Friday, 29th November, 11am, Bedford Square. The honey pot for the environmental warriors of Exeter. The difference? These warriors came in pushchairs and from school playgrounds. They came in families with toddlers dancing and darting between placards. Fridays for Future along with Extinction Rebellion dominated this corner of Exeter, and their army were predominately teenagers.
Black Friday saw the high street swarmed by shoppers looking to get bargains on their festive gifts. The high street traffic flowed past Bedford Square, heads down, sidestepping around the group of young activists. Sidestepping the environmental impact of our shopping habits. But it was difficult to sidestep the ‘Black Friday’ presented by Extinction Rebellion. The funeral procession lay the sombre foundations behind the playground of chanting voices. A coffin was carried on the shoulders of the elder activists who were shrouded in black with wreathes in hand and grave solemnity cast across their faces. The coffin bore the sign ‘our children’s future’. It was startlingly moving, and was in no way softened for the infantile eyes surrounding the scene.
Within seconds of the coffin passing me, a waist high pantomime horse trotted forward, and two curly haired heads popped out from the costume. Next to them was their younger sibling in a pram, welly boots donned, placard in hand. Stooping down to hear over the chanting crowd I was told “Earth is our home, and if we don’t look after it we will have no home. I wanted to be one of the people who tried really hard”.
On the one hand it was brilliant to see such young children thinking about the environmental crisis. But on the other it was petrifying. When I was in pre-school my biggest concern was who was ‘it’ in a game of tag, not the level of carbon emissions in the atmosphere or plastic pollution in the sea.
The speaker blared the chant ‘Whose future? Our future’, stirring the crowd. It was notable talking to the teens of the group that this issue, seems to involve a level of resentment towards the ‘adults’ who “got us into this mess”. It was very much an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, tinged with teenage rebellion. I can’t for one moment criticise the procession, or in anyway condemn the fact young people are taking such an active interest in promoting decarbonisation and ‘green deals’.
The march kicked off and the procession began. Looping through Princesshay, out and along the High street. Shoppers stepped to one side, phones out recording the scene. As a bumblebee told me, after giving me a gingerbread biscuit “I feel like we are all coping, even the people who are carrying on shopping. We are all in this incredible mess together, and hopefully we can show that there is a more productive way of coping”.
Coping with fear was very much the game of this strike. Young people coping with daunting climate facts, parents coping with the uncertainty of their children’s future world, adults coping with a guilt complex for being a part of the generation labelled as the ecological villains.
Climate change is no pantomime. But it is a sinister joke that we have reached a point where the looming threat of Climate Change, and the burden to try and rectify the situation is being carried on such young shoulders. Many would condemn the parents who walked their kids hand in hand in the march. But can you blame them? This is the world we live in, their children’s reality. Is it a bad thing that they are being raised to be proactive? To be engaged with the world?
The climate clock keeps ticking despite Christmas being around the corner. Cultivating a culture where people, from a young age are aware of this hard truth and are expected to be vocal about it, can’t be a bad thing. Especially if “Climate change is even scarier than Voldemort”.
– Siobhan Bahl
All Original Photography, including Featured Image.