On March 15, students organised the biggest global strike for real action on climate change ever seen. More than 80 countries took part.
In Perth, 3000 students and supporters marched through the CBD, joining an estimated 150,000 people around the country.
Green Left Weekly’s Chris Jenkins caught up with Mandurah high school student and protest organiser Chaela King about the strike and what is being planned next.
How did you find the protest? Did it meet your expectations?
I definitely wasn’t expecting such a great turn out. The numbers on Facebook was nowhere near the 3000 or so people who came. I also wasn’t prepared for the awesome energy of the march: I literally had tears as we were marching up St Georges Terrace.
We were able to be a lot more organised on the day than I thought. For students to be so organised allowed us to be a lot more influential than I thought possible.
I’ve heard from a lot of people that this movement won’t be able to achieve anything, including things like “I’ve been striking for 30 years and it doesn’t achieve anything”.
Yet when I looked at the faces of people as we were marching, I knew we were having an impact.
What drew you towards getting involved?
Well, I live here. I live on this planet. I think that’s a pretty good reason to be involved.
When people say “You’ve got to do something for your future,” I see this movement as doing exactly that. There is no Planet B.
The students involved in this movement aren’t doing it for fun; we are being forced to strike because the people who should be taking real action aren’t.
This is our life and our future and we can’t just sit back and hope that things work themselves out.
What were the attitudes of people around you?
The main thing I kept hearing was: “You’ve got to think about your future”, as in “You better stay in school and not strike”.
A lot of my friends weren’t convinced that this student action is going to do anything. But if you don’t try to do something, then of course nothing is going to change, right?
Ironically, any talk of “think about your future” that does not recognise the need for serious action on climate goes nowhere because there won’t be the type of future that I or anyone else can survive unless we get this sorted.
Because so many students and youth cannot vote, they are not usually taken seriously by those in power. What is your opinion on the role young people can play by taking such strike action?
My response to that is you can’t chuck someone into a car and expect them to know how to drive.
We are learning how to express ourselves and raise our voices by putting our thoughts into action. The earlier that someone can get involved the better.
Young people don’t have the luxury of waiting until “later on” to claim the space; our environment is collapsing and lots of older people aren’t doing anything about it. They’re almost like “We’ll be dead in a few years anyway” but that’s obviously not the situation for young people.
There’s a real need for a change in our social psychology: we can’t keep competing with each other within politics, business and the media. This is not about the survival of the fittest and, if we want to survive, we need to evolve beyond this mindset.
I see this as one of the most crucial parts to this revolution because it’s one of the root problems to all problems: climate change, racism and poverty.
What needs to be the focus of discussions on climate change?
First, we need to acknowledge that [bad] things are already happening. We are already seeing the first climate refugees and the situation is only going to get worse unless we act.
We cannot waste any more time debating whether the climate is warming. We only have the time to ask ourselves what the next step is to turn this situation around.
The top 10% — the rich — might survive for a while, but then what? There’s not even a future for them and yet they are still putting short-term money making opportunities ahead of their futures and mine. Nothing is more important than a sustainable future.
What do you want to see this student-led movement do in the near future?
We need to find ways to be heard. Young people are the most affected by climate change, yet we aren’t being listened to.
We urgently need to find ways of getting our voices out into the public space. If this [student strike] needs to become a regular thing, then that’s what we need to do.
We need the broader community supporting us because we aren’t rich and we don’t have our own resources ready to go to make action happen.
What are the key challenges and obstacles to students organising a movement and how do you think these can be overcome?
Motivation and time, mostly. We are at that age where we are trying to get ready for the rest of our lives.
We are dealing with social pressures and the pressures that schools put on us to do well. There’s the ATAR [Year 12 score for entrance to university] and after that there’s uni.
Trying to motivate people to think that they should participate in trying to fix the climate at the same time as all this is hard.
Obviously the worse the climate situation gets, the harder also will be the solution. We can’t put it off. We somehow need to find a way of prioritising it amid everything else that’s going in our lives.
Are you expecting that more strikes will be organised in the near future?
Definitely. We got a bit of air time leading into March 15 on Triple J and a few other places. But we need so much more.
Eighty countries are now involved in this movement, not just Australia. It’s already huge and it definitely feels like there is a lot of positive momentum being built — which is exciting.
But students can’t fix the problems by ourselves. We need more and more people from the wider public to help us organise and support us when we do actions.
We’re not marching to fix the government or the climate, because as students that’s not something we can do all on our own.
We are marching to tell you — the adults of the world — that you need to fix it and fix it now.