care about our planet and because it’s time for all generations to join in and call for action together!

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