Pulling our children out of school isn't something we do often. But last Friday it felt like it was important.
The world is in danger, after all. Scientists have said we have 12 years to limit global warming to prevent extreme weather conditions. And unless we make immediate, drastic changes to the way we live, we'll be facing unprecedented heat, droughts and floods that would impact millions of people.
But nobody seems to be listening. Which is why school children across the UK decided to join a growing global movement and protest against the country's inaction.
School Strikes 4 Climate Action
This movement was inspired by a courageous 16-year old in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who started protesting outside the Swedish Parliament last year. As she said at the time, "I am doing this because nobody else is doing anything. It is my moral responsibility to do what I can. I want the politicians to prioritise the climate question, focus on the climate and treat it like a crisis.”
Since then, hundreds of thousands of school children across the world have joined her (showing quite clearly that protesting works and one person can make a difference). All leaving their schools and studies behind for a few hours in order to make themselves heard.
On Friday it was our turn.
A sunny day of inspiration in Manchester
Our two kids were a bit young to make the call themselves. But they had already shown interest in the issues and we knew this would be an educational experience they'd never forget. So, after a conversation with the school to make sure they weren't missing anything crucial in the afternoon, we picked them up early and took them by train to the demonstration.
We arrived beneath blue skies in St Peter's Square, where there was already a small sea of students with placards, banners and flags. Then a roar sounded and from down the road emerged a protest that had walked from the University of Manchester. The two groups merged. Chants rang out. And then the speeches started.
I think the whole event was only a couple of hours long. But what we saw was enough to give me hope for the future. Because, while our collective governments dither and spin their way through life, these students had the energy and passion to get out and raise a collective voice. Plus, they showed they have a far greater grasp of the environmental challenges facing us than most in my generation had at their age (or for years after, to be honest).
And what did my children get out of it?
Messages in chalk
My two were a little wary at first. But by the end they were joining in with the other children to write messages in chalk across the square. My eldest especially really found his voice, expressing concerns and frustrations he had never normally said out loud. And the same went for the quiet daughter of a friend of ours, who wrote what seemed like an entire manifesto in pink outside the library (I'm pretty sure she will be PM one day and the country will be better for it).
All three of them talked about what we'd seen and heard on the train home, and my two have been talking about the issues since. So we know it was an education they will remember.
Predictably, a lot of the usual people have whinged about the demonstrations. Of course, there are valid arguments to be had about missing school to protest things. Plus, calling it a 'strike' probably riled those people up more than normal (as well as making sure schools couldn't officially support it, even if they wanted to get involved).
But given the state of the world right now, I fully support the children for taking action to raise awareness and make themselves heard. And, for me, the demonstrations are a sign that our collective future is in great hands (yet more reason to lower the voting age to 16).
So with another (global) day of action planned for 15 March, I'm looking forward to hearing more from the kids. See you in Manchester!