It’s a clear day, sunshine, with a cool breeze outside the Old Treasury Building on Spring St as the crowd gathers for the global School Strike 4 Climate. An old woman with a walker, moving slowly, sunnies and a straw hat, makes her way through the intersection, a sign on her walker saying 1.5 to stay alive, stop climate change! Indigenous men in white paint clack clapsticks from atop a plinth, gum branches held to their comrades. A teenage girl’s voice rises above the crowd. My name’s Gaia, I’m a 17-year-old school strikerand I’m here because I want a future on this planet.We acknowledge that we meet on the stolen lands of the Boon Wurrung people and there is no climate justice without First Nations justice. The men raise their arms from the plinth and roar their strength. Two choppers hover over the intersection. Striking for our future, says a sign covered in sparkly writing and kids’ drawings. Stop giving us an excuse to skip school! The speaker continues, Make some noise if this is your first protest! I hear a roar reaching down the hill past Treasury Gardens that warms my heart. Grey-haired activists look on and smile. The sign pun/meme game at this protest is exquisite. My friends see me writing down slogans and make sure that I’ve noted the choicest quotes: There was one earlier, a picture of Tony Abbott (the ultra-conservative former Prime Minister filmed eating a raw onion like an apple), said “No onions on a dead planet.”Kids wouldn’t have to act like politicians if politicians didn’t act like kids!Prime Minister has a pet rock—He’s so coal. A handful of girls and a woman appear on the balcony of the Old Treasury building before being shooed off. A young woman’s voice across the crowd: 20,000 people are here, 20,000! and we roar. An Indigenous speaker says: We need to listen to my Country, to the Law of my ancestors. A sign says, I came here because I hate Melbourne weather. Climate change is not an elective! I hear, There’s a drone! and I see it, tiny creature hovering smoothly with its black legs. Grumpy old man who supports students. Don’t frack the future alongside the Midwives’ Union. Teachers for Climate Justice. A speaker says that 100 companies cause 71% of climate change. An Aboriginal woman is walking with her kids, something written in the elegant rhythms of an Indigenous language over an illustration of the Aboriginal flag and the earth. A translation on the back of the sign says Little faces, powerful hearts, we stand together. I ask her, What language is that? She replies Gunnai! with pride. It’s beautiful. My queer community are here: Gay for Renewables!
We listen to the urgent speeches of teenage girls in the microphone, Everyone who’s an activist and also a student, get everyone at your school, the crowd cheers, whistles and kazoos trumpet from all around. Keep the Earth clean, it’s not Uranus. I see the rainbow sheen of fresh-blown bubbles rising from the corner near the Treasury Gardens and floating away. We cluster in the shade of the buildings at the edge of the crowd. A baby in a sling on her mum’s front is holding a cardboard sign saying Nap strike for climate. Kids are front and centre on the steps of Old Treasury. The crowd is happy, energetic, diverse, loud, and dynamic. Climate change is union business on the black shirt of a charismatic fat lady with red lipstick who’s walking a little girl by the hand. Coal: Drop it coz it’s HOT. Marchers have brought a massive rainbow flag, silky and tall as two people. I notice later that it says WE ARE UNION. Proud teacher! Scared human. Kids’ fresh chalk drawings fade between the tram lines on the street, trees and earth in pinks and greens. Kids in school uniforms sit on the curb, grinning into their milkshakes. I’d rather be at school than telling you to do your job. A sign says My kids are revolting—proud dad. Tourists and businesspeople and shoppers look on happily from the street. I love the way the kids’ use of pop culture fuels their activism. Every disaster movie starts with scientists being ignored.
The crowd has poured into Treasury Gardens, and there are dogs barking, picnics, kids cheering, a speaker announcing solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors. White women in yellow high-vis security vests, Where’s the baaand, Jenny, I thought you said there was gonna be a band?! A speaker passionately exclaims, We are not your enemy! Farming communities are not your enemy! We are the ones being hit worst by climate change. A woman’s voice in the mic: I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who goes home every night who thinks, what is going to happen to my kids when I’m dead and gone? A speaker says My dad is a farmer. His dad is a farmer. I wanted to be a farmer but there won’t be anything left to FARM. The police estimate 50,000 people in Melbourne alone.
Attending the Melbourne protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration on 21 January 2017, a friend asks me, What’s the point? I say, We have to do something, we have to let them know that this is not okay. Critiquing the dismissal of activist events as “preaching to the choir,” Rebecca Solnit writes:
[Researcher Erica Chenoweth] concluded that only around 3.5 percent of a population was needed to successfully resist or even topple a regime non-violently. In other words, to create change, you don’t need everyone to agree with you; you just need some people to agree so passionately that they will donate, campaign, march, risk arrest or injury, possibly prison or death. Their passionate conviction may influence others. Ideas originate at the margins and migrate inwards to succeed; insisting that your idea must have arrived rather than be traveling is to miss how change works.
This X is the death of all life, what awaits us if we do nothing, if we don’t do enough, the X for extinction in the centre of Extinction Rebellion’s hourglass logo. But this X also means hope. Our hope lies in the fight not yet over, in the leadership of young people and Elders who show us the way. The hourglass is not finished, but time is running out.
This story begins and ends with the X that means both death and hope.
Three Xs, two strikes, one message: Solidarity forever.
Dr Ariadne Starling is an award-winning writer from Melbourne working in literary essays, sex writing, and queer literature. Her work explores sexuality, disability, neurodiversity, culture, identity, and social justice. She has won 5 national and international scholarships and 16 awards for academic and creative writing—starting at the age of 11. She was shortlisted for the Overland Fair Australia Essay Prize and the City of Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award for Narrative Nonfiction. She has published in Transcultural Studies, Colloquy, Cordite Poetry Review, and Verity La.