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 The March of the Students

The March of the Students

By Austen Hunt

On Friday the 15th of March cities around the world were lined with students, teachers and unions protesting the lack of action towards climate change. This was second wave of the SchoolStrike4Climate which started in December of 2018. The movement has grown by an order of magnitude since its emergence into the political stream at the end of 2018, through the words and actions of Greta Thunberg.

The strike saw a turnout exceeding any expectation put before it. Organisers have said that more than 2,000 protests occurred across 125 countries. The largest of which seems to have been held in Montreal, with 150,000 people taking part in the demonstrations.

Media outlets gave conservative estimates, that around 40,000 students would take part nationally. The reality dwarfed that figure, exceeding an inspiring 150,000. the steps of Town Hall were bustling with an estimated 30,000 activists demanding systemic change. Among these activists were the contingents from universities across the state of NSW.

Photography by Austen Hunt

Photography by Austen Hunt

USYD joins the march

Meeting at 10:30am at Fisher Library on the campus of the University of Sydney, the students and staff of the University rallied behind the cause of climate justice and equity. The crowd was bolstered by scores of societies that make up the universities campus culture, the National Tertiary Education Union, and hundreds of students who had risen to take part in their first protest. The call for action on climate justice brought together a mass of people to fight for the change they want to see in the world.

Once gathered, delegates from the crowd rose to speak about what it is they are fighting for. Following a welcome and acknowledgement of land from Evelyn Araluen, paying tribute to the fact that the rally was taking place on the land of the traditional Gadigal people of the Eora nation, Kurt Iveson of the NTEU and Kelton Muir of the USYD Climate Strike Organising Committee addressed the crowd. The two speakers called out the inaction of politicians within Australia and the unwillingness of the government to act on the concerns of the people. Both speakers correlated the environmental strains on our ecosystems with governments entrenched position to support private interests.

The two speakers spoke about the validity of the policies they are proposing the government endorse in order to address the issue of climate change. These are:

  • The transition to 100% Renewable energy by 2030

  • No new coal or gas developments, and the abolishment of the Adani coal mine

  • The creation of 300’000 new Green Jobs

Photography by Austen Hunt

Photography by Austen Hunt

Following these demonstrations the USYD contingent, 1600 members strong, began their march towards Sydney Town Hall. Escorted by the police, the students and teachers occupied Eastern Avenue, City road, and then Parramatta road on their way to UTS. As the students descended onto the roads the ceased traffic responded with the cheer of horns and waves from their cars. The public of Sydney showed their solidarity towards the need for action on climate change.

Each city block added to the momentum of the march, as school kids and members of the public would join the group as they took the city streets. This snowball effect continued past UTS, where the two university contingents merged into one.

Once the contingents arrived at Town Hall, they melded into the crowd of 30’000 protesters. A sea of flags and banners rose to face the steps of Town Hall, showing the diversity of groups that travelled to take part in this historic movement. Students from across the state of NSW, The Maritime Union of Australia, The Australian Metal Workers Unions, environmental organisations such as Greenpeace, members of the Greens Party, and numerous other groups united around the cities heart to strike for change.

United by the need for the change, the crowd listened as voices of the next generation of leaders spoke. The discussed the land degradation they have witnessed in their own lives, in Australia and the Pacific Islands, the inertia of the current powers that be, and a call to mobilise the strength displayed on that day towards effective change, the climate strike echoed through the city.

Where to from here?

The climate strike showed the world that the youth are united. Having organised a coordinated strike across every corner of the globe to lobby the power that be for change, the movement has shown that the next generation is determined to be the life blood of change.

Across boundaries and on a local level, the climate strike achieved far more then just having staged a protest. The event has begun to build a forum, strengthening the networks of the environmental movement.

In Sydney, as in many other places of protest, those involved in the strike congregated in the public parks after their demonstrations. Here they began to formalise connections and share information about their different interests and policy objectives. The reinvigoration of environmental concern coupled with the wisdom from past movements has created a platform for environmental goals to better be reached. The individuals, groups, networks, and organisations across the world interested in seeing reformative policy take place will continue to push this momentum.

On a local level, the students at the universities across NSW will continue to do their part. Attracting attention to the development of climate justice, and encouraging participation across campuses, the students will continue to create avenues to connect one another to the movement.

At the University of Sydney a teach-in will be taking place between 2:30pm and 5pm on Friday the 22nd of March, at the New Law Building. The event will serve as an opportunity for student to learn about past initiatives such as the Anti-Nuclear Movement, the Greens Bans, and the attempted Carbon Tax initiative in Australia. Beyond this the teach-in will also serve as a place for the network to plan its future actions and to share duties and information among those willing to participate.

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