How oft have we looked at our young people and shaken our heads in despair. Their seeming preoccupation with hand-held electronic devices and their sometimes breezy and flippant responses to the things that matter so much to us, are at times disheartening. There is indeed a generation gap between those of us over 35 years of age and ‘the young uns.’
Having said that however, the events of this past weekend are a welcome reminder that our worst fears may be unfounded. All is not lost; our young people are not as adrift and out to sea as we may sometimes believe. Apparently, they are very much engaged, and quite concerned about the future. And they are suggesting that lots of the problems that we now face, cannot be blamed on them. Billy Joel, the great American pop singer gives voice to the lament of the young people in WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE: “We didn’t start the fire / It was always burning / Since the world’s been turning / We didn’t start the fire / No, we didn’t light it / But we tried to fight it.” Yes, this generation has inherited a host of problems that had their genesis in generations past. Nevertheless, they are determined to do something about it.
Of course, the issue of the hour, and the hour is far spent, mind you, is that of limiting greenhouse emissions so that global temperatures will not rise beyond 2 degrees centigrade. The consensus among scholars and scientists on the matter is that any temperature rise beyond that threshold will be cataclysmic. Our students, thanks again to Greta Thunberg, who was bold enough to take a stand over a year ago, and who often cut classes to sit in front of the Swedish parliament to urge action to save the planet, have been imbued with a sense of urgency that cannot be throttled. And yes, the many slogans spoke to their anger and their demand. For example, here are some of the slogans from around the world at this past Friday’s Climate Strike: “You want lies with that?” “I want you to act as if your house is on fire, because it is!” “It’s getting hot in here so take off all your coals!” “Climate justice!” “There is no planet B!” “Schools have to be parliament when parliament is a schoolyard!” “Make earth great again!” and “If you don’t act like adults, we will!” They were witty and thought provoking, and more than a few were quite obscene, but they accurately reflected the angst and vexation of our youth.
Here in Antigua and Barbuda, our school children rose admirably to the occasion with a number of inspiring slogans of their own. For example, there was, “Our house is burning!” “Denial is not a policy!” “1.5 to stay alive!” “Follow your dream, keep the environment clean!” “Green is clean; get rid of the steam!” “Keep Barbuda clean, it’s such a beautiful scene!” “We’ll never survive if the earth’s temperatures rise!” “March now or swim later; stop global warming!” These were all powerful statements that resonated, but the one that was a punch to the gut for this writer was the placard that had drawings of mangroves with their long roots (the habitat and breeding spaces for several species of fish and other marine life, and a sieve of sorts to prevent detritus from entering our oceans) and the words: “Protect our coastlines!” Seems, this generation gets it, but not the geniuses who gave the green light for the destruction of our mangroves. A pox on them and their tribe!
This coming Friday, the climate strikers will be assembling in front of our parliament building at 12:00 noon to again raise voices of protest and sound the alarm. We believe that this strike will be considerably bigger than last week’s, because the first strike captured the imagination of many students who were initially reticent or even apathetic. We certainly trust that contingents from all the schools will be granted permission to join that strike / rally. Barring that, there is a thinking in some circles that the students should cut classes and picket parliament a la Greta Thunberg. Thunberg decided to take that radical step after suffering through one of Sweden’s hottest summers ever. Our students should take a similar radical tack after seeing the carnage wreaked by two of the strongest hurricanes on record – Irma and Dorian.
And civil disobedience and protest on the part of our students is not without precedent here in Antigua and Barbuda. Many of us can remember when the entire student body of the Antigua Grammar School took to the streets in 1972 to demand the reinstatement of their dearly beloved headmaster, Lloydstone ‘Jakie’ Jacobs. It was a historic demonstration, and out of that unauthorised action, arose many of the movers and shakers here in our fair State today. We can think of former finance minister and political leader of the United Progressive Party, Harold Lovell; Ambassador Colin Murdoch; retired banker, Gene George; and head of the Antigua State College, Hyram Forde, to name a few.
Again, we say, power to the students! Again we say to our politicians, cease and desist with the lip service and hypocrisy! We stand in solidarity with our young people, and we encourage them. After all, the scriptures suggest that the children will lead us