15 March, 2019. Remember this date. One hundred and fifty thousand kids rallied in cities and towns around Australia protesting to government and political parties about their inadequate response to climate science. They rallied in defiance of conservatives such as our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Many thousands more rallied in cities around the world; it was after all, a global event, scheduled to take place on that date internationally. In solidarity with their cause, I attended the Sydney rally.
Not especially political at 14 but with a strong lean towards justice, I attended my first protest rally in 1968. I skipped school that day. I didn’t tell anyone except my brother. My parents and the nuns at school would have forbidden it. But I wanted to be counted among the thousands who were against the war in Vietnam. With no clue how to get there, I’d gone to the moratorium alone. No google maps back then! I simply asked people on the street for directions to get to Queen’s Park, the rally point.
On the way I’d been anxious: would I make it there on time? Would I get home before my parents? But when I arrived, my nerves transformed to excitement. The people, the placards, the chanting … it was exhilarating. We were united by a common goal; we fervently desired to stop that war. The energy in the faces and voices in the crowd was electrifying. I remember the goose bumps on my skin. And the emotion: tears and joy were on rotation all through that day.
An incredible 50 years has passed since then, yet the school climate strike had a similar effect on me as the anti-Vietnam Moratorium. So many kids skipped school to be there. Some were so young, they were there with their parents. Many held their own hand-painted placards with clever propositions: ‘Lets now pause for a moment of science’; ‘Playtime is over; take action now’ and ‘The Libs like it HOT’.
Vibrant high-pitched voices giggled and called out. Youthful faces smiled. They had come to express their profound disappointment in Australia’s political backwardness on climate. ‘Sick of the inaction,’ they said. They raged against politically-based assertions that ‘Coal is the future’ or that we are ‘meeting climate targets’ when reputable sources tell us these assertions are false. ‘We’re tired of hearing the lies’, they said. They expressed their fear for the future of the planet. They reminded us that we are facing an immediate climate crisis, evident in diminishing water supplies, increased temperatures and pollution, rising sea levels, extreme climate events and ever-growing mountains of waste.
In so many ways, these teenagers were typical: full of energy and optimism; ready to meet life head-on; wanting to gobble it up. It was obvious there had been a lot of work leading up to the day, with many individual and collective action: thinking and feeling about the planet and the future; planning and coordinating the actual events. All these acts were expressions of love. How often do we see our young people in that light? Expressing their love for their natural environment, their communities and for the planet? More surprising was their willingness to be openly vulnerable: telling us they are worried about the climate catastrophe already happening; afraid for the future, and sick of being misled. Not only that. In the face of continuing political inaction, they issued a warning: ‘We will rise’.
It was frankly moving to hear from kids who had traveled from regional towns to share local stories of what has already been lost to all of us in the natural environment. Among these, the most sobering and heart-wrenching were the voices of young, indigenous kids. They reminded us of the dispossession of their lands and the deep knowledge embedded in their culture about land stewardship. They reminded us that our brutal and greedy takeover of country has resulted in the degradation of land, sea and air.
There were so many amazing speakers of 12, 13 or 15 years of age. I was tearful, joyful, amazed. Above all, I felt inspired and deeply connected with these young ones. Their fears met our fears: the fears of the many adults who have been raging about the degradation of the planet since the 1980s. And their hope met our hope: that maybe we can find a way to come back from the mess we have made with our mass production and mindless consumerism. There was no us and them. They are us and we are them. Together we can and must seize the opportunity to make things right for the planet.
What do we want?
When do we want it?