In November, Scott Morrison told the striking students to ‘go to school’ – this time even more of them will strike
— Four months on, 17-year-old Doha Khan says the school climate strikers have learned a lot.
On Friday, thousands of primary and high school students are again planning to walk out of class across the country, protesting against the government’s inaction on climate change, and what they see as the destruction of their future.
Up to 50 rallies, in scores of regional towns, are planned for 15 March. This time, the students will be joined by others in America and Europe, in what has become a global movement.
At the November protests, thousands took to the streets. In Canberra, they met Greens senators, Labor MPs and the independent MP Rebehka Sharkie. They were told by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to “go to school”, and by the resources minister, Matt Canavan, that they were “learning to join the dole queue”.
More recently, the New South Wales education minister, Rob Stokes, told students to stay in class because “you can’t strike if you don’t have a job”.
But the leaders of Friday’s strike say the movement has only grown, gained momentum, and become smarter.
“We really did take into account a lot of the criticism that came out of last year,” says Khan, who goes to the Glenunga International high school in Adelaide.
“There were claims that the kids were just striking and didn’t have any demands. So this time around we’ve made our demands a lot clearer.
“We have them set out on all banners: stopping the Adani coalmine. No new fossil fuel projects, 100% renewables by 2030.”
This year, the number of rally points has grown, mostly in regional areas. There are 18 in New South Wales alone – from Bowral to Byron Bay – and Khan feels enthusiasm has risen, rather than quietened down.
“This time our response rate has doubled,” she says. “Last time, a week before the strike, we had 1,000 responses on Facebook. This week we are over 2,300. We are now getting a hundred responses a day. That’s pretty cool – and this is just the Adelaide strike.”
“This time around we’ve made our demands a lot clearer.” — Doha Khan
Shellie Joseph, a year 12 student from St Patrick’s College in Gympie, Queensland, is one of those regional students joining the protest for the first time.
“Last year, I was so busy with work and school and extra-curricular things, I just couldn’t do it,” she says. “But after I heard about the impact it had, I really regretted not getting involved.
“As soon as I heard there was another one this year, I called [the Australian Youth Climate Council] and said ‘Look I’d love to be part of this and organise a bus down to Brisbane or something’. They said ‘Why don’t you organise one for the Sunshine Coast?’”
She says what has happened is “a dream come true”.
“The reason for me declining initially [last year] was that I live in such a rural area. I live in Gympie. I thought I would really be by myself. I thought, ‘What’s the point?’.
“I was so wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the support from all of my peers and people from different schools, parents and teachers. We’ve got over 900 going or interested on our Facebook event.
“I think the misconception is that we are bludging. [That] we are having the day off school for something that isn’t that important. I think people need to understand the science of it a bit more.
“At school at the moment I do all the science subjects. I’m really passionate about science and I’m passionate about facts and passionate about our future … We’ve been forced into this by our government’s inaction. We shouldn’t have to be doing this.”
Khan says she is confident there will be a big turnout.
“Just this week I put together a little Instagram chat with school strikers in my school,” she says. “There’s 40 kids, and they’re just the ones I know. I’m sure they are going to bring their own friends.”