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University students strike for climate justice

The small but passionate rally called for radical action on climate change.

Source: Prudence Wilkins-Wheat.

About 100 students from across several Sydney universities left class today to call for action on climate change. 

The strike, organised by Uni Students for Climate Justice, saw a contingent of more than 50 University of Sydney students meet outside Fisher Library and March to Haymarket to meet with contingents from other universities. 

SRC Co-Education Officer Jack Mansell opened the rally, telling protestors that the summer’s fires were an unprecedented climate disaster. “Neither Albanese or Scott Morrison are going to take the action we need on this emergency.”

The importance of Indigenous justice in climate justice was a key theme for rally speakers.

Muruwari and Budjiti activist and founder of the Water for Rivers campaign, Bruce Shillingsworth, told the crowd of the government’s abandonment of Indigenous peoples.

“Our rivers have now become toxic. The taking and poisoning of our waters is hurting Indigenous peoples. Our government has never done anything for Aboriginal peoples, they have taken our lands, our rivers and children.”

“We are heading down two roads, one is a road of destruction, the other a road of survival.”

SRC Co-Environment Officer Prudence Wilkins-Wheat reminded the Sydney University contingent that the rally is being held on stolen Gadigal land. “There is no climate justice without justice for First Nations peoples.”

Activists also criticised lack of action from both major parties. Chants of “Scomo/Albo fuck you, we deserve a future too” were chanted as the contingent made its way down Eastern Avenue. 

Greens members for Newtown, Jenny Leong, criticised the Labor and Liberal parties for failing to commit to no new coal. “What an incredible opportunity for a stimulus package it would be to invest in publicly-owned renewables and emissions free public housing.”

On the relationship between capitalism and climate change,SRC Co-Environment Officer Lily Campbell told the crowd that COVID-19 is showing the world what climate activists have long known: “No one’s coming to save us. This is the crisis of capitalism.”

Rail, Tram and Bus Union member Damien, told the crowd that “corporate greed has caused climate destruction.” “This is a system that puts profit before any other climate consideration.” Several unions have plans to conduct climate strikes on 1 May this year.

For some speakers, this summer’s climate disaster was very close to home.

Environment Collective member James Sherriff , whose family lives  in the Blue Mountains , told the crowd that he had to watch his “family pack up their homes again and again and again” as unprecedented fires passed through the region.

The rally also saw an outsized police presence. “I think there are better things our police can be doing than trying to intimidate climate activists” Leong noted in her speech.

As Honi reported this week, today’s strike was subject to controversy between campus socialist groups Solidarity and Socialist Alternative, the former arguing the strike should be labelled a “rally” and changing the name on posters promoting the event.

Whether upcoming climate strikes planned for May will go ahead is unclear.

Scott Morrison has today announced an effective ban on all events of 500 or more people over COVID-19 concerns.

On Wednesday, Greta Thunberg called for an end to in-person climate strikes as a response to COVID-19. She has called for students to engage in a “Digital Strike” instead.

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