Disclaimer: This article may be polarising.
On Friday, I did something I had never done before, and was unsure I would ever do. I joined a march. A demonstration, if you will. A protest, if you must.
I’d thought about participating in various marches before, but inevitably there had always been a barrier preventing me from joining – mainly work or time, but also a sense of shyness and not wanting to put myself in a situation where I was ‘on show’ because of something I was saying and doing. Not that I will ever be the loudest person in the crowd – not by a long shot – but as I learnt on Friday, you really are ‘on show’ when you participate in something like this; people come up and speak with you, complete strangers film you and take your picture, news crews line the streets – I even appeared on Seven Sharp for all of two seconds. But, when I started spotting posters about the Auckland Climate March, I knew I couldn’t just sit at home and not participate. Not only do I have the time available now, thanks to my freelance schedule, but this is a cause I feel passionate enough about to join in with and support.
I knew a few other friends would be attending, so I painted a sign and made plans to join them. As my friend and I walked through Myers Park to the march meeting point, we could hear the cheers and shouts of the assembling crowd in Aotea Square. I asked my friend, a seasoned campaigner, what I could expect and he told me; “The passion and raw emotion of some of the activists is pretty moving. It makes you question where you stand in your own activism.” I thought on that for a minute and decided that, physically, my place was probably more on the outskirts, observing, rather than picketing on the front line. A lie- or sit-down felt a little too far for me, personally (I’m also pregnant and was wearing a white dress, neither of which are conducive to lying on Queen Street). Any sign of violence or aggression and I was 100% out. I needn’t have thought twice about that though, this was a peaceful walk with lots of songs, laughter and impassioned speech that was articulate and eloquent, not angry or hateful.
We arrived at Aotea Square and joined a crowd of people on the steps, overlooking the square; a good meeting place to find our friends and a great spot to chat to other marchers (side note: you’ll notice I will refer to the attendees of the march as marchers or strikers, not protesters. Again, this is because I didn’t feel it was a protest, but a march of solidarity and support for a common cause). Within minutes we’d chatted to people about my sign, their signs, the size of this march versus the last one, and even some researchers from a power company who wanted to interview us. One lady we spoke to – a veteran marcher, well equipped for the weather in a floor-length anorak and rain hat – told us she’d participated in protests since the early 1960s. “There’s been a lot to protest about between then and now,” she chuckled.
As we waited for our friends, the crowd swelled and with it, the buzz of energy that only a large crowd can generate. The school strikers filled the middle of the square, some of them taking turns to address the crowd, while the work strikers, parents and those of us whose school years are now over a decade behind us, stood around the outside. When the signal came to start walking down Queen Street, we let the students lead the way. Despite the almost palpable feeling of passion and belief in the cause, everyone moved in an orderly fashion and there was a sense of calmness. As we all filed onto Queen Street, a bottleneck formed, but everyone chatted patiently amongst themselves and chanted the words being taught to us by a student with a loudhailer.
We made our way down Queen Street; 80,000 strong. The road was completely closed to all traffic, however, as we crossed Wellesley Street, the sound of an ambulance echoed around the CBD as it crested the hill and headed straight towards us. Sirens on, it barrelled down the hill towards the crowd and a lone policeman standing in the crosshairs of the intersection, waving his arms frantically to make it stop. He turned to look at us, a crowd flowing as unencumbered as a river, and I saw a flash of panic cross his face. He needn’t have worried. Without so much as a gesture from him, the crowd, 80,000 of us with our placards and banners, parted ways like Moses’ Red Sea. Silently, hastily, with no one directing or leading or yelling, everyone moved to one side or the other, forming a path wide enough for the ambulance (and then some) to race through. The cop signalled for the ambulance to move along, gave us all a wave of thanks, then took up his post at the intersection as we all merged together again and continued our march. That moment, to me, summed up my entire experience at the Climate Strike. Peaceful and calm; a true example of the kindness, compassion and connectedness that I know humankind as a collective still possesses, despite the awful things we constantly see and hear.
My biggest takeaway from the march was just how diverse the crowd was. I’d gone there expecting to see mostly school or university students and the ‘stereotypes’ that are usually associated with protests and marches. What I saw instead was a collective of people so unique and varied that it reinforced to me just how much of a big deal climate change really is. There were slick suits; dreadlocks and bare feet; high viz vests and work boots; the fashion set, including a few Gucci-clad influencers I’ve seen on Instagram; babies; retirees; people who looked just like my parents and their friends; groups carrying flags from the Pacific Islands, Bolivia and some of the Asian countries; and thousands of high school students in uniforms from all over Auckland.
Leaving the march once it reached the Ports of Auckland, I felt invigorated and proud, not in myself but in us as a collective; the 80,000 people who had skipped out on school or work or whatever else they were doing in their busy lives, to support one another and a cause that we all believe in. It was a solid show of; “Science, we believe you, we are united behind you; we’re trying to do what’s right and we want to do better”.
Arriving home that night, I posted a few videos and pics from the day to my family, and on my Instagram Stories. A number of friends wrote to me saying they’d been at the march and commented on how inspiring it was, but one person – and there must always be at least one – slid into my DMs with a slightly more cynical view:
“So, no more aeroplane travel for you then? … Sales of bicycles will skyrocket with all those children no longer getting rides to school.”
I politely responded, with a slightly joking tone, saying I wasn’t sure the drivers of big cars who drive a few hundred metres to drop their kids at school, were actually at the march, but that we shouldn’t judge – their vehicles might be electric. I also mentioned that there’s a general feeling of it being unsafe for children to walk or cycle along roads to school these days (especially in Auckland’s diabolical traffic) so unless you can live close by, it might not be a viable option. I then added that it’s “a complex issue, that’s for sure!”
This person then kindly mansplained to me that while “protesting is fine, action is better”, as if the concept had completely slipped my mind. The thing is though, often protesting or raising awareness by whatever means possible, is a precursor to action – or at the very least, plays a supporting role. Our 80,000 strong crowd was silently saying; “I’m with you. I believe the facts. I want to help in some way/shape/form. I want change”. Our actions following the march cannot be measured, but I have no doubt in my mind that myriad conversations, concepts, ideas and actions were inspired by Friday; little seeds planted that will take root and blossom into more action, more ideas, more conversations. I don’t think anyone thought that by walking on Friday we would see immediate action, let alone results, but I got the impression that wasn’t the point. There were 80,000 of us – we couldn’t be ignored. My hope is that we gave encouragement to those already taking action, put pressure on those who have the means to make big changes, and raised awareness for those who still don’t know or understand what the big deal is.
As for that DM I received? I am human, therefore I am flawed. I am not the person you should be looking to for a shining example of how humanity should act and live. I don’t think anyone is, not even Greta. I don’t believe in pinning your hopes and dreams for change on one person; I believe it comes down to collective responsibility and doing what you can do, yourself, to better the world, the environment and your community. For some people, many millions in fact, that will be nothing: their priorities are simply to stay alive, keep their family alive, and provide food for their children. For others, it will mean hugely impactful actions: scientists discovering new technology which can help suck carbon from the air, for example, or fossil fuel giants who forge a new path into renewable energy. For the rest of us, it might vary: some of us will ditch our cars; some will give up air travel; others might go vegan or build a carbon-neutral home; some will commit to going waste-free or not buying products that have travelled across the globe by ship or plane; others might plant thousands of trees, like my parents did a few years back, because they had the means to. The fact is, action looks different to everyone, and as I often say: you can’t be all of the things to all of the people; you can’t do all of the things, all of the time.
I can’t guarantee I will never fly again – over half my family live 12,000 miles away and our bonds are strong – but I will look at how I can offset my carbon when I go to visit them in the future, and would avoid accepting a job which required me to travel by air frequently. My husband and I do what we can, with what we have. It’s not always a walk in the park. For example, we have a baby due in March and the other day the topic of nappies came up – how will we combat the giant amount of waste they cause? Compostable nappies are expensive. Cloth nappies require power and water energy to constantly launder. Disposable ones end up in the landfill. Both somewhat stumped, we left the conversation at; “Maybe a combination of all three?” With a big question mark above it. Between us, two relatively smart, educated, well-read people, we don’t have all the answers or the solutions. But we try. We keep trying. We’ll continue trying, and reading, and asking, and exploring, and evolving. We’ll back the people doing incredible things with science and technology – and not the ones who knock it. We’ll do our best. But, as I said, we are still human and therefore we are flawed.
When I left the march on Friday, I walked partway up Queen Street with a man named Mac. He asked if he could carry my sign until we got to his lodgings – a carpark just off the street. I obliged. He told me he couldn’t make the march because he had other “giddy ups” to attend to (don’t ask, I have no clue what that means) but that he would try and make the next one, if there was one.
“You should,” I told him. “The more people, the better.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” he agreed. “And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The people. It’s all about the people.”
I couldn’t agree more.
On that note; some articles to bookmark:
Wondering what (or what more) you can do to help in the fight against climate change? This brilliantly simply concept is inspiring for all, no matter what you do or what skills you have.
Confused as to what climate change actually is? Read this fantastic summary by sustainability consultant and founder of Go Well Consulting, Nick Morrison.
Feel like you’re drowning in negative climate news? Hop over to the Positive News site and consume upbeat news articles focusing on the environment and social justice. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.
For an international, yet often grim perspective, The Atlantic science section has some great reads and exceptional journalism.
Also, the entire climate change section of the Telegraph - you'll have to pay to read most of them, though.
For an in-your-face, and often harrowing, narration of the damage we've done and continue to do, read The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells.