Student climate strike: ‘It’s our future’

Students mobilise in Brisbane as part of the Student Strike 4 Climate Action on November 30. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

After the successful School Strike 4 Climate Action last November 30, where more than 15,000 students walked out of school, organisers have called another strike for March 15 as part of a Global Day of Action — and they are asking others to join in.

Richard Lane and Maureen Murphy spoke to Year 9 student Lilly Murphy, who has been involved in the School Strike 4 Climate Action, about the climate strike movement.

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How did you get involved with the Student Strike 4 Climate Action?

A few of my school friends knew about it due to social media. There were also a few signs around school.

One of them asked me about it because they knew I was quite politically active. They asked: “Are you going to this student strike” and I said “I think so”.

I found out more about it and we all decided to go.

What happened at your school in the lead up to the strike?

We [six students] had a maths exam on the day of the walkout. So with a few of my friends, we asked our teacher if we could change it. She asked the principal, and he said no.

We wrote an email to the principal asking what we could do, because we wanted to go to the protest but didn’t want to fail the exam.

We had a meeting with him and he seemed quite OK about it. Then right at the end of our discussion, he said: “I don’t think this is going to work.”

We had made an agreement and found a solution, but he said that the solution wasn’t going to work, even though both the [teacher and assistant principal] said it would work fine and that we were being very “adulty” about it.

Three of us decided that we would just go and fail the exam. We tried to talk to other teachers, but they wouldn’t listen. We were told by our teacher that we could do it the next week, but no one else would say that, so the other students did not want to risk it and just sat the exam instead.

Why do you think the school said no?

Well the [Victorian] Department of Education told principals, “Don’t let students go,” so he was probably under a lot of pressure from them and didn’t want to disobey.

So what happened on the day?

At the end of recess, about five or six of us went off [others left the school later], and there were already a few groups arriving [at the rally venue]. We hung around waiting for another friend who had been at an audition at another school.

Once she got there, we all walked from Victoria Gardens to Parliament House. There were already a whole lot of people there.

That was at exactly the same time that the people from Castlemaine [a country town 100 kilometres from Melbourne] arrived; a group of 200-300 people. We were: “Wow, is that just one school or what?”

We went to the back and started holding up our signs and joining in with everyone else. I couldn’t hear the speeches much. They were talking about how the government hasn’t been doing much about climate change and how great it was that so many people were there.

What did you see as the key demands?

One was that we want 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Another was stopping the Adani coalmine, which is a really terrible thing.

It was also about getting the government to notice and actually act on climate change. We wanted to say that we are not going to sit by and let this planet be ruined by people older than us who won’t be around when the effects are making a huge impact.

We are going to fight so that when we are their age, and our children are around, we don’t have to live in a really bad world.

What do you think of the comments made by government leaders?

I think that it didn’t actually work for them at all, especially the “more learning, less activism.”

I know a few people who said: “OK, I am going to the protest now, I am not going to accept the prime minister telling us to have less activism in schools.”

A lot of people got very angered by him saying that, and so they came.

Many saw it like: “Maybe there should be more learning and less activism, but that can only happen if you guys are actually doing stuff, and listening to us. So this is one way you will hear us.”

The strike was bigger in Australia than in many other countries. Do you have any ideas why that may be so?

The strike movement was started by a Swedish student, Greta, who said: “I hope that this strike continues in other countries that are very well off, like Australia.” So that was how it got started here, I think by a few Castlemaine students.

Facebook and Instagram were the main ways of sharing it; also just people talking to other people.

There is also the issue that Australia is not really doing much at the moment for climate action. Some of the countries have a few little things they are doing, so it is harder for people there to say: “Hey, do more.” But here, they are doing basically nothing.

What do you think are the implications for ongoing organising?

I want things to continue until the government actually does something, especially at our school.

Even in the meeting with the principal we talked about some environmental issues that our school was contributing to. So slowly we are getting more schools to recognise that we need to change.

We are getting more schools to realise that we need to do a few little things. But if every school did something big, there would be a drastic impact.

So we need to make sure our schools do stuff like that as well.

What are the goals going forward?

Making sure that the prime minister actually does something about this.

Are there any lessons for people in other countries about how to go about organising this sort of thing?

Striking is one of the things that works for young people.

Social media is becoming a bigger thing, which is very helpful for getting our message across, but one of the things that the government will actually listen to is when we walk out of school, go on strike, and go to Parliament House to protest.

Do you get the feeling that your generation is going to be more politically active than past generations?

What I think is that we have grown up seeing all this stuff due to things like social media. I look at political sites, get political information from all over the world, and see opinions of what people think is wrong. That is impacting things a lot.

Also, we know climate change is real, and we can see it. Some of the older people might not want to, or just think that it “does not bother me.” But for us it does.

People say: “You shouldn’t be bothered by it.” But we should be. This is our future: in 50 years, a lot of the older generation will not be alive, but we will. And we don’t want a world that is so shit when we are older, or when our children are alive.

Are you going to the next student strike on March 15?

Definitely.

What about others at your school?

A lot of my friends are interested in going to the strike. There will be more people from my school because it’s not at exam time, so it will be easier to get people there.

[Lilly Murphy is a member of the Socialist Alliance and Victorian Socialists.]