We knew of this crisis in the ‘70s, and these strikes began in 2018. A whole pandemic has occurred, a generation of strikers have graduated, and we still haven’t had meaningful climate action, let alone justice.
Friday, 25 March was the day of the Global Climate Strike. Declared by Fridays for Future, cities all over the world have spent the last few months organising this strike. Australia was no exception, with protests from Perth to Newcastle run by the striking organisation, Students Strike 4 Climate.
The official Melbourne Climate Strike was held at Treasury Gardens. The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) had its own contingent, organised by the UMSU Environment Department, Indigenous Department, and the People of Colour Department, and together we marched to join the crowd of school students and other climate activist groups, some respected and some infamous, such as the Tomorrow Movement, Extinction Rebellion, and even groups of political parties.
Standing around the steps of Parliament House, the air was thick with anger, almost an oxymoron to the excitement that accompanied it. It was an energy that was almost similar to that of 2018, except a new frustration made this protest markedly different; a frustration owed to the buffoonery of the Coalition Government that we witnessed during the hard lockdowns.
There were three main demands from the strikers across the country that day:
- Move to public renewable energy by 2030.
- Ensure a just transition into clean energy for everyone working in coal and gas.
- Cease any new coal and gas investments.
This strike comes at a much needed time for action. A few weeks ago, the Federal Court made the decision that Environment Minister Sussan Ley does and will not have a duty of care for young people in Australia regarding the climate crisis. And of course, the Federal Election is looming, and discourse and debate around the climate crisis will surely thicken. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, in simple terms, told us that we’re fucked. Things are worse than initially thought.
Also, at our own university, fossil fuel corporations are still being invested in.
Brittney Henderson, UMSU Indigenous Office-Bearer (OB) and rally speaker put it best: “I am simply here as someone who is bloody scared that not enough is happening to stop a crisis we’ve known about for decades.”
Watching the young speakers last week calling for action, and the signs held by children and even babies at the rally, my heart couldn’t help but break. It was almost half a decade ago when I attended my first climate strike, screaming the same chants and listening to the same speeches. Except now, I’m no longer a high school student, and the speeches include facts more extreme than they were when I once spoke. We knew of this crisis in the ‘70s, and these strikes began in 2018. A whole pandemic has occurred, a generation of strikers have graduated, and we still haven’t had meaningful climate action, let alone justice.
Image provided by Chelsea Daniel.
Perhaps that is why the climate strike is more than just a one-day event. The “Four Days for Future” covers things from the strike to organising meetings and even a rave. The organisation itself is campaigning against Josh Frydenberg in the Kooyong electorate.
Niamh O’Connor Smith, an organiser for Students Strike 4 Climate for the past three years and Tomorrow Movement, as well as UniMelb student stated that “a four day event is just a start in where we need to head.
“The idea was to get people to begin actively organising, to do more than just show up to a climate rally every 6 months but instead become organisers who together can create change. …
“I have been doing this for 3 years, showing up, organising, mobilising others, fighting for climate justice. Nothing has changed!”
Following the speeches on the steps of the Parliament House, the strikers walked through Bourke Street, then Collins, then Flinders, stopping in front of the main Flinders Train Station, effectively creating traffic for the inner-city professionals who could vote for the underage students screaming for hope. Rally cries of “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Coal, don’t dig it, keep it in the ground, it’s time to get with it!” were screamed from all ends of the mass crowd.
As one of the founding members of the Students Strikes for Climate Newcastle, Abby Manning organised the biggest mobilisation in the regional city’s history. On Friday, they marshalled in Naarm (Melbourne) while younger students “took the helm”. Labelled a ‘grad striker’, they thought they were able to retire from the SS4C movement.
“I wouldn’t say it’s disheartening, but frustrating comes to mind,” Manning said.
When asked about the impacts of covid on the climate strike movement, they sighed resignedly: “We’ve had a lot of setbacks in covid, digital advocacy is never what we want it to be, and frankly it never will be.”
Abby now focuses on political campaigning, but is still drawn back to help the unpaid student strikers. This is common with many ‘grad’ strikers. But, it is worth remembering, there is a reason grad strikers are coming back, and they wouldn’t be if there wasn’t some form of collective optimism.
The Climate Strike proved that once again the youth are angry, frustrated, and tired. Young people are burnt out in an attempt to save the world from burning. There’s still a sense of hope, and with the Federal Election coming up, hope is more vital than ever to enact some form of action. This year's Climate Strike was a vision of that, with tertiary education students and high school strikers alike coming together, asking for the same things as they did in 2018, screaming in the same streets as they did four years ago.
Perhaps, after a pandemic, there is a chance this election will turn out different. Maybe, just maybe, they will finally have adults voting with them, and the numbers will be enough to call for action. After all, nothing can beat the power of young optimism.
Image provided by Moira Negline.
Disclosure: The author, Chelsea Daniel, is one of the UMSU Environment Office Bearers.