ON PRIVILEGE AND PURPOSE
“We’re not just kids looking for an excuse to skip school. I’m in my HSC year and I’d prefer to be devoting 24/7 to making change than getting a good ATAR. We’re a fastgrowing, mass global movement demanding a safe future for our generation and those to come”
Youth activism is reaching new heights, with the voices and views of passionate young people increasingly heard around the world, amplified by social media. Daisy Jeffrey, a 17-year-old Sydney student, writes about her role as a lead organiser of the Australian School Strike 4 Climate.
Iam not interested in politics.” It’s a sentence I hear so often, always spoken with a disconcerting tone of pride, as if not caring about a system that affects each and every aspect of our lives is an achievement. Does this stem from a place of privilege? Undoubtedly. Those who don’t care are the ones who can afford not to. They are the people who are largely immune to the changes and rifts that accompany a change in government. But we must also not dismiss the reality that our democracy has failed to deliver. So many times its constituents have grown despondent with the system. Why should you care about a system that offers you nothing in return?
For me, that’s precisely the point.
Activism is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.
In other words, if the system is failing you, do something about it.
I’ve always been passionate about the world. At the age of seven, I created a blog called The Environmentals to tackle the waste crisis, but in year eight, I became keenly aware of an even greater threat: global warming. The existential weight of this reality was crushing for a 14-year-old and I didn’t know what to do about it. As a young person, my opinions didn’t seem to matter, least of all to our politicians who didn’t [seem to me to] give a hoot about climate change. This crisis was my greatest concern for all of two weeks until I was swept up in an unrequited love for a boy in my class.
Then in February 2018, 17 children and adults were murdered at a high school in Florida, and the following month hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets of Washington DC to demand gun reform. I’d never seen something so powerful, and at once terrifying – youth forced to take their future into their own hands because their politicians would not. At the back of my mind I asked the question: “Would young people come together like this to fight for climate action?”
On November 30, 2018, my question was answered. I cheered and sang in a 5,000-strong sweaty mass of teenagers in Sydney’s Martin Place. It was the first Australian School Strike 4 Climate and we sent ripples throughout the world. School students skipping school to protest our country’s lack of action on climate change – who would have thought it? I sent the brand-new School Strike Facebook page a message, begging to get involved and a long five minutes later, I was added to the Sydney group chat. A week passed and I found myself speaking to a crowd of thousands on December 8 at a Stop Adani rally at Sydney’s Town Hall Square. My hands were trembling, but the crowd cheered me on.
In my first School Strike organisers’ meeting, I recall thinking that the team was incredibly unusual. Our online calls were not populated by experienced activists, but by optimistic high school students with heavy bags under their eyes. We were leading the change and we knew it. The pressure was immense and we would spend hours every week discussing and critiquing strategy with each other, meeting with politicians, and connecting on social media with school strikers all over the world.
When March 15 came around, we were out on the streets again for the first Global Climate Strike. This time I was rallying a Sydney crowd of 30,000, demanding the action we so desperately needed. On May 18, the election was over and around 30 young Australians joined a Messenger call at midnight to discuss what we would do next.
Leading up to the second Global Strike on September 20, I was preparing to start my HSC year and was still dedicating hours every day to connecting with every available demographic: businesses, unions, politicians – we needed everyone to strike with us. It seemed 150,000 rural, regional and urban Australians taking to the streets in March hadn’t been enough to convince our politicians to care about our future, so we were aiming big. My bloodstream became severely diluted with caffeine as I struggled more and more to stay on top of school and activism, but I knew we were making a difference.
Sydney, September 20. A small group of passionate, hyper kids danced and sang in front of 80,000 people from all walks of life, part of 300,000 nationwide. “We demand climate action!” we screamed to enormous cheers. “And we’ll keep striking until we get it!” It should be clear to our politicians by now that the latter is absolutely true. We’re not just kids looking for an excuse to skip school. I’m in my HSC year and I’d prefer to be devoting 24/7 to making change than getting a good ATAR. We’re a fast-growing, mass global movement demanding a safe future for our generation and those to come.
Although that phrase “I’m not interested in politics” is still in common use, I hear it less and less from people my age. Like most young people, I want change, but we cannot wait to be in positions of leadership. I believe my generation will change the world. And we are starting now.