Thousands of schoolchildren across Australia walked out of class on Fridayto demand action by the federal government on climate change.
The “Strike 4 Climate Action,” inspired by 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, brought together children in capital cities and 20 regional centers such as Ballarat, Newcastle, Townsville, and Cairns. A large protest was also held in Hobart on Thursday. (Keep an eye out for the Journal's interview with Greta Thunberg in our upcoming Winter 2019 magazine.)
More than a thousand primary and secondary students filled Sydney’s Martin Place and students in Melbourne marched through the streets, bringing traffic to a standstill.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, had earlier this week urged students not to take part and told them to be “less activist.”
On Friday, the resources minister Matt Canavan said he would prefer students to learn about mining and science. “These are the type of things that excite young children and we should be great at it as a nation,” he told 2GB radio. “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.”
In Sydney, student Jean Hinchliffe, 14, took to the stage and told her fellow students the protest was just getting started. “This is our first strike,” she said. “Our first action. And it is just the beginning. And we’ll keep doing it until something is done.”
Lucie Atkin-Bolton, 11, the school captain of Forest Lodge public school, said she had been let down by politicians.
“I wish I didn’t have to be here today,” she said. “I’m the school captain at my primary school. We’ve been taught what it means to be a leader. You have to think about other people. When kids make a mess, adults tell us to clean it up and that’s fair. But when our leaders make a mess, they’re leaving it to us to clean up.”
Any mention of the prime minister brought boos from the crowd, as student after student criticized his comments. “If Scott Morrison wants children to stop acting like a parliament, then maybe the parliament should stop acting like children,” Manjot Kaur, 17, from Ravenswood school said.
The noise was deafening as students waved homemade signs, chanted, and sang along to a rendition of Stand By Me. Hinchchliffe called Morrison’s electorate office, and encouraged students to call the prime minister every day for the next week.
Freya, 13, and Bee, 14, from Sydney Girls high school, said they felt like their voices were being heard. “Because we don’t have a vote in the elections, it sometimes feels like you’re silent,” Freya said.
Bee added: “You can influence something. Now it actually feels like I am making a difference about something I believe in."
“I think they are misjudging who we are,” Freya said. “They are underestimating us. You can look around and see how many people are here.”
Elly, 14, was there with her sister Aidan, 10, and said they hadn’t expected so many students to turn up. “I wasn’t expecting this many,” she said. “I thought it would be small. It’s so good. I didn’t know many people coming from my school, but it’s so cool to have everyone else here.”
Earlier in the week, hundreds of students from Canberra lined up outside Parliament House, waited on the lawns and met MPs from the Greens and Labor as well as independents.
The Canberra students voiced these concerns in a series of sit-down meetings with the federal Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, Labor MPs Ged Kearney and Julie Owens, Greens senator Jordon Steele-John, and Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie.
On Tuesday, the Senate also approved a motion to support the students, moved by Steele-John and fellow Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi. Other students around the world have also posted messages of support on social media.