“We the youth are rising up because we have no other choice” So says Noga Levy-Rapoport, 17, one of the organisers at UK Student Climate Network.
The third major UK youth protest this year began like the others at Parliament Square, but this time there was a much more co-ordinated and pre-defined march, up to Oxford Circus at the heart of London’s West End where they sat down to hear speeches and bring major disruption to everyday consumerism.
Some young people also participated in a globally co-ordinated reading of an excerpt from ‘Letters To The Earth” – a powerful 20 minute performance going public on Monday 15th to coincide with International Rebellion, and containing submissions from artist and peace activist Yoko Ono, American author Rebecca Solnit, award-winning poet Kate Tempest, British playwrights April De Angelis, Steve Waters and Nick Drake amongst others.
At the front of the march and at the sit-down rally, there was a massive ‘Green New Deal’ banner, a reference to the resolution proposed by the US Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and backed by around 60 members and a handful of senators, but up against much Republican resistance.
The resolution is fairly radical within the framework of US politics, with demands not only around fossil-fuels and emissions, but also economic and social justice, including universal healthcare. But even groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have said it doesn’t go far enough, so there are concerns that the student climate network has already effectively been compromised and assimilated within a political system that still sees a goal of economic prosperity through growth, albeit ‘green’ growth.
For those who believe a much bigger transformation of mankind’s destiny is required, this might be a disappointment. February’s youth strike was a grassroots, home-made rebellion, but on Friday, the inevitable influx of clone Socialist Worker banners, and the declaration of Green New Deal demands, had the hallmarks of a hijack.
The sort of transformation society is facing will inevitably be messy and imperfect, but as a result of the reality of ecological emergency, there’s no doubt a new energy and determination is out there among an emerging passionate, angry, and revolutionary generation. Many young people are aligning strongly with the International Rebellion, and have already created their own semi-autonomous XR Youth network, so the youth strike movement has many options for the future.
As the march moved on along Oxford Street and ended with a further impromptu rally outside the National Gallery, I filmed an interview with a teenage boy who had travelled from Milton Keynes on his own. Unfortunately he is under-18 and we haven’t received permission from his parents to publish the film (although he is old enough to go and kill for his country), but his action and words summed up the new urgency and understanding of his generation. He refused to stand up and so became being the last person sitting on the road, stopping traffic. One after another, police officers tried to reason with him. He calmly engaged them in conversation about climate change, the ecological crisis, and the urgent need for our society to change. They asked whether he thought he would achieve anything by getting himself arrested. His response was that he had to try, and he gently asked them to join him, to sit down with him – he said that that would send out a powerful iconic message. On this occasion, they refused, and he was peacefully removed and taken away in a police van.
One day, perhaps soon, that boy’s request may be heard and acted upon. We really ARE all in this together.