Thousands of students prepare to strike against climate change

Thousands of young people are expected to hit the streets on Friday afternoon to call for action over climate change – the first demonstration of its kind in 18 months.

Groups are expected to hold protests cross the country to demand that politicians put the climate crisis at the forefront of decision-making.

Strikers in Wellington will meet at Parliament to hand over their demands, including free public transport for all, halving the dairy herd, and investing in safe walking and cycling routes.

In Christchurch, several thousand are expected to gather for the School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) rally in Cathedral Square at 1pm before protesters march to Christchurch City Council, in Hereford St.

Other protests are expected in New Plymouth and Auckland.

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The demonstrations have been planned to coincide with the local government elections, with campaigners calling for more investment in public transport, cycleways and more liveable cities.

Principals have taken a supportive stance ahead of the latest School Strike 4 Climate protests, with one school moving an exam so students can attend their local rally.

The New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa, the largest education trade union in New Zealand, is also backing the movement.

Thousands of young people have joined the School Strike 4 Climate protests since the first one in New Zealand in 2019.

Kevin Stent/Stuff

Thousands of young people have joined the School Strike 4 Climate protests since the first one in New Zealand in 2019.

“We support the School Strike 4 Climate demands and we stand in solidarity with the students to demand the government take bolder action on climate change,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford.

“The government is making good progress on climate policy, but the seriousness of the climate crisis requires that we step up the level of urgency.”

Aurora Garner-Randolph, a year 12 student at Avonside Girls’ High School and one of the SS4C Ōtautahi (Christchurch) organisers, said it remains important for young people to have their voices heard on climate change.

“The climate emergency hasn’t gone away since the last strike, it has only got worse,” she said.

“We are calling on our elected representatives to make bold climate legislation and future-proof our city.”

The 16-year-old said more than 2000 people are expected to attend the demonstration and the reaction from schools had “been very mixed”.

“In previous years we have had schools issuing detentions, which we think is absolutely terrible.

“Going to a protest like this is one of the best ways they can encourage students to participate in democracy.”

Previous strikes across the country have mobilised over 38,000 people between them.

With students now getting adults involved too, there are expectations that Friday’s protests will see the biggest climate strike mobilisation in Aotearoa yet, organisers believe.

Avonside Girls’ High School principal Catherine Law said students are “encouraged to stand against climate change” and they could attend the demonstration if they had parental consent.

At Cashmere High School, staff rescheduled a year 10 numeracy exam so students could attend the demonstration.

“It took a bit of planning around rooming and staff supervision, but we didn’t want it to be an obstacle or for students to have to make a choice,” principal Joe Eccleton said.

Members of School Strike 4 Climate Ōtautahi putting up posters in Cathedral Sq at the weekend.

KAI SCHWOERER/Stuff

Members of School Strike 4 Climate Ōtautahi putting up posters in Cathedral Sq at the weekend.

“It’s not a school event so we won’t close the school, but we are very supportive of students who want to attend,” he said.

“It is a strike and I think it would devalue it if we closed the school.”

Students who attend the demonstration, rather than their classes, will be recorded as an “explained absence”, he said.

“Our students are really passionate about this issue. We want students who are active citizens and are able to play a part in the wider conversation.”

The last school climate demonstration was in March 2021 and Carter Andrew, one of the organisers at SS4C Ōtautahi, said the 18-month gap was due to Covid-19 restrictions on mass gatherings and also allegations of organisational racism by some former members.

The Auckland branch of School Strike 4 Climate admitted racism and has since disbanded.

SS4C Ōtautahi organiser Carter Andrew says they are ‘encouraging anyone and everyone to come along’.

KAI SCHWOERER/Stuff

SS4C Ōtautahi organiser Carter Andrew says they are ‘encouraging anyone and everyone to come along’.

“We took a step back then and looked at ourselves in depth and how to better ensure we have equal representation,” he said.

The 18-year-old is studying at University of Canterbury and said the demonstration was “multi-generational” and not just for school students.

“We’re encouraging anyone and everyone to come along.

“We need as many people along to show the council that people of Ōtautahi do care about climate change.”

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