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Todays lesson? How to protest

Published on

Joint Byline 

By Colin Fernandez and Frazer Norwell

Schoolchildren across the world abandoned classes yesterday and took to the streets to protest against climate change.

In the UK, Labour-Party leader Jeremy Corbyn led a rally of children outside Parliament, while parallel demonstrations took place all over the country.

But, government ministers condemned the youngster for ‘bunking off’ in the name of political protest.

The protests- claimed by organisers to be the world’s biggest environmental action- were inspired by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, who started skipping school every Friday in September 2018 to protest outside her country’s parliament.

Huge crowds of more than 100,000 turned out in Canberra and Sydney yesterday, while protestors in Berlin dramatically posed with nooses around their necks while standing on blocks of ice- a possible reference to melting ice caps.

From Prague to Paris , Jakarta to Dusseldorf and even the Solomon Islands crowds urged action against global warming. In Dublin, they chanted: ‘When our planets under attack, stand up and fight back.’

And New York City’s school authorities even said its 1.1 million public school students could skip school to attend protests if they had their parents permission. However, one notable absence in the roll call was China- the world’s biggest producers of global gasses where political protests are outlawed.

Worldwide, organisers said there were around 5,225 events in 156 countries.

In the UK, organisers claimed around 100,000 people took part in the rally in central London, with more than 20,000 thought to have marched in Edinburgh and 10,000 in Brighton. The UK Student Climate Network said in all more than 200 events were taking par across the UK with other protests at Cambridge, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Oxford, Belfast and Manchester.

Mr Corbyn told the youngsters in the crowd that ‘you and a whole generation have brought the issue centre stage and I am absolutely delighted about that’. He told the rally: ‘thank you for your determination to combat climate change and protect our planet.’

He was backed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who said he was ‘standing in solidarity’ with the strikers. But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson criticised the demos saying, ‘every child should be in school.’ He added: ‘They should be learning, they shouldn’t be bunking off and its very irresponsible for people to encourage children to do so.’

Schools minister Nick Gibb told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘we don’t think it should be at the expense of a child’s education … Even one extra day of lost school can affect a child’s future GCSE results and their future.’

But the protests received backing from the TUC Congress, the University and College Union and Unite, as well as environmental campaigners and aid agencies.

Suzie Longstaff, headmistress of Putney High School, a private girl’s school, said: ‘Every day we are educating the young people of the future to speak out and make their own decisions. We are trying to provide a modern and relevant education which includes connecting to topics they feel passionate about. We can’t pick and choose what they are.

‘I’m proud that Putney students have both social and environmental conscience and I applaud them. Those who feel strongly about protesting will be there.’

Thousands of workers at tech companies also walked out on Friday. The rallies are timed as a round of climate talks take place at the United Nations in New York from Monday.

Yesterday, actors including Dame Emma Thompson, Mark Ruffalo and fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood wrote a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling for a worldwide ban on fracking- as the extracting gas from rocks ‘exacerbates’ global warming.

Extinction Rebellion protesters are also hoping to blockade the Port of Dover on Saturday to raise awareness of climate change. The group has stated that two roads out of the Kent port will be blocked for at least four hours by campaigners.