By Shauna Lewis
This Friday, students across Durham will be protesting climate change outside the Bill Bryson Library. Organised by ECO DU and Amnesty International, they will be targeting Durham University’s action in moving towards sustainability – or lack thereof.
The students organising the strike have come together from ECO DU, a student-group formed to hold the university to account, and Amnesty International, a human rights organisation. Previously working on different projects, when talking to each other they realised the greater influence they would have in bringing their groups together.
Anna Marshall, one of the organisers from Amnesty, commented: “We started out with [recruiting] these specific environment groups, but we realised that actually every single student group is affected.”
We really are about this strike being as accessible and as intersectional as possible
It seems like an easy observation to make, but with the recent criticism of Extinction Rebellion as being a haven for white middle-class protesters, it’s an actively positive move to make the environmental movement what it should be: something which considers everyone.
Eden Szymura, another organiser from Amnesty, wanted to stress this element of the protest: “We really are about this strike being as accessible and as intersectional as possible. There’s a multiplicity of voices and we need that. It’s all about this strike showing and representing the future we need.”
For the organisers themselves, the protest comes from an initial place of frustration along with a drive to create change. Evie Hill, a member of ECO DU, spoke about the founding of the group: “The reason that ECO DU started, I think, is because so many people are tired of doing the individual things. You can go vegan, you can stop flying but you’re still only one person.”
Durham University needs to take more responsibility for sustainability and environmental issues
For Evie, ECO DU and the protest this week, is the next rung on the ladder. “I’ve reached my limit, I don’t know what else I can do. What’s my next step? I’ve got to try and make my university change.”
There’s a lot of discussion about going vegan, plastic straws and reducing our own individual damage. As Evie, Anna and Eden acknowledge though, this has a limited effect when the larger structures you are part of produce a larger-scale impact.
Evie added, “Durham University needs to take more responsibility for sustainability and environmental issues, especially considering how much money and power they have as an institution.”
This strike’s purpose, along with exercising the student voice, includes a list of 20 demands from ECO DU which specifically target the university. Included are requests to revise and update the targets of the full Sustainability Action Plan, to commit to the Sustainable Travel Plan and to change the culture of the university by declaring environmental consciousness a key part of the university’s identity.
Some demands are more concrete than others, with some asking for a change of mindset from the university. This request to revise and update the targets of the Sustainability Action Plan is particularly long overdue at the hands of the university, if you check the policy document available online, it was last updated for the academic year 2017-18.
Everyone on Facebook is who they want to be
The organisers place the blame on the administrative side of the university and its purpose as a business; even if individual academics agree with the strike, there is a distinction between their stance and that of the University. In the past, student groups have struggled to make an impact as a result of being unable to directly communicate with the Vice-Chancellor and other core members of staff.
For Friday’s strike though, over 1,700 people have responded to the event on Facebook and with numbers like that, the movement is becoming harder to ignore. Anna gave a shade of scepticism to those interested: “it’s that difference, everyone on Facebook is who they want to be.” Although a more politically engaged online image is something a lot of us are guilty of, the numbers are large enough to show that people do care.
There are those who are sceptical though. Evie commented: “People think ‘oh what does a protest do’? If we target Durham University and say look, there are 300, 500, 1000 people who care about this issue, they can’t ignore it, they’re not allowed to ignore it.”
“If you’re feeling guilty, then that’s your own conscience”
Should students feel guilt if they don’t attend the strike on Friday? Evie answered: “I think if you’re feeling guilty, then that’s your own conscience. I don’t think you should feel guilty, but if you are feeling that, then you need to use that feeling, don’t put it aside.”
For the team behind the strike, it’s been a chance to collaborate and realise what can be done as a united front. For students outside this circle, it’s a chance to show you care – within your capabilities – and to join in with holding our institution to account.
Image by Eden Szymura
Durham University Climate Strike is being held at 12:30pm, Friday 15th November outside the Bill Bryson Library.