The kids are in the streets, and they’re chanting ‘f*** Theresa May’
The kids are in the streets, and they’re chanting ‘f*** Theresa May’. Early estimates indicate 4000 are skipping class in London, 1000 in Leeds, 1000 in Oxford, 1000 in Brighton, and hundreds more in 30+ other cities around Britain. They’re on strike demanding action on climate change, in the face of an ever-worsening crisis.
The structure of the movement looks much like every other social movement since 2008: calls to action have been put out on social media by a relatively small central group of organisers; these have then spread through existing networks to gain a huge audience. Initial indications are that WhatsApp groups have played a central role in mobilising the thousands of students who have taken part.
The challenge ahead of this movement is, therefore, the same challenge that every other social movement has faced in recent years: how do you force change when the government just won’t budge? In the short term, at least, the only answer is escalation.
When they strike again, as they inevitably will, they’re likely to face more challenges. The British ruling class have used the police to break youth movements before. They didn’t hesitate to kettle thousands of university, college and school students when they fought back against the tripling of tuition fees in 2010. There is a reason that the demonstration held during the final vote was called the ‘Battle of Parliament Square’. It was Home Secretary Theresa May who, in the House of Commons the very next day, expressed the government’s gratitude to the police for their services.
Maybe there is something to be learnt from the failure of anti-austerity movements more generally which can avoid the same mistakes being made again. The ‘There Is No Alternative’ doctrine is weaker today than it was in 2010, and a wider set of alliances seem possible. It looks to me like the strike movement will inevitably have to form part of an emerging transatlantic coalition fighting for a green new deal if it wants to make concrete gains.
And here we hit upon the core of the climate issue today. There are no non-radical solutions. Realism, given the ongoing process of ecological collapse, looks unlike the capitalist realism we’re so accustomed to. In fact, the socialist transformation of society seems like the only viable way in which the demands of the strike can be met. After all, capitalism got us into this situation — it sure as hell won’t get us out. But the socialist transformation of society isn’t exactly a small goal. Our situation today echoes one of the slogans of 1968: be realistic, demand the impossible.
That’s why, beyond climate change, these strikers are fighting for their future. This movement isn’t just expressing the rational demand for more investment in solar panels — instead, it’s expressing the emotional desire for a world where we don’t wake up with tears in our eyes in the middle of the night, scared of the future.
When dealing with a bout of depression a couple of years ago, I was haunted by one recurring mental image. It was half a projected future, half an already-existing reality: a bleached, white, dead expanse of rock where the great barrier reef used to be. Climate collapse is an existential threat, which can cause depression like no other. But these kids, by their thousands, should give us courage.
If there was one common denominator in the shonky placards the strikers brought to the demonstration I saw in Brighton, it was the word ‘hope’. You could see that hope in their faces as they climbed on top of phone boxes to scream slogans, and ran down streets as a mob — experiencing, probably for the first time, that thrill you feel when you’re part of a crowd who are turning the world upside down. These strikers haven’t given in to fatalism, because they can’t — their lives are at stake.
Now it’s our turn to join them. We can’t wait any longer. Onward to red plenty.