What Have The Student Climate Strikers Been Doing This Year?

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The student-led climate strike protests have been one of the most attention-grabbing movements of the past few years.

Here in Australia, School Strike 4 Climate have had hundreds of thousands of people rallying against climate change inaction. But for some fairly obvious reasons, that all came to a stop this year.

So, what have the school-strikers been doing in the pandemic to keep up their work, and has it changed how they operate forever?

The 2020 Impact

2020 has been a pretty fraught year for climate change news in Australia.

Devastating bushfires, floods, the hottest November on record and a Prime Minister who’s now spruiking a ‘gas-led recovery’ and still refuses to set any net-zero targets.

In a normal year, we could have expected mass protests from school strikers. After all, in September last year they managed to get 300,000 people to march around the country in one day.

So, what have they been doing instead?

Daisy Milpark: “I think we’ve definitely learned to organise more … We talked to all these unions and we’ve asked them can you agree with our demands? Can you promise to support us when we rally against some of the things the Government has been doing? And that allows us to have that support for years to come.”

That’s Daisy Milpark, they joined School Strike 4 Climate Action early on in lockdown and they’ve been really busy since, working on this kind of community and business outreach.

The organisation has been working to try and empower other people in the community to take leadership on climate issues. That includes setting up a pledge for local businesses to talk to MPs on climate issues and speaking to unions.

In fact, they’ve signed up over 500 businesses to their pledge so far and reached out to unions representing 1.2 million workers.

DM: “I think we’re really learning to connect with our communities more and learning to use the organisational skills we have, as opposed to just mobilising.”

It’s not necessarily the sort of work that makes headlines but Daisy said they’re making some pretty great headway. The strikers even met with the Liberal NSW MP Matt Kean back in September to get his endorsement for their work before he launched Australia’s most ambitious renewable energy plan.

What Happens When You Can’t Physically Climate Strike?

But School Strike 4 Climate have made their name (literally) for taking to the streets. So I was wondering, given that the pandemic is still happening, whether this kind of grassroots activism is going to stick.

DM: “Our protests have been absolutely enormous in the past and restrictions aren’t going to be lifted for hundreds of thousands of people for a while, so definitely that community organising and smaller scale organising will be really beneficial to us … I can see us heading in a more strategic direction.”

Daisy told me they’re still really hopeful for the movement’s future, despite all the emotional exhaustion caused by Covid, which may have distracted people a little bit from the cause.

School Strike 4 Climate has grown hugely in the last year and all this time away from marches has really helped them to figure out who they are as a young activist movement and how to be most effective.

DM: “We’ve just established over the past few months, a really dedicated union outreach team, political outreach. We’re looking at shaping future elections, things like that. So I think definitely we’ll be continuing this approach in the future.”

The Takeaway

The School Strikers have really established themselves as a group that can rally people globally to march in the streets against climate inaction, so this year has been particularly weird for them.

But in Australia, the students have made it work in their favour and they’re setting up community action that’s going to carry on into the future, rather than just sparking media conversations for a few days – and it’s a good reason to keep taking them seriously.