“The student strikes have been phenomenal — surreal at times,” Sydney high school student Chloe Russell-Alexander told Green Left Weekly reflecting on the huge Climate Strike that saw more than 300,000 people walk out of school or work across Australia on September 20.
“The fact that, simultaneously, 4 million people across the globe pressed pause on their life, work and school to attend the climate strikes is just phenomenal.”
“That reflects education, cooperation and social cohesion on a massive scale. It means that we mean business.”
Following the strike, GLW spoke to students involved in organising at their school about their views on the protest and what comes next.
Year 10 Sydney student Parker Craig told GLW that the climate strikes were a “major” turning point — especially for climate-denying governments like Australia’s.
Leo Crnogorcevic, a Melbourne School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) organiser, feels the fact that protests have “galvanised an entire generation of new activists is especially significant”.
“It means that the climate crisis is bringing a new generation into activism.
“And because the strikers are young, they have brought the political focus back to activism, rather than electoral politics.
“It is breathtaking to observe how marching on the streets, rather than just lobbying politicians, is fast becoming the norm.”
Another strength, according to Crnogorcevic, is how quickly what began as school student protests has grown into a broad, mass movement.
“Compared to the two previous strikes, the latest one in Australia had the largest participation from other organisations — trade unions, activist groups, Indigenous and Pacific Islander movements.”
Strike organisers said the size of protests — more than double the 150,000 of just 6 months ago — shows students are not going to stop pushing for real action to deal with the climate emergency.
Pointing to Swedish striker Greta Thunberg’s speech to the United Nations, Craig said the strikes “are a sign that we live in truly pivotal and politically unrestful times”.
She said the sheer number involved in taking action “to demand the exact same thing” is “truly astounding”.
Australian PM Scott Morrison, who was in the United States in the days following the strike, chose not to attend the United Nations climate summit because he would only have been able to listen, not speak.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said only those countries that had lifted their carbon emissions reduction targets would be given a speaking spot.
“The fact that so many people have [protested] and politicians can ignore them is embarrassing, baffling and shameful,” Craig said.
For Russell-Alexander, “The government’s response — or lack thereof — has been disappointing to say the least.
“The lengths Scott Morrison has gone to — such as visiting a box-making factory and uploading a taxpayer-funded video in support of the Wallabies — to ignore the actions of 300,000 Australians is both petty and humiliating.”
The students are keen for more action and will be taking part in the global Week of Rebellion being organised by Extinction Rebellion, which starts on October 7.
Asked about what next, Russell-Alexander believes it is important to coordinate with Traditional Owners, perhaps around a Climate Embassy.
Crnogorcevic said school strikers “need to think of a concrete and wide-ranging strategy” that involves “closer collaboration with trade unions in particular”.
SS4C needs to stay focussed on its three core demands, Crnogorcevic added, and avoid falling for the “market-based platitudes” being pushed by some.
“There is a conscious attempt to depoliticise the movement by portraying climate change as somehow ‘above politics’. Some older organisers want to play it safe.
“That will not deflect attacks from the Murdoch media, but it will have a moderating influence.
“Greater involvement of working-class students is essential.”
For Craig, the next steps require “identifying the systems we live under and how they affect our current climate — both the political climate and ecological climate.
“We [also] need to work out how we can best dismantle … the capitalist system that continues to wreck our planet”, she added.