Greta Thunberg’s visit to Bristol was a message of hope

Everything about Friday’s Climate Strike was a sign of hope for humanity, says Kaja

There was electricity in the air on Park Street last Friday morning. Hundreds of people were walking down the hill with me, of all ages: kids, families, teens, older generations, most of them sporting signs and placards. As the rumble of drums and voices on College Green got closer, I felt that something monumental was taking place.

Greta Thunberg had announced the week before that she would be coming to Bristol on Friday the 28thof February to lead the school strike. Greta started the strikes, called ‘Fridays for Future’,in 2018, quickly drawing attention. These school strikes were started in response to the IPCC report which stated that we only have until 2030 to drastically cut down our carbon emissions in order to prevent a massive global disaster: the climate crisis. There’s only ten years to achieve this now, and the strikes haven’t lost momentum. Around 30,000 people attended Friday’s Climate Strike in Bristol – an amazing turnout, especially in the storms we’ve been suffering lately (also linked to Climate change).

I have never been prouder to be a Bristolian than when I stood with my aunt on College Green in front of the great council building surrounded by people from Bristol, the South West, and all around the world. Something that warmed my heart was the children dotted all throughout the crowd and the normality of it all. In front of me a mother gave her small child some oat biscuits, and behind me two boys jumped in the mud, having the time of their lives. Outside of my school years, I had never seen so many young people gathered in one place, and there were huge groups of teens with banners, eager to see their hero, and march for their future.

Then the organisers, Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate, came up to the podium, and before any speeches were given, they encouraged everyone to play ‘Shoulders, knees and toes’, and ‘If you’re happy and you know it’. At first this seemed an absolutely bizarre activity for a climate strike, but on reflection I realised it was just right. This strike wasn’t aimed so much at the older generations, it was more for the kids and young people present. It was great to see that the organisers of the strike cared so much about the children present, and it was a reminder of how it is their future we are fighting for. After these activities made us smile, there was music to continue the atmosphere, with hits like ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ being played. After we had a good dance and a laugh, the speeches started.

Milly, one of the organisers of the strike, began by explaining how we were being backed by hundreds of members of the medical community who have been telling us that the climate crisis is a health crisis, mentioning that Bristol’s NHS Hospital Trust has declared a climate emergency. Milly then talked about how a group of locals have been trying to prevent the destruction of mature trees at the M32 in St Paul’s, one of the most polluted parts of the city, in the interest of health and wellbeing.

The next speaker was Frances from UKSCN who declared that 2020 is a key year for action. ‘In November there is cop26 which is the UN climate action summit,’ she said, ‘and national governments have a really big responsibility here, because in every five years they have to renew their pledges from the Paris agreement so we need to pressure them to make their targets more ambitious.’ Frances then proceeded to talk about what demands we had as strikers today: ‘The first thing is to implement a green new deal to achieve climate justice. And this should recognise the intersectionality and oppressive systems that have led up to where we are now. Our second demand is to teach the future. We need young people to know and be educated about what we are facing. Our third demand is to empower the future. Our voices need to be included and the voting age needs to be lowered to 16.’ A huge amount of applause could be heard around the crowd who agreed with these ideas wholeheartedly.

Next up was Mya-Rose Craig who set up Black2Nature to help engage more children from minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME) with nature and has recently been awarded an honorary doctorate at the age of 17. Mya-Rose talked about how social justice is linked with climate justice, and how we need to be responsible for our actions. She shared a personal anecdote that last year her grandpa’s village in Bangladesh had an unseasonable flood that wiped out their rice crops, and how they wouldn’t have had food for two years if it weren’t for charitable efforts. She explained that we need to connect these natural disasters to the climate crisis. Mya then touched on the subject of climate refugees and how a Climate Breakdown is causing a massive refugee crisis.  ‘At 1.5 degrees Celsius a conservative estimate is that there will be 69 million refugees, which is more than the population of the UK, but if there’s 2 degrees warming these figures will rise to 80 million. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, there’s already 4 million refugees which is roughly the population of Bristol.’ Mya’s parting message was that we need an inclusive and diverse youth movement in the face of the climate crisis is essential, and that an unequal world can never be a sustainable one.

The last speaker before Greta was another of the strike’s organisers. They answered the question that many people had been wondering: ‘Why was Bristol chosen by Greta Thunberg?’ They talked about all that we have achieved in the past year. ‘February of 2019 had the first student walkout in Bristol to demand climate action. This is building on the November 2018 climate declaration in Bristol, the first in Europe and second in the world. This movement holds the council to account. In September 2019, 15,000 adults and children gathered on College Green along millions of strikers in largest global mobilisation of history. In November we ran are own climate hustings in run up to climate election. Finally, this month we managed to contribute to the campaign to successfully stop the expansion of Bristol airport.’ They then talked about how there is a mayoral election coming up soon and that the new mayor of Bristol needs a well thought out plan to combat the climate crisis.

This was a strong message for the organisers to end on, and now it was Greta’s turn. Voices rose in anticipation, chanting: ‘Greta! Greta! Greta!’ Finally, she was here, wearing her iconic yellow coat as she stood on the podium in the Bristol rain. She was much smaller than I had imagined, but she had a big voice:

‘Well, thank you so much for coming! There are people everywhere, I can’t see an end to it – thank you every single person for being here. I am so happy to be here in Bristol with all of you. There will be a time when we will look back and ask ourselves what we did right now. How do we want to be remembered? This is an emergency. People are already suffering and dying from the consequences of the climate and environmental emergency. And it will get worse. And still this emergency is being ignored by politicians, media and the people in power. Nothing is being done to halt the crisis despite the beautiful words from elected officials. So, what did we do during this crucial time? What will we do right now? Well, I will not stand aside and watch. I will not be silent while the world is on fire. Will you? World leaders are behaving like children, so it falls on us to be the adults in the room. It should not be this way. We should not be the ones who have to lead on this and tell the uncomfortable truth. They sweep this mess under the rug for their children to clean up for them. But we must continue, and we have to be patient and remember that the changes required will not happen overnight, since the politics and solutions needed are still far from sight. But if enough people push for change, then change will come, and we are those people and every single person counts! Just look at Bristol as an example: the other week the plans to expand the Bristol airport were cancelled with a lot of thanks to climate activists. And, of course, this is far from enough, but it shows how we make a difference. Activism works so I am telling you to act. If you look throughout history all the great changes have come from the people. We are being betrayed by those in power, they are failing us, but we will not back down. And if you feel threatened by that then I have some bad news for you… We will not be silenced because we are the change and change is coming whether you like it or not. Thank you, and let’s march!’

These speeches, the turnout in Bristol, the young people, the dancing, the atmosphere, all gave me so much hope. I’ve been a climate activist for a year now, I’ve seen multiple strikes around the UK, and this one in Bristol was incredibly unique and not something any of us will forget. I hope that we listen to the messages from this day, that we keep going, and that us Bristolians use our voices and the diversity and charisma that we are known for to keep leading the charge for change in the UK.

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