A view from the front lines
By Robbie MacPherson
On Friday the 20th of September, in a phenomenon inspired by the Swedish climate activist, 16-year old Greta Thunberg, young people mobilised in unprecedented numbers to demonstrate the importance of the need to act against the climate crisis. The students were accompanied by teachers, family members, and workers worldwide.
Hope for the Future (HFTF) sent members of staff across the UK, to engage with those involved in the strikes.
Rachel Mander, HFTF’s Church outreach officer, and I attended the strikes in London. The capital hosted more than 100,000 people on the day, with speakers including Jeremy Corbyn MP and Caroline Lucas MP. There was a real sense of determination by politicians, and citizens alike to ensure climate action is brought to the top of the political agenda - not just here in the UK, but around the globe. Almost all those present could be seen holding placards reading messages such as “I’d be in school if the world was cool,” “System change not climate change,” and my personal favourite “Winter is not coming.”
It was immensely empowering to be surrounded by people of all walks of life, including a young school-girl girl chanting “Save our planet” stood on a statue of Millicent Fawcett – a leading suffragette - in Parliament square. Rachel expressed feeling similar moods of unity when she attended an interfaith vigil at Westminster Quaker House, which was an “opportunity for people of all faith traditions to share their reflections, prayers, and hopes from the day”. The diversity amongst those present in London demonstrates that the issue of the climate crisis is one that truly transcends all demographics.
In Leeds HFTF’s deputy-director Sarah, and local councils officer Julia, joined around 12,000 people who turned out to express their frustration with current climate inaction. Reflecting on the day Julia said: “Sarah and I had great conversations with people of all ages; a young climate-striker who wanted her teachers to become allies in her campaign, XR activists who wanted more policy resources, and parents hoping to organise a workshop with us at their local primary school. Before we knew it we were back on the train to Sheffield, but we're looking forward to returning to Leeds and following up with the amazing people we met.”
Hope for the Future had a large presence at the Sheffield climate strikes, with researchers Logan and Rachel Sherrington, and events coordinator Emma being joined by volunteers Zoe and Maddie, as well as several trustees. The strikes in Sheffield are especially important to us, as Sheffield is our home and where we base the majority of our staff. After six years working to increase climate awareness, it was brilliant to see the climate movement gaining traction in the area. Roughly 5,000 people gathered in Sheffield city centre and outside the University of Sheffield throughout the day. The team ran a stall in the heart of the action, on hand to talk to strikers interested in Hope for the Future’s work and providing tailored advice about engaging with MPs, several of whom were in at the demonstration, holding meetings with activists! Young campaigners from across the city were keen to chat to the team about how they could get involved in further action on climate change. One group had travelled from Kirkby on a geography field trip and used their lunch break to participate in the action. Speaking to one group, a student from Sheffield said, “It's my first ever strike, it’s been amazing!”. Of the day, volunteer Maddie said, “It was truly inspiring to see young people being engaged in such an important issue.”
In her London speech Caroline Lucas said “it isn’t just sea levels that are rising, we are rising too” – this made me think more broadly about social change, and how it occurs. All movements require a grassroots level of activism, but without a majority working to support these movements on the inside of political institutions, such as Parliament, the climate strikes will never lead to tangible climate action. Striking alone isn’t enough, and for climate activists to be successful I believe that we must work with our elected representatives to change hearts and minds, only then will we be successful in eliminating the threats posed by the climate crisis and embracing the opportunities it presents.
To find out more on how to most effectively engage with your MP on the issue of climate change, get in touch Robbie@hftf.org.uk