Fri 30 Nov 2018
I’m six years out of school, nearly graduated from university, and I’ve never seen a protest like this
The kids couldn’t believe it. The adults couldn’t believe it.
Martin Place hadn’t seen anything like it for years, and Elly and her sister had never seen anything like it – ever.
Elly, 14, and Aidan, 10, had come thinking the strike would be “a small thing”. Elly said she didn’t know many people from her school who were coming. She found a thousand others.
On Friday, in a crowded Martin Place, the chants went up and I’ve never felt prouder.
This week thousands of students in every state walked out of school to protest inaction over climate change and the sense that their future is being frittered away.
They had the signs, the statistics, the anger – and the solutions too. I looked around and felt I had seen the future, clever and full of passion.
I count myself as nearly of the same generation as the strikers. I’m six years out of high school, nearly graduated from university – but I’ve never seen a protest like this.
I came in with cynicism. In the exact same spot, I have seen so many protests wither on the vine, outnumbered by food-court patrons.
University students like to think that they are the epicentre of social change, or at least they were in the heyday of the 70s. But on Friday in Sydney all you could hear in the CBD were the school kids, and in Melbourne they stopped traffic at 1pm on a school day.
Activism seems to have skipped a generation, and I couldn’t be happier.
In Sydney, Jean Hinchliffe, 14, had the stage and took the roll, in a way. She asked who here was in primary school, who was in high school, who was from western Sydney, who had travelled from the bush, who wanted their politicians to do way more about climate change. The roar sent the microphones screaming into static and camera operators winced with their headphones in.
Scott Morrison had told them not to gather and that only made them feel better about doing it. Finally, something the politicians couldn’t control. That was the theme of the day – the frustration of feeling powerless.
“You have failed us all so terribly,” said Nosrat Fareha, 15, from Auburn Girls High school.
“We deserve better. Young people can’t even vote but will have to live with the consequences of your inaction for decades.”
Morrison was mentioned by every speaker and booed every time. How much he must regret that throwaway line in question time, that “kids should go to school” and be “less activist”, and the electoral harm it threatens to cause in a few more years.
It was so easily turned around, and the irony obvious to all. “If Scott Morrison wants children to stop acting like a parliament, then maybe the parliament should stop acting like children,” Manjot Kaur, 17, said.
It was an articulate anger, and the speakers made sure to say they had the solutions too, not just the doom and gloom. There was music and happiness. They sang Stand by Me and everyone knew the words – an old-school activist vibe to make anyone dewy-eyed. One girl said to another, “Oh I should have put you up on my shoulders for that!” and then did on the next song.
“Here’s to us”, said Fareha. “The generation that can’t wait until it’s too late”.
There will inevitably be blowback from the rightwing commentariat, and the politicians themselves, that these young activists have been whipped into a false frenzy. But that’s not what this was. It was a hesitant, cautious embrace of something long overdue.
“When I say student, you say power!” Hinchliffe shouted. They did. And it felt like a sense of self-actualisation – hundreds looking around and thinking yes, everyone is actually, really saying it too. Maybe it’s true. The call and response came up and down Martin Place in waves, swimming long laps. They were clutching their ears it was so loud.