We refuse to accept the future where the basic struggle to survive becomes the global standard of living.
On Friday 15th February, over a hundred young people assembled in Market Square under the leadership of a group of sixth formers. This was part of the national #YouthStrike4Climate, which saw over sixty demonstrations nationwide and has been estimated to include 15,000 participants.
Paul Ray from Durham Johnston Sixth Form set up a Facebook event on Monday and on Friday over a hundred people stood in Market Square, holding freshly-painted signs and chanting original songs.
He told Palatinate: “I proposed the strike on short notice last Sunday night after seeing Facebook posts about strikes in other cities.
“Myself and people in my RE class immediately started organising the strike: drafting a letter to the school, contacting local news, making signs and placards. Durham University People and Planet and Extinction Rebellion Durham helped us enormously in assisting with sign-making and lending us resources such as a megaphone
We don’t want to live in a world that is uninhabitable by extreme weather
“Everyone who went on strike received an unauthorised absence, as if we’d bunked off. Us organisers made it clear that it was intended for sixth formers and older, because there are legal and safeguarding issues with under 16s not turning up to school, but some Year 11s turned up anyway. Once there, they were of course welcomed; climate change threatens them just as much as us, obviously.”
Standing between 10am and 2pm in Market Square, the fiery speeches made by the sixth form students further articulated their reasons for abstaining from school.
“We don’t want to live in a world that is uninhabitable by extreme weather, or where the majority of plants and animal life have disappeared as rising sea levels turn a huge proportion of the global population into refugees”, announced Oscar, a local pupil, into a megaphone.
“We refuse to accept the future where the basic struggle to survive becomes the global standard of living”.
Daisy Pullman, as President of Durham University People and Planet, was excited to offer her solidarity (and her megaphone) to the Durham sixth formers.
She told Palatinate: “I’m scared because climate breakdown is here and the bright, hopeful future I’ve been promised my whole life is rapidly slipping from view. Yet governments, the media and large corporations are failing to treat this as the emergency it is. I firmly believe radical protest is the only option left.”
It is literally a matter of life and death that the Durham Plan cleans up its act
Pullman’s words echo the thoughts of Durham City’s recently formed Extinction Rebellion branch, which has been touring local community groups and student organisations to deliver speeches on climate change. Extinction Rebellion members have been arrested for glueing themselves to Downing Street, blocking London’s five main bridges, disrupting traffic, and graffitiing governmental buildings.
Two days before the youth strike, on Wednesday 13th February, Extinction Rebellion’s Durham branch were protesting in Market Square against the Council’s Durham Plan.
The council were holding a consultation for the County Durham Plan, which sets out a vision for housing, jobs and the environment until 2035, as well as the transport, schools and healthcare to support it. This plan has been fiercely contested by the Durham Road Block organisation, which was also protesting in Market Square on Saturday.
Durham Road Block are an organisation of residents from Durham that have been protesting the building of two bypasses around Durham since 2011. They are concerned that the new roads would lead to more traffic, cut through nature reserves, plough through some historically important sites, cost money and divert shoppers away from the town centre.
I firmly believe radical protest is the only option left
Ellie Vincent, a student and member of Durham Extinction Rebellion, has said: “This plan will determine Durham’s policy for the next thirty years and it does not acknowledge the climate emergency. It is scandalous that there is no planned infrastructure for public transport and cycle lanes.
“All talk of helping the environment resounds as false since this plan will still allow open-air cast mining. Public health England attributed 223 deaths in County Durham to pollution in one year. It is literally a matter of life and death that the Durham Plan cleans up its act .”
In response to the recent protests, Stuart Timmiss, head of development and housing at Durham County Council, said: “The County Durham Plan aims to ensure we have enough housing to meet the needs of our growing population, to bring forward employment sites to create more jobs and to provide the necessary infrastructure, such as relief roads, to allow this to happen.
“The proposed Northern Relief Road would allow us to reduce traffic and air pollution in and around the city centre, creating the opportunity to introduce more bus lanes and improved and safer cycling provision. The proposed Western Relief Road would alleviate congestion on the A167 and at Neville’s Cross, reducing journey times and improving access to Durham City and the A1 from the west of the county.”