School Strike. Week 57.

Greta Thunberg’s Tweet on Friday 20 September 2019.

It was certainly the biggest coordinated climate action ever – possibly the biggest globally coordinated demonstration of any kind in human history. And Greta Thunberg Tweets this.

School Strike. Week 57. New York City.

It is possible that years from now, people will ask each other: “Where were you on Week 57?” It is possible, just possible, that Friday’s action will become a generation defining moment, on a par with the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9-11.

Reaction in the press was mixed in the UK and US, with left of centre papers giving the story reasonable prominence. The conservative papers in the UK were, not unexpectedly, indifferent, if not actively hostile.

The Daily Telegraph website had almost nothing, then, far down the running order, a comment piece entitled: “The climate strikers’ hard-Left agenda would only make things worse”.

Yeah, and the corporate dominated, deregulated, growth at all costs, global crank economy has been doing a bang up job of getting a lid on the thing.

The website of the Daily Mail, for its part, ran story after story about what dresses were worn to some society wedding, a bit on the Epstein scandal and Prince Edward, and other such news. You had to scroll way down and down to find anything about the strikes, and then it concentrated on scolding Jeremy Corbyn for encouraging children to skip school.

It is a pity the billionaire owners and millionaire editors of the papers did not go along to the events with an open mind. They might have come away with an education.

Where were you on Week 57 – the question can be asked metaphorically, not just literally; that is, what was your position, where did you stand? Some, inevitably, poured scorn. The best response to this, in my view, came in a Tweet from Northern Ireland’s Claire Hanna, MLA:

“Nothing says ‘I’m an absolute wab’ quite like sneering at young people campaigning on climate change”.

I’m not even going to translate this for a non-Northern Irish audience, but you’ll get the idea.

Wabs aside, others, from virtually across the conventional political spectrum, and indeed from outside it, followed the lead of the young people. In Northern Ireland, mainstream unionism was absent, though John Kyle of the PUP characteristically joined the demonstration. But whatever their political stripe, thousands of ordinary citizens, young and old, marched through the streets to the City Hall in Belfast, just as they did cities in an estimated 163 countries around the world.

The view from the stage at City Hall, courtesy of Councillor Brian Smyth, Green Party in Northern Ireland

Am I exaggerating the importance of the day? Well, it remains to be seen. But one thing is sure. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of young people gave themselves a political education, organised and campaigned, spoke out against the inertia of the authorities, demanded an overhaul of the whole political economy, and went out and marched this year. On Monday, they will be watching when the world’s politicians gather in New York to talk climate. They will still be watching in the months to come, to see if the politicians’ promises are kept.

And next year, they will be old enough to vote.

Maurice Macartney

21 September 2019