Greta Thunberg had asked adults to join the school strikes taking place on Friday the 24th of May 2019. This call to action saw many groups around the world, including London, joining together in an effort to highlight the current climate emergency. Time magazine declared students from 1600 cities were striking which could have been the biggest climate strike yet. Here's how I got on...
I was a bit apprehensive. I'd seen the Extinction Rebellion (XR) marches of the past few months but for some reason rebellion hasn’t really been my thing. The word makes me feel slightly uneasy and that I'm going to get into a whole heap of trouble. I do break the rules, sometimes but have never gone anywhere near rebel territory. When it comes to XR, I wasn't comfortable with naked protesters in parliament and the closing of roads, affecting small businesses caught up in the action. I did, however, have a huge amount of respect for the people who did demonstrate with XR as I do think there needs to be different forms of action to get the message through to the powers at be (the UK parliament.)
When I saw the Strike on a Bike advertised and that it was supporting the Youth Strike in particular, I felt ready to show my hand. I packed my bag with water and sunscreen on the Friday morning and rode my bike to Russell Square in central London. I found a very small group of individuals: cycling fanatics; irregular pedalers and then families with children began to arrive with their protest signage taped to their tiny baskets. The group reached about 50 people and I felt comfortable that it was big enough for us to be safe. The sun was beating down and the sky was as blue as I'd seen it the whole year. London Cycling was marshalling and so there were lots of experienced cyclists helping out.
As we took off as we pulled out from the first junction the bells were ringing - the bells on the bicycles that is. iPhones were already out, held by passing pedestrians, capturing the moment, mostly unaware of the planned action. The bass was pumping from the designated bike trailer protest boom-boxes with positive protest-friendly tunes. There was a really good, positive feeling as we took off towards our destination, Parliament Square.
The roads were fairly quiet as the route had been published in advance so the taxis and regular drivers had stayed well clear. The traffic started to flow as we reached Waterloo, when the second cycling protest group joined us, complete with a secondary boom-box to amp up the volume. We waved and rang our bells, with protest signs showing people why we were there. Positive reactions and smiles from most passers by. We got many cheers as we passed a Unite Union rally of protesters dressed in red with flags above head, a celebration we were standing up for our respective causes. As we glimpsed our first view of parliament, it started to feel like we were part of something much bigger. As we passed the main building, a remix track with Greta Thunberg’s voice, snippets of her intelligent words were playing loud from the boom-box, which made our message that more real. But who was listening?
Parliament Square was full of protesters: protest parties having picnics on the grass and children lining the paved area at the north end complete with homemade placards with their cries of the climate crisis. They had climbed the statue plinths and steps and showed no sign of moving. Even some very small children 5-6 years old, attended with their parents, proud to be using the experience as an educational opportunity.
Message from the striking youth: It's our future, climate change must go.
I spoke to the girls with the 'I don't feel so good' banner and asked if they had been striking before. For most of them, it was their first time as their school doesn't condone them taking time out. One of them said "Our attendance record gets affected if we don't go to school and we get detention if our attendance drops too low." We all agreed it was important to get an education and I think it's good schools have attendance rules but I hope there is climate change education taking place too. Perhaps that's why they were there, who knows.
In reality there was no one there to receive the messages. Ironically, this was the day that Theresa May had decided to resign so there was a lot of media in the area of Westminster but they were only interested in the tears of Theresa, it seemed, which will soon, like the climate strikes have become, yesterday's news to the tabloids. After a somewhat awkward first meeting, the cycling adults and mass of youth protest joined in spirit, with music blaring, unified chanting began. People danced and took pictures of each other’s messages. It was then that another strike group came blasting round the corner behind, from the direction of St James' Park. It was huge - bigger than all the people already on Parliament Square and the cyclists had cycled there. They quickly passed by Parliament Square - they were heading towards Downing Street.
There was a rush of excitement and everyone joined this sea of people, flowing round the square. These seemed to be a group of older children mostly of secondary school age (or youth - I wasn't sure the most appropriate term to use as children seemed disrespectful in some way due to the action they were taking.) The sea began to compact towards the entrance to Downing Street and the police began to close the pavements off.
The group, now filling Whitehall, passed the Cenotaph and made it's way towards Trafalgar Square. This was the first moment that I had heard negative comments from onlookers, a small group of young boys on bikes "These idiots think they're going to be heard." As we arrived at Trafalgar Square this is when I realised that we were now causing a halt to all traffic in the area. In the middle of the crowd was a tourist coach, a stranded island with tourists watching on from it's windows, wondering what on earth was going on. The massive crowd marched up towards the lions around Nelson's column, covering all sides until yet another protest group joined from the East, another 'adult' group joining the Youth Strike, showing their support.
I felt quite emotional. I felt as though I was in for the cause along with this sea of people, we were now a team. But with the onlookers, the tourists, the passers-by and the police, it made me realise we are still in the minority. That perhaps the situation is still miss-understood. That people do need to live their lives, earn a living and that we are privileged to be able to take the time to take part. It made me realise that we’re definitely not talking about it enough - I'm an avid watcher of Twitters BBC Climate Watch campaign - not a BBC climate report as you might think, but an account dedicated to counting how many times climate breakdown is reported on BBC services. As you can imagine, this is far from enough. There are so many aspects of life that the climate emergency is effecting - poverty, environment, health, business, politics - every segment has a story and a bleak future that needs to be reported if we don't increase our action.
It also left me with a positive feeling. That I can do something. That I can focus my work on organisations and individuals who are not getting coverage of the situation, who want to do something but are not sure where to start. After 2.5 hours I cycled home with a warm feeling in my heart that I had been part of something and I am part of something. The key word for the day was 'Youth' and this was the youth leading from the front, all ages, coming together, wanting to be heard.
Author: Libby Brewster, Founder of every origin.
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