I have cried a lot this week. Some of the tears have been fleeting, others have been deep, prolonged, heartfelt sobs.
I have been angry a lot this week, full of rage, fury, confusion, loss and fear.
I have been hopeful (a little) this week, a hope born from the action of strangers.
When I was 16 there was a school walkout planned to protest the proposed war with Iraq. I can’t remember if it was national or London only, or how it was planned, or how I knew about it. I do remember that it happened during my art lesson. We were permitted by the teachers to walk out of class and then herded onto the crappy concrete tennis courts and told we could protest there until the next lesson. You can’t see the tennis courts from outside the school.
A friend of mine at the time was dating a boy at the local mixed school and she sent him a text. Minutes later a large group of kids from the other school came chanting down the school drive. They had come to get us.
Our head of year, in a move that at the time I thought was pretty amazing, and now realise could have cost him his job, quietly took a few of us aside and unlocked the gate. He let us out of school. Leaving was the opposite of who I was as a child, so shy and well behaved but I knew this mattered and I wanted to speak up. We hopped the barrier at the local tube station and joined a group of other kids our age at Parliament Square to protest. It wasn’t a huge protest, but for a time long before social media it was an impressive number of kids to have mobilised.
It made no difference. Neither did any of the other anti-war protests of the time. Tony Blairs New Labour government went to war anyway.
I lost my faith in Parliament that day.
I continued to vote in every election, but it was more out of respect for the women who fought and died so that I could than because I actually believed in Labour. Then Jeremy Corbyn came along and I felt excited about Labour for the first time. Excited enough that I joined the Labour Party, voted for him as leader twice, and voted proudly for the Labour manifesto in the snap general election. Corbyn isn’t perfect, not by any means, but he is the first political leader in my voting lifetime that makes sense to me on most of the issues I care about.
This week Parliament voted on Brexit three nights in a row: they voted down Theresa May’s mess of a deal for the second time, they voted down no deal as an option, and they voted to ask for an extension on leaving.
What they didn’t do was actually make a decision about how to move forward. May is simply going to ask MP’s to vote for her deal for a third time. Then who knows.
Leaving or remaining in the EU is a complex, incomprehensible mess that our elected officials appear to have no real understanding of. The future of our country, my future and yours, is in the hands of people who care more about their own agendas, party in-fighting and playing politics than they do about our lives. No one in Parliament can agree on what to do, or how to do it, or even what it is they are trying to do in the first place.
Brexit is a clusterfuck.
The entire shit show terrifies me down to my core, fills with me rage and floods me with tears.
What could possibly have brought me hope this week of all weeks?
Kids, hundreds of thousands of them.
Around the world on Friday 15th over 1.4 million children in more than 300 cities staged a school strike. Inspired by a 16 year old girl named Greta Thunberg they marched to try and save our planet. A recent UN report warned that we have 12 years to limit climate catastrophe. It is a stark warning and one these kids appear to have a far better understanding of than political leaders around the globe.
All day news of the strike filled my twitter feed, photos of kids peacefully protesting, banners, signs and bravery all around.
In the UK the children who organised the strike asked the major political parties what they plan to do to prevent climate catastrophe. Most responded. The Conservatives declined to do so. Our current Prime Minister and her government said only that these incredible children should be in school.
This thought was echoed by many leaders around the world, from head teachers to governments.
The protestor’s responses?
Today, they were the teachers. After all what was the point in studying for a future they wouldn’t have.
They are right. They already have a far greater understanding of the critical importance of this moment than anyone in charge seems to. More than this they are willing to act, to stand up, to have an opinion and make that opinion heard. Nor are they the only youth organisation doing so. The March For Our Lives kids in the US have already proven that this generation isn’t going to go away, sit down and be quiet.
In response to the marches the UN General Secretary said he would be bringing world leaders together later this year to discuss concrete, realistic plans, and to put those plans in action. He said that the Paris agreement is meaningless without action and that his generation has failed to properly respond to the dramatic challenge of climate change. That is quite the response and I truly hope he means it.
The leaders of this powerful uprising have promised to keep going, to keep protesting, and to keep striking until real action is taken. And I believe them. I also stand with them. I am scared. I am angry. I have no faith in politics or politicians. But I do have faith in these incredible kids.
My work at the moment, An Ever Moving Now, explores our relationship with nature and with wildness. I am making it to highlight, talk about, and express the issues of climate change, ocean plastics, and our vanishing natural work. I started down this creative road because it matters to me personally. I intend to keep going because, as these kids have proven, it matters globally. We need to be talking about this. We need to talk about the possible dark future we face. And we need to talk with hope about what we will do to change it.
The next time these kids march I hope to be with them.
In the mean time I will keep crying, keep raging, keep hoping and keep making art.
You can find out more about the movement HERE.
Just days before the strikes Greta Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Her actions, like a drop of water in a pond, have caused this increasingly powerful ripple and she deserves our praise and our thanks. Here is Greta speaking (you can find more of her incredible talks, and witness her telling truth to power on YouTube):