For months, school students in various countries have been protesting against the climate policies of their respective governments. In Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Britain and more, they attend weekly rallies to call out politicians who, in the student’s minds, are doing too little to combat climate change.
What’s controversial about it: The rallies take place while the kids should be in school.
The numbers are steadily increasing. Every week, tens of thousands of teenagers and young adults skip class, mostly on Fridays their so-called “Fridays for Future.” The protests are expected to hit even more countries on March 15, making it the biggest international school strike yet.
The Guardian published an open letter by the “global coordination group” of the strikes, announcing protests on every continent. While there have been some participants in the United States, on March 15, American students are expected to join in the movement in a big way.
Small steps for a big movement
What has become a global phenomenon started with one teenage girl in Sweden, now-famous activist Greta Thunberg. Originally, she skipped her Friday classes to protest in front of the Swedish parliament because of upcoming elections, but she decided to keep going until significant progress on the issue is made.
Documenting the strikes on her Twitter page, Thunberg gained international recognition and was invited to speak at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. The world watched as a 15-year-old girl accused world leaders of not being “mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.” Thunberg has been the spearhead of the youth movement ever since, regularly attending Friday strikes in different European countries.
Reactions internationally have been mixed: While most politicians acknowledge the importance of their cause, some have taken issue with the students’ flagrant violation of mandatory school attendance.
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said that skipping school means wasting lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared – time that would be crucial for education which will help solve the climate issue in the long run.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked controversy when she suggested that the strikes are possibly being initiated by outside influences. Later, she backed down, clarifying that she very much welcomes the student strikes, partially going against her own, conservative party.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has endorsed the strikes as well, saying that he has often regretted that today’s youth seemed to be politically uninvolved.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has pointed out that young women are leading the movement in most countries. The inner team behind “Youth Climate Strike US,” the biggest American participant in organizing the global school strike in March, consists exclusively of girls in their teens and younger, according to their website.
Still, commentators ask if politicians would be equally supportive of the students’ political involvement if their cause were more controversial, say, open borders or gay rights. But as it stands, a large community has gathered to back the school strikes.
In mid-February, the Guardian released an open letter by more than 200 scientists who claimed to be inspired that children are making their voices heard. The German Tagesspiegel exclusively reports on another statement from more than 700 scientists pledging their full support of the school strikes, which is to be released on March 12 three days before the global strike day.
The movement is now global.
It is still run by young people, but highly professionalized and coordinated quite a change from the individual protest Greta Thunberg started in the summer of 2018.
The question remains: How big will the impact be in the end?
In the U.S., student protests have made headlines, and occasionally, led to policy change.
Last year’s “March For Our Lives” for stricter gun policies after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting helped inspire Thunberg to start her strikes. And with discussion about the Democrat’s “Green New Deal” bringing climate change into the center of the public’s attention, the March 15 Global school strike will come at an interesting time.