We seem to be living in a time of constant protest. The Women’s March, the fight for political freedom in Hong Kong and climate protests all dominate the headlines, social channels and airwaves.
From afar, it’s tempting to see protests as mere spectacles, a way for media-savvy young people with too much time on their hands to gain attention. But coordinated protests on the national and international level have a long and glorious history of galvanizing society and affecting major changes. If there were ever an issue that begs for protest, climate change is one. If there were ever a time, that time is now. And if there were ever a need, the need is for all of us to get involved before it’s too late.
In the 1800s, the labor movement used strikes and public protests to win some of the workers’ rights that are widely accepted today, like the 8-hour work day and paid time off. Protests were also at the heart of the Civil Rights movement. The famous Memphis strike supported by Martin Luther King lasted from February to April in 1968, helping to provide workers better wages and working conditions. That same year, Latinx students were treated unfairly for speaking their native language in Los Angeles school districts. They staged several walkouts that eventually resulted in school reform and an increase of college enrollment among Latinx youth.
The fight continues today. Greta Thunberg has ignited a global movement in over 150 different countries and led young people and adults to demand change. Children have taken it upon themselves to combat climate change because it is their future that is most at risk. Researchers say that we have approximately 12 years to cut our gas emissions by at least half to avoid the worst consequences of warming. Because children cannot vote, according to Greta Thunberg, striking is “the most effective way our voices will be heard.”
What began as a small act of defiance by a teenager in front of the Swedish Parliament is sending ripples around the world. A planned walkout by more than 1,500 Amazon employees successfully pressured Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to be more environmentally conscious. Amazon’s pledge includes reducing emissions by at least 50 percent, reducing the usage of water by as much as 80 percent, and achieving zero-waste-to landfill. To help meet its goals, Amazon ordered 100,000 electric delivery trucks.
Climate strikes have been successful internationally, too. In Germany, protestors pressured the German government into passing a 54 billion dollar euro package of measures for tackling climate change in September. In fact, over 1000 local governments in 19 countries have declared a climate emergency and committed to action to decrease emissions.
Don’t see yourself in the climate strike scene? There are many ways to address a call to action without getting involved in an actual demonstration. Whether it’s where you obtain your mortgage or how you invest your retirement savings, divestment is one way to encourage change. And it is proven to work. Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, announced plans for bankruptcy in 2016 citing the divestment movement as a large factor.
Directly lobbying elected officials is another alternative to protesting. Contact your local district leader or congressperson and discuss what part they will play in addressing climate change policy. Make sure they know that you vote and you vote on climate. You can even make a difference from the comfort of your own laptop. Join a Facebook group, or follow an eco-friendly Instagram page, share reliable information on the climate crisis and look for volunteering opportunities. By engaging in any or all of these actions, you will become part of the global struggle to save the world from climate change and be part of a the history of protest, in ways big and small, that has shaped society for the better for hundreds of years.