Despite being listed on the UK Student Climate Network’s website, one would be forgiven for not knowing which group organised it. At the demonstration, the signs held up by protestors (highlights of which included “I’ve seen better Cabinets at IKEA” and “Fossil Fools”) jostled for space three feet in the air above the crowd with banners from organisations as diverse as the ‘North East Pensioners Association’, ‘Trade Unionists Support School Strike for Climate’, a local chapter of the Green Party, as well as a myriad of socialist organisations. Of course, no climate strike in recent months is complete without the signature extinction symbol – whose circle represents the Earth, and whose hourglass reminds us of the limited time we have to reverse the effects of climate change – often attributed to Extinction Rebellion, and referred to by The Guardian this year as “this generation’s peace sign”, which was found dotted around the many flags, banners and home-made signs at the protest.
Just as diverse as the organisations supporting the strike was its demography. Walking to the protest, your correspondent found primary-school-age children making their way to the same event in their school uniform, and once there bumped into an elderly woman who was wheelchair bound, but still strong enough to wave a flag for the University and College Union. Talks were given in a range of accents: an African woman galvanised the crowd, before a Geordie discussed how capitalism was to blame for climate change. “There’s 99% of us and only 1% of them”, he explained, arguing that “we’re the only ones” effecting “real change”. A similarly anti-establishment vein ran through most of the speeches: one speaker accused the state of being “in the hands of multi-national corporations”, and defended his decision to strike school by asking “what education do I need when… politicians threaten to break the world?”.
After an hour or so of speeches, the group who were amassed at the Civic Centre – whose number was well into the hundreds (joined across the world by millions across an estimated 185 countries, also striking) – marched to Grey’s Monument. Often accused of being a movement made up of middle-class hobbyists (The Scotsman discussed the movement’s class divide at the end of September this year), the march featured several working class voices and movements, and walking through the city centre, people stopped to look not with condescension or disapproval, but genuine interest. When the procession arrived at Grey’s Monument, people filmed the crowd from the windows above; even people whose work was disrupted by the march had nothing but good things to say about it. A woman selling copies of The Socialist gestures to the crowd and enthuses how much bigger it is compared to similar events held in the past: “You can see how many we have”, she beams.
The crowd did feature some who weren’t entirely dedicated to the cause: one protestor had a sign with a message against climate change on the front – the key to tackling which many believe should involve reforming consumer culture – but the back was part of a box for an Ultra HD 4K Smart TV. Overall, though, the movement attracted a range of people, united in their commitment against climate change and in their passion.