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School strikers: Cambridge songbirds sing their climate change laments

Striking for a future on King's Parade as the sun sets on Cambridge
Striking for a future on King's Parade as the sun sets on Cambridge

It's been a hugely inspirational week for the school striking community: a week ago (September 20) hundreds of school children took to the streets of Cambridge as part of a global day of action, and in the seven days since six million people have marched to demand immediate action on the unfolding ecological emergency. An impassioned speech by Greta Thunberg at the UN - and the vicious responses to it - brought home the gravity of the drama now taking place as governments' desperate attempts to sideline the crisis continue to fail.

Friday was the final day of a week-long vigil for the school strikers - and it was also the day that the Greenpeace 'Local Artists, Global Issues' exhibition began on Christ's Pieces. The show is open all week, it's free, and it's very thought-provoking, not least a poem written after a Frozen Ark talk at Whitemoor Prison.One of those at the talk, known as Darren, then wrote 'Last Chance', which includes the lines:

"Believe who you wish

But Attenborough's spoken

This world is bleeding

It's nearly broken

We need to act now

Before it's too late

Because the world is ready

To capitulate".

A short walk away, in the early evening sunshine - and after a horrendous deluge less than an hour earlier - the school strikers gathered at King's Parade. The event was ably compered by Nico Roman, age 12. Back at the start of the year, Nico was a bit shouty, but now he's really competent, and he's a very funny and entertaining host. He says the struggle to upgrade the escalating climate drama is open to "old ages, young ages, I'd-rather-not-say ages...", he sprinkles the audience with bon mots, his comments about Junayd prompt Junayd to say at the microphone: "I'm used to being satirised as a teenager by people older than me, but never by someone younger than me!" They've been through a lot together this year, the Cambridge school strikers: it's a year they'll remember for the rest of their days, hopefully with pride. They're both tighter as a group, and more relaxed in public.

A variety of speakers take turns at the megaphone: Freya is aged 11. It's heart-breaking to hear a child read a poem she's written entitled "Why Was I Born Now?", with the lines:

"Why do I have to be born now?

When around me my world is dying

But climate change the powerful keep denying."

Next is Harry, aged 12. He points out that "the UN Environment programme says 200 plant, insect or mammal species are becoming extinct every 24 hours - this is devastatingly tragic". "Devastatingly tragic". Shocking to hear that from a child. Climate change has obliged children to compete on an adult playing field: no wonder Greta Thunberg and every pupil who follows in her footsteps are shocked when they realise the obfuscation, the contortions, the fibs, that adults broadcast to ensure 'business as usual' continues.

After Harry, Ella and Arthur read a short story they've written, titled 'My future if we fail'. It's set in a dysopian future when everyone is full of regret about the way it's gone. "2025 was the year we lost our songbirds and the world fell silent... I still find it hard to believe that the fossil fuel companies left our world to burn," reads Freya.

The children are told that there is a town council planning meeting on Saturday (September 28). They are urged to sign a document to the council which highlights their concern about "our town, the rivers and valleys in which we live".

Children queue up to sign the letter due to be given to the council's planning committee
Children queue up to sign the letter due to be given to the council's planning committee

Junayd gets the crowd going with his entertaining call-and-response chanting. He's followed by Jona David, who's now at Winchester College. Jona is worried about the Amazon burning. Who isn't? Quite a lot of people, it turns out. People who the next speaker, Luana, calls "greedy, sleazy CEOs". Luana's speech is rather good considering that Nico introduces her by saying: "We have got a great trumpeter soon but first we have Luana who has just made up here speech." Cheeky!

The trumpeter - "the best trumpeter in this square and beyond", says Nico - follows. He's 12 or 13 and plays "Over The Rainbow", the Judy Garland song from The Wizard of Oz.

It's rather poignant. Let's hope the adults don't poison any more childhood aspirations with avarice and greed. Meanwhile, the protests get more impassioned and more frequent.

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