By Julie Ward
I am proud to stand on a platform with extraordinary motivated and articulate young people. Too often people of my generation dismiss the youth voice, forgetting that we were all young once with important views, relevant ideas and a fresh perspective that can cut through the layers of waffle and bluster that so many politicians choose to employ.
Malala Yousuf and Greta Thunberg have been challenging perceptions and ruffling feathers for a few years now, particularly amongst the elite whether it be war lords or presidents. And in their wake come people like Abel Harvey-Clark and Robbie Scott, inspired to act and not simply to join in the adulation. Both Robbie and Abel are members of the highly organised UKSCN which I have been supporting from the outset since before my re-election to the European Parliament in 2019.
Abel and Robbie are also members of Momentum Internationalists, an outward-looking socialist movement that understands the need for a global system change. We pledge solidarity with workers and oppressed people everywhere, including indigenous people who are often the guardians of unique but fragile eco-systems.
UKSCN is the UK’s network of climate activists, mostly under 18, and with an impressive record of organising school strikes. I was pleased to be invited to speak at the UKSCN Climate March in Leeds last summer, but I also went to listen because it’s the years of continually being ignored, dismissed, belittled and patronised that make young people so angry. If you have done your homework, as Abel, Robbie and millions of other climate strikers have, you know that if atmospheric CO2 levels exceed 1200 parts per million (ppm) it could push the Earth’s climate to a tipping point with deadly and irreversible consequences. In fact we may already be too late as scientists reported last year.
Every major crisis has profound consequences for the next generation. The financial crisis resulted in mass youth unemployment, Tory austerity decimated the youth service, Sure Start centres and child and adolescent mental health services, whilst hiking up university fees and creating mass unsustainable student debt. Covid19 has put education on hold and the climate crisis is an existential threat. Why wouldn’t you strike? Why wouldn’t you lie down in the corridors of power? Why wouldn’t you demand that politicians tell the truth and polluters stop polluting? I and a growing number of terrified older people are thankful that young people at least are not afraid to speak truth to power.
In March 2019 I was in the European Parliament when Greta Thunberg spoke to a packed room. Her words made uncomfortable listening precisely because she speaks the truth, not only about what will happen if we don’t act, but about large-scale political failure.
In the UK Thunberg was flatly refused an audience with the government although Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas met with her and huge crowds mobilised at meetings in Bristol and elsewhere in solidarity across the country. Trump, the Tories and the ultra libertarians (many of whom are climate-change denying Brexiteers) are dismissive and mocking of Thunberg precisely because she is young, as if youth has no agency and child rights were not an actual thing despite 30 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These are the same people who don’t want young people vote. The same people berating youth for being idle and feckless. The same same people encouraging you to join the army and learn some discipline. Indeed, in the UK, we may be in danger of something akin to National Service as part of the recovery programme post-coronavirus whereas EU Member States are rolling out a new youth initiative aimed at environmental action, projects to help refugees, and other social projects.
So let’s plan ahead, build the resistance by building solidarity between all generations and all people’s. Let’s act locally whilst being outward-looking. Let’s be internationalists.
For more information about how to sign up and join the global action whatever your age here are some links: