The Fridays For Future’s first global strike of 2021 will help show whether the youth climate movement can regain momentum as parts of the world continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. At least 1,300 protests are scheduled around the world on Friday, including about 300 in the United States.
The movement sparked by that of Greta Thunberg According to researchers at the Institute for Protest and Movement Research, an online global academic forum, the lone school strike and vigil in the Swedish parliament in 2018 quickly became a social juggernaut that significantly altered public concerns about the climate. .
Over the following years, attending local strikes became a gateway to sustained political organization around climate change. Lorena Sosa, an 18-year-old student from Orlando, Florida and organizer of the youth climate group This Is Zero Hour, said she was well aware of climate change before 2019, but didn’t know what that she could do to help resolve the problem.
“For a very long time, I had this tremendous stress about the impact we were having on the environment,” Sosa said. Headlines about deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline left her helpless, she said. But in September 2019, Sosa heard about a protest taking place in his city as part of a global day of climate strikes organized by the Fridays for Future movement.
While Fridays for Future strikes are often seen as an expression of youth’s fear of a climate catastrophe and anger over government inaction, Sosa said his local strike in Orlando also gave him a sense of community and hope. “I saw teachers, students, workers from all parts of the city coming together, sacrificing the working day or the school day to impose a better future,” she said. “And it really made me feel grounded – that there was hope for our future.”
In the first global climate strike in March 2019, 1 million people joined the protests, and by the end of September of the same year, up to 7 million people protested. during a global week of climate action. By year’s end, climate had topped the list when Germans and other European countries were asked about their most pressing concerns, said Sebastian Haunss, a Bremen-based political scientist at the Institute of research on protests and movements.
“The scale of the protests we’ve had in 2019 is actually unprecedented,” Haunss said. “Prior to Fridays For Future, I’m unaware that there were any comparable synchronized and coordinated international events, as we saw during the 2019 wave of global mobilization. This is really something new. in this latest wave of protest.
But physical distancing requirements and limits on gatherings during the pandemic have dampened the tide of activism.
“It made it clear how important the congregation still is to the social movement,” Haunss said. “Protests are not something that social movements can compensate for with other things. The idea that the internet would allow effective demonstrations without physical protests was contradicted during the pandemic. “
Before the emergence of the Fridays For Future movement, climate protests often focused on specific events, such as government summits and United Nations climate conferences, with tens of thousands of participants at most, he said. -he declares.
The wave of mass protests in 2019 may have helped lay the groundwork for even more urgent protests of climate protests, including a recent wave of hunger strikes by young climate activists in Germany.
The Fridays For Future movement speaks “directly to young people, which makes it a really urgent problem for them now, instead of a purely abstract and urgent problem that is in principle far,” Haunss said.
“If you follow the hunger strike of some activists here in Germany, this is clearly the expression of people saying it is so urgent that they are even putting their health and their lives on the line to do something about it “, did he declare. “This is something immediate that requires… fairly comprehensive action.”
Whether or not the move was successful depends in part on how you measure it, he said.
“Friday’s For Future has a number of concrete demands, and none of them have been clearly achieved, but they have had an effect on some political decisions and speeches,” he said. And globally, it’s important to remember that the youth climate movement is not monolithic, he added.
Thousands of people walking the streets are hard to ignore
The Fridays For Future model of mass climate marches has been a key factor in shifting the political and social needle in Europe, but has never been so prevalent in the United States. Despite this, the 2019 Fridays for Future protests were important because they kept the spotlight on the climate issue, said Mélanie Meunier, a researcher at the University of Strasbourg, France and author of a February 2021 study on the climate issue. youth climate activism in the United States.
“There are still people who don’t even want to hear about climate change, but they can’t ignore it when thousands of people are walking the streets, so it has raised awareness to a very basic level,” he said. she declared.
In the United States, youth climate activism has been most effectively expressed at the political level by the Sunrise movement, she said. By focusing youth activism through a political lens, the Sunrise movement has achieved measurable results, arguably helping Joe Biden win key electoral states in the 2020 election, she said.
Currently, the Sunrise movement is lobbying to ensure that key climate provisions for the passage of the Biden administration infrastructure are adopted.
In hotly contested Arizona, the Arizona Youth Climate Coalition, along with other organizations, is lobbying Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) to support filibuster reform in Congress. Many progressives believe that filibuster reform is the key to passing adequate federal climate legislation.
Chris Allen, an 18-year-old high school student in Tucson, joined the coalition after attending and organizing local Friday climate strikes in 2019. Prior to that, he said, he only knew about climate change “in an abstract meaning “.
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But the climate strikes made him realize how much the problem would affect his own life. And like they did with Sosa, the strikes introduced Allen to the movement to stop climate change.
Young people like Allen have also brought a stronger sense of social justice to the movement. They say they recognize the need to deal with the climate consequences that have already happened and to relieve the communities most affected.
For example, the Arizona Coalition’s Tucson Chapter is currently pushing members of the city council and the county supervisory board to open cooling centers where people, especially the homeless, can visit during shifts. increasingly severe heat waves.
During the lockdown days of the Covid pandemic, the group also turned to organizing self-help for the White Mountain Apache tribe. Allen activist Katherine Cohen, a 17-year-old high school student in Phoenix, said she and other coalition organizers distributed food, water and clothing to tribesmen who had need supplies.
“We picked issues that we would be able to impact and help populations that weren’t getting any help,” Cohen said. Many youth climate groups have staged similar efforts during the pandemic, finding ways to directly help their communities and form alliances with other social justice causes.
The pandemic struck just as the youth climate movement was gaining momentum, said Yasmin Bhan, a 17-year-old high school student in New York City and a local leader of Fridays For Future who is helping organize Friday’s strike. . She hopes a return to strikes in person will help recruit even more young people into the climate movement. ”
“There is a lot of pressure on us to resolve this issue that we have inherited,” Bhan said, adding that his greatest hope is that those taking part in the strike will continue to fight for climate action afterward. . “At the end of the day, we really just want an Earth we can continue to live on. This is the end goal.