Young Friends need more support for climate justice action

Young Friends taking part in climate justice strikes have spoken about their need for more support from their Meetings

Quakers have called for Meetings to give more support to young Friends involved in youth climate strikes. As campaigners get ready for the global climate action on 20 and 27 September, some Quakers have expressed concern about attitudes towards young climate activists.

Susanna Mattingly, from Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) said that when she spoke at the Friends Southern Summer Events’ (FSSE’s) Senior Conference to more than eighty young Quakers aged from fifteen to eighteen, on the theme of ‘Quakers in the 21st Century’, some expressed frustration. ‘Many of [them] have been taking part in the school climate strikes and, when I asked what kind of support they were receiving from their Quaker communities, their responses were mixed,’ she said. ‘Some spoke about the challenges of dealing with climate deniers in their own Meetings, and feeling like an isolated, lone voice. Others felt there was an expectation that, as young people, they must be better informed than others on the topic, otherwise their arguments would be picked apart. Some saw this as a responsibility, and others felt it as a burden.’

She added: ‘I do worry that we’re not thinking it is a serious witness because they are young. They do need support. They’re risking being suspended, or getting lower grades. Some people presume that they are doing it just to bunk off school. so they’re being questioned. I worry that we will miss this opportunity. People are listening. Greta [Thunberg] is having a big effect. If we don’t support them now, we could miss this opportunity.’

The comments echo sentiments expressed during the Young People’s Programme at Yearly Meeting at High Leigh in May where some young Friends were reported to say they did not feel adequately supported. Anya Nanning Ramamurthy told the Friend that the sense of connection she has felt from her local Tottenham Meeting, where several families are involved in climate action, has kept her strong. ‘Activism is draining so knowing that you have somewhere to go back to where there’s loads of support is really important.’ Ideas she suggested included offering resources (for example, the Meeting house for public events), and helping with outreach, advertising or funding. ‘Also maybe just checking in on individuals and seeing if they need support,’ she added.

Other ideas include older Friends attending climate strike protests, as Chelmsford Quakers have done, or connecting lone campaigners across Meetings. Susanna Mattingly gave the example of one Quaker in the US, who had a Clearness Committee to support him through his civil disobedience, which included being present when he was arrested.

One young Friend said it was important because ‘we ourselves can’t do very much so the back-up of adults is very important. I think there is a common belief that because we are young we don’t know what we are talking about, but more of us are becoming informed on this issue.’

Some Quakers have also raised concerns about the reaction of some schools to the strikers. Quaker Bernadette Jordan wrote a letter to Albany Academy in Lancashire, which was featured on BBC television programme North West Tonight in June for excluding Year 11 pupils from the school prom for joining a climate protest in Manchester instead of a revision lesson. In the letter she quoted the school’s ethos statement that says ‘This is a community where everyone… is empowered to take control of their own destiny’ and pointed out that this is exactly what the young activists were doing. She wrote: ‘These pupils are rightly concerned about their own future.… The pupils in your school need to be heard, not punished.’

Paul Parker, recording clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) said ‘Young people and workers should not have to strike to demand leadership on climate change. But with our parliament shutdown and politicians arguing among themselves over Brexit, it appears necessary for us to stop business as usual and make our voices heard.’

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