Article by H.R. Gibbs – Originally Published 22nd September 2019
To see a crowd of people marching down Belfast’s Royal Avenue and for it to inspire any feelings of hopefulness is a new and welcome experience. On the opening day of Belfast’s Culture Weekend, an expected 300 students were to take to the streets for the Youth Strike for Climate Change. This increasingly trendy movement of climate awareness, largely accredited to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, is a peaceful call for global environmental policy, which saw upwards of 4638 events in 139 countries worldwide on Friday.
In Belfast, a city familiar with the concept of a march, 4000 people turned up to protest with an urgency rarely seen on a Friday afternoon. Led by the pupils of local schools, the short walk from Corn Market to City Hall was peppered with determined chants of “When the air we breathe is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and the resounding answer of “Show me what democracy looks like – this is what democracy looks like!”
In line with the previous strikes at Stormont for the Save Our Shipyard and the Acht na Gaeilge movements, the very vocal call for “system change, not climate change” is the apparent agenda for people of Belfast, who have not been represented on a devolved political platform for over 32 months.
This climate issue, although still debated, is generally one of unification between different groups and this can be seen clearly from those who turned up to Friday’s protest: politicians, students, school children, families, tourists, organisations such as the NI Extinction Rebellion, Christian Aid and the RSPCB. With a painted blue line now marking out the estimated waterline for Belfast 2030 running through the city centre, the climate emergency is becoming increasingly prevalent in the lives of the everyday people. Whilst former Education Minister Peter Weir criticised pupils for playing truant to protest, the overarching response to this comment was a rebutting comparison between an afternoon off school and the professional truanting which Stormont has been showcasing since January 2017.
As an issue so long kept in the dark and pushed to the sidelines by voters and policy makers alike, the mainstream momentum of the climate movement can only be deemed positive. This attitude of hardworking focused determination could be felt in the crowd on that sunny Friday afternoon. As Thunberg herself has declared, at this point, “we can still fix it.”
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