“It’s driven by emotion, because we want to live”: School climate strike heard across London
The school climate strike in central London showed all the signs of a living social movement last Friday, fighting for all of our rights to stay alive. To learn how Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) infusion of radical direct action is shaping the school strikes, we spoke to participants, all under 25, who joined roadblocks at Parliament Square.
Marching from Mallet Street to Parliament via Trafalgar Square, the student block followed a standard route. While its sound system played Skepta’s Shutdown, it was at Nelson’s Column that the real shutdown was taking place; with hundreds of school and college students blocking the road.
As the police sought to restart the traffic, the blockades stayed fleet-footed. Opposite Parliament, Niusha, 22, from UCL, took part in a flash road occupation and expressed her admiration for the school kids who defied the police orders to move on: “Thirteen-year-olds are doing it. They’re doing what everyone should be doing. I was scared to sit down, and I’m twenty-two. So what they’re doing is great.”
A moment earlier, Fabian, 21, from LSE told us: “Nobody can beat the people. If there are enough people on the road, nobody can stop us, especially not if there are cameras.” Meanwhile, the kids on the tarmac chanted “sit down and give a fuck!”
“It’s driven by emotion, because we want to live.”Scarlet, 17
There were no mass arrests, but a few brave young women defied the police until they were dragged off.
Blockade participants Millie, Scarlet and Becky, all 17, agreed it was about making their voices heard. “You need to do a bit more to be listened to,” said Millie. “We’ve tried all the ways of protesting, petitions and marches and so on.”
When asked what they would say to older people who claim the new, young climate movement is driven more by emotion than reason, they all rejected this as a false dichotomy. “Our generation is more awake to what’s going on and what’s affecting us in a way older generations aren’t,” Millie explained. “Emotional isn’t a negative term. You have to be emotional about these things. We can’t turn away because it’s difficult.” Scarlet agreed: “It’s driven by emotion, because we want to live.”
As soon as one blockade is targeted by police, another springs up. Ella joined a roadblock in the southwest corner of Parliament Square. “I feel like the government aren’t doing anything and we’re going to have to take the matter into our own hands,” she said. “I felt it’s the only way we’re going to get any reaction out of people, to do something that we’re not supposed to do. When our planet is dying it doesn’t seem like a big deal to just sit in the road in front of some cars.”
On the question of whether she has experienced a divide between the demands for a Green New Deal and the XR demands, Ella echoed everyone of school age we spoke to in that there was much more bringing the movement together: “The common ground is that we want people to stop destroying our planet.”
By Nelson Mandel’s statue hundreds of young people came together for an impromptu mosh pit. Inspired by the idea that the revolution needs to be fun, members of XR Youth deployed a sound system to transform a corner of the square into a party. People milling around the grass, eating, running and meeting added to a joyful spirit. Neither a stage nor speeches by self-proclaimed leaders were in sight.
Adding to the creative atmosphere were sound artist and musician Teddy, 19, and Thalia, a 23-year-old nanny, who brought to a roadblock a manikin plastered with the names of extinct species and a speaker playing recordings of their mating calls; “sounds you can’t hear on this earth anymore”. Teddy describes one as “a male calling out to a female, and there’s no others of its species left.”
Becky’s words feel poignant: “You’ve got to do it out of emotion, because we are emotional about it.” Friday’s climate strike demonstrated precisely how grief and anxiety for an uncertain future can be turned to radical action and a jubilant collective celebration of life.
Most of the people we spoke to were not closely familiar with XR, although they knew of it. But the example set by blockades and street parties have resonated with the school climate strikers – a generation of young people who seem to be taking to leadership, rather than being led.
Photo credit: David Dahlborn. Video credit: @IndyRikki & realmedia.press