TL:DR: I was nervous about going to a protest march but it turns out they are generally legal, well-organised, safe, fun and funny. And at the moment, they're necessary. Join one next time! (My favourite signs from the day at the end.)
On Friday 20th September, 2019, I joined a march in Brisbane to mark the Global Climate Strike.
I had never, ever done anything like this before. I come across pretty confident and fired up, but I'm actually intensely introverted, a little shy of authority, and I hate to make a fuss. The idea of showing up and being part of a big, colourful, controversial, annoying crowd is way out of my comfort zone.
There's a rising awareness that we need to do something about the climate crisis, but I know a lot of us feel uncertain about getting out and protesting. I wanted to share my experience of the march, so that you know what to expect if you join in something like this - and why it will probably be awesome!
I heard about the global day of protest online, through various climate action groups I follow.
I saw a facebook event for a march in Brisbane, and hit "going".
Ahead of time, organisers posted a timetable, a map, and tips for having a good day (like bringing sunscreen and water, and writing your phone number on your kid's arm in case they got lost.)
In the lead-up to the event, there were poster-making days and crafternoons to create pieces to display on the day. I didn't go to one, but they created a sense of fun, community and anticipation.
On the day, I showed up. So did 35,000 other people. I think it was a lot more than they expected.
At the allocated time, we heard a Welcome to Country and a few rousing speeches (mostly given by children.)
The crowd was made up of kids in school uniform, regular-looking parents, babies in prams, activists from various environmental and animal rights groups, religious groups, and union representatives. Basically, a bunch of ordinary people of all ages.
Eventually, we marched. I say "eventually" because the event was so vast - while I was still waiting at the starting point, we heard a cry go up that the front of the march had reached its destination 2km away. We stretched all that way!
The march was meandering and relaxed. We chanted and danced. Onlookers waved to us from buildings and kerbs. We didn't experience any hostility from police or passers-by. It was fun! It felt like we were part of something bigger!
Why the march was awesome:
It was legal. While certain acts of lawbreaking have proven orderly and effective, lots of average people are understandably concerned about doing something wrong or getting arrested - let me assure you that the vast majority of protest marches aren't anywhere near that category. Organisers had obtained a permit, and the march itself had police vehicles leading it and bringing up the rear. Police lined the march route and directed traffic, but there was no crowd control needed.
It was well-organised. A map of the route and of the assembly area (divided into sections for first nations, parents with small kids, school strikers, faith groups, and workers/adult supporters) was available online before the day. The timing for speakers and the march itself were all clearly stated ahead of time, and mostly stuck to (although it blew out because the number of people in attendance was so much higher than anticipated!)
It was safe. Volunteers (mostly high school students) acted as crowd marshalls, wheeled portable water stations around and patrolled the crowd handing out sunscreen. Despite the 35,000-strong crowd, there wasn't so much as a jostle or a stepped-on toe (that I witnessed). Everybody was polite and friendly to one another, and the march rolled along at a slow, safe pace. There were thousands of small children and babies in attendance, and people of all abilities participated safely. I even saw somebody marching on crutches!
It was driven by children and teenagers: The energy and enthusiasm of school children on the day put me to shame. High schoolers acted as marshalls and organisers. One of the speakers was primary school aged! A lot of the signs captured the spirit of the children in the crowd: "You know it's time for change when kids act like leaders and leaders act like kids." These kids were acting like leaders.
It was fun and funny: We chanted, we sang, we enjoyed the dubious stylings of an enthusiastically-played trumpet. A lot of the signs made me laugh out loud. There was an incredible spirit of fun and community. People kept yelling out updates from news on the marches around Australia. When they announced 50,000 people had gathered in Sydney, I started crying. (As the day wore on, the count was revised to 80-90,000 people in Sydney and up to 350,000 around Australia.)
My favourite signs from the day:
At the end of the day I felt exhausted, connected and happy. It was the feeling of having done a hard day's work of which I was really proud, alongside a bunch of people I love. Is there any better feeling in the world?
Join the next action in your local area - I can't recommend it highly enough. A new report has come out saying that the changes we need to make are possible by 2030, but the key missing ingredient is political leadership. Let's keep asking our leaders to listen until they can't ignore it.
So much love xxx
P.S. Don't say you're sorry. We need the people who can take action to take actual action.