Riki Lane & Maureen Murphy spoke to Lilly Murphy, a year 9 student who was involved in the student strike for climate action where thousands of students across Australia walked out of class to demand action by the federal government on climate change.

Edited by Natalia Cassidy for the Student Left Network

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Q) Tell us the story of how you got involved with the student strike for climate action.

A) At my school a few of my friends knew about it due to social media. There were a few signs around school. So one of them asked me because they knew I was quite politically active, wearing a Victorian socialist top. So they asked “are you going to this student strike” and I was “I think so” and then I found out more information about it. And then we were all thinking of going to it.

Q) What happened in the lead up to it at your school?

A) We [six students] had a maths exam on the Friday when the walkout was on. So with a few of my friends we asked our teacher if we could change it; she asked the principal, and he said no. So we wrote an email to the principal asking if we can do this because we want ot go to the protest, but don’t want to fail the maths exam. We had a meeting with him, and he seemed quite OK about it, and then in the last 5 minutes said “I don’t think this is going to work”. We had made an agreement, and found a solution, but he said that solution wasn’t going to work even though both the people [teacher and assistant principal] who we had talked to said it would work fine; that we were being very “adulty” about it. Then we had sort of given up. There were three of us who were just going to go and fail the maths exam, when on the last day we were told. So we just dealt with that. We tried to talk to other teachers, but they weren’t listening after that. We were told by our teacher that we could do it the next week, but no one else would say that, so they did not want to risk it, and just sat the exam instead.

Q2) Why do you think the school said no, why did the principal change his mind?

A) well the department of education told principals “don’t let the students go” so he was probably under a lot of pressure from them, and didn’t want to disobey.

Q2) At some other Schools, principals were quite supportive.

A) I don’t know why our principal didn’t allow us to. I don’t know if his views were inclined towards it. He seemed to want climate action, but not acting in this way.

Q) So what happened on the day?

A) At end of recess, 10.45, about 5 or 6 of us went off {others left the school later}, and there were already a few groups arriving then [at the rally venue], and we hung around for another friend who had been at an audition at another school. So once she got there we all walked from Victoria Gardens to Parliament house, and there were already a whole lot of people there. And that was exactly the same time that the people from Castlemaine [a country town 100km from Melbourne] arrived; a group of 2-300 people – we were “wow is that just one school or what”, so we got to the back and started holding up our signs, and joining in with everyone else.

I couldn’t hear the speeches much. They were talking about how the government hasn’t been doing much about it, and how great it was that so many people were there.

Q) What was your favourite placard?

A) There was a really cute one which said “I am here for her future” with a picture of a baby. Another one said “I am 9 and I know more about climate change than our Prime Minister does. Maybe he should go back to school”. I found that one quite funny.

Q2) What did your placards say?

A) One of my friends had made a few. One said #climate strike, one said “system change not climate change, one said “no thanks”, with a picture of water levels rising; another said “we are not going to be hurt by the choices you have made for the environment”.

Q) What did you see as the key demands?

A) One was that we want all renewable energy by 2030. Stopping Adani coal mine, which is a really terrible thing. We need to stop that from happening. Also getting the government to notice, and actually act on it. To listen to people; to say that we are not going to sit by and let this planet be ruined by people older than us who won’t be around when the effects are taking a huge impact. We are going to fight so that when we are their age, and our children are around, so that we don’t have to live in a really bad world.

Q) What do you think of comments that have been made by government leaders?

A) I think that didn’t actually work for them at all. Especially the “more learning, less activism”. I know a few people who said “Ok I am going to the protest now, I am not dealing with the Prime Minister telling us to have less activism in schools.” A lot of people got very angered by him saying that, and so came. That did not work at all in their favour. So it is like “Maybe there should be more learning and less activism, but that can only happen if you guys are actually doing stuff, and listen to us when we are not protesting. We can voice our opinions, but if we do so very small-ly, then you guys won’t hear. So this is one way you will hear us.”

Q) This is larger in Australia than in many other countries, do you have any ideas why that may be so?

A) It was started by the Swedish student Greta, and she had said “I hope that this strike continues in other countries that are very well off, like Australia” so that was how it got started in Australia. I think it was few Castlemaine students. Facebook and Instagram were the main ways of sharing it. There was an Instagram page and you follow that, and it tells you when it is happening in your city. Also just people talking to other people. We were told we should do something and people were like “hang on, we actually have this huge coal mine going ahead, which is pretty terrible for the environment and everything, we need to stop this”. Also we are not really doing much at the moment for climate action. Some of the countries have a few little things they are doing, so it is harder for people to say “hey do more” but for us, they are doing a bit, but they are doing basically nothing.

Q) What do you think are the implications for ongoing organising, I mean at your school level; in Melbourne; and Australia wide?

A) I want things like to continue until the government actually does something. Also, especially at our school; there were a lot of people who went. Even in the meeting with the principal, we talked about some environmental issues that our school was contributing to. So slowly get more schools to recognise that we need to change. So getting more schools to realise that we need to do a few little things, it would do a bit. But, if every school did something big, there would be a drastic impact. So we can make sure our schools do stuff like that as well.

Q) What are the goals going forward?

A) Making sure that the prime minister actually does something about this.

Q) Any lessons for people in other countries about how to go about organising this sort of thing?

A) Well, striking; it is one of the things that works for young people. Social media is becoming a bigger thing, which is very helpful for getting our message across, but one of the things that the government will actually listen to is when we go out of school, walkout on strike, and go to the Parliament House and protest.

Q2) There were rallies that were large. Why do you think this particular one was so large all over Australia?

A) They are based on this Friday stoppage from Sweden, where a group of students including Greta, would skip school and strike every Friday. So in Australia, we couldn’t have every one doing it on that day, so on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 28-30 November, there were strikes, but there was more emphasis on the 30th. Over 250 strikes all over – some with only 10 people and that is fine, some with over 10,000, like in Melbourne.

Q2) How did the organising happen?

A) I don’t really know that exactly. There were the Castlemaine students, and they did a lot of the organising, as they had heard about the Swedish student. They decided to make an impact in Australia, so they got word out to their school, and spread it out all over Australia

Q2) Through social media?

A) Yeah, I think it was Instagram and Facebook and through having flyers and posters around the school

Q2) People at your school know that you are a socialist because you are a member of an organisation and wear Victorian socialist clothing. What difference did that make?

A) I don’t think too much; it wasn’t a socialist matter – it is a socialist matter, but not just for socialists – it was for anyone who thought the government was not doing enough on climate action. There were probably a lot of people there with socialistic views, but it want specifically for people who were members of a socialist party. So I don’t think it did too much. There were people who came up to talk who said they were members of Victorian Socialists so I could talk to them, but it want too many people. It was about having views that climate change is real and should be stopped.

Q2) I just thought in terms of organising the school contingent, people cane to you because they thought you might be interested.

A) They came to me because I express your views. It was just one of my friends who came and said, have you heard about this do you want to go? And I said, yeah why not.

Q2) if there was one thing you tell the adults of the world, after all these students in Australia took action by going on strike, what do you think adults should be doing?

A) Just listening to young people more, and not regarding their opinions as immature. A lot of adults as soon as they see a young person, they are, “oh their opinions I not as worthy as they don’t know much”. Well we might not know as much, but we know enough to have a good opinion. Our opinions need to be heard, or this is just going to happen regularly.

Q) One last thing, a lot of older people like me look back to the 1960s and the youth rebellion, and some people have made a comparison with a student strike against the Vietnam war in 1970. Do you get the feeling that your generation are going to be more politically active and organising more than has been happening for a while?

A) What I think is that we have grown up seeing all this stuff, due to things like social media, where I go on social media, look at political sites, get political information from all over the world, and see opinions of what people think of what is wrong. That is impacting things a lot. Also, we know climate change is real, and we can see it. Some of the older people might not want to, or just think that it “does not bother me.”. But for us it does; people say “you shouldn’t be bothered by it”, but we should. This is our future, in 50 years, a lot of the older generation will not be alive, but we will. And we don’t want a world that is so shit, when we are older, or when our children are alive.