Fridays for Future

On Friday March 15th, hundreds of thousands of children across the world went on strike. Not against their schooling system, nor against the increasingly draconian grading that imprisons them into a mould that makes no space for their own characters and dreams. Far less selfish than we might be inclined to think, these young souls went on strike for something that affects all of us: the earth's climate.

The cynics amongst us may deride the whole affair as a passing fade. A nifty excuse to skip school. An opportunity to play some more video games at home. And perhaps some did. The vast majority however took to the streets, made banners denouncing systematic repression and political inaction and chanted empowering words together which, for many, must have been their first engagement with activism.

It was hard, reading the news that morning and seeing pictures of these children in Australia and Asia (for their march had started long before ours) not to cry. It was hard, joining the thousands who marched here in Barcelona, not to feel a sense of hope. It is hard, indeed, to ignore the fact that this movement started with just one little person, just one drop in the ocean, and has now spread across all five continents.

The achievement merits attention. It is not simply that the drop caused a ripple across the world. Each and every city or town that participated in Friday's strike (over 1,000 in 100 different countries) went through its own challenging process to achieve it. As a young organiser reminded me: "At first it was just four of us discussing how we could start the Fridays for Future here in Barcelona. That was six weeks ago. Today I can't believe how many people have joined the strike. Someone told me we're about 5,000."

There are times, like the present, when things look so bad we don't think much will ever change. Everything either confirms humanity's irrepressible instinct to be bad or, if a breath of fresh air, is treated as nothing more than a passing wind. It is hard, in times like these, to remember what came before. Hard to hear people remind us just how bad life was back in the 1940s when racism was rife, not all women could vote and people were still jailed for their sexual orientations.

Indeed, some of these voices of 'reason' are misleading. Think of Stephen Pinker and his plea for us to recognise "what we have been doing right. Because we have been doing something right" only to conclude that it is, and must be, Western liberal democracy. It would seem as though all we need to fix the world is more of it.

Although remarkably similar to Pinker in some ways, Rebecca Solnit has no such airs of grandeur. She doesn't attempt to reduce thousands of years of human history into a convenient scientific conclusion. To the contrary she acknowledges that if there's one lesson to learn from history it's that change is often unpredictable: "power can suddenly be in the hands of those who appear out of what seems to the rest of us like nowhere."

If one were to put Pinker's question to her I reckon she would answer along the lines of "what we've been doing right is what we've been doing. Instead of trying to learn empirical lessons from the past to better form the future how about just working on the future right here, right now? It's not like we don't know what to do."

This is why I’ve started saying, Don’t ask what will happen. Be what happens. Today, you are what is happening. Today, your power will be felt. Today, your action matters. Today in your individual action you may stand with a few people or with hundreds, but you stand with billions around the world. Today you are standing up for people not yet born, and those ghostly billions are with you too. Today you are the force of possibility that runs through the present like a river through the desert.

In a sense both Pinker and Solnit are advocating the same thing: keep on going with what you were doing. Just that one is speaking to the interests of the powerful while the other is speaking to those challenging it. One is optimistic in the sense that it believes things will inevitably get better further down the long road of progress - the other is hopeful in the sense that although the future is unpredictable, we might just be able to write it ourselves.

The future, it would seem, is very much in our hands.

Aho.

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© 2020 by Pierre Smith Khanna