From Sep 20 to May 15, supporting school strikers then and now

Posted by Sally Newell on April 12, 2020

Old tactics, new strategies

On 20th September, after months of events, handing out leaflets our hearts rose when there were so many people in Treasury Garden that even on a ladder you could barely see to the edge. The front of the march arrived back before tail end started. The Hun offered this: “hailed as bigger than the AFL Grand Final, with an estimated 150,000 people joining the student-led protest” – 350,000 nationally, and pro-rata, a good part of 6-7 million people hitting the streets round the world.

September 20th huge crowd

This January we were just gearing up for strategy meetings and discussion once the autumn date would be announced. This was going to be even bigger, unstoppable.

But not so long after May 15th was announced and organising material put up, Covid loomed over our immediate future, locking us down. Greta told us to stay at home to stay safe – school strikes were moved online. Greta announced a series of weekly webinars titled “Talks For Future.” Activist and author Naomi Klein was among the first speakers.

Greta moves school strikes online

This is just the beginning of the climate movement’s challenge to adapt, and not lose the race to a fossil lobbying “frenzy” and disaster capitalism in the recovery phase.

Let’s celebrate our hard work last year and do some brainstorming about possible new tactics.

Gathering support – moving to online meetings, preferably with breakout rooms for planning and decision making

In March 2019 we knew the next climate strikes were going to be large. But how large was up to us. The date was set for just three days before UN’s Emergency Climate Summit, September 20th, with some countries going for the 27th.

And so began months of preparation. Each local group would be responsible for turning out people, forming new alliances and supporting the school strikers. Climate strike nights were proposed, so we prepared for an info session, leafletting at our weekly Climate Emergency street conversations, and a barnstorm style event.

Alice at barnstorm

We were inspired by school striker Alice Caldwell who explained just how urgent it was to put pressure on our Government – our emissions are still increasing and effective climate action is being delayed.

Right now we can run meetings like this online, gathering support with conferencing software and work together the use of simple resources through collaborative Google slides, and forms, which can be accessed while participating in a Zoom meeting. People could pop in suggestions on virtual post it notes, brainstorm in groups by writing on different columns on digital slides and join specific breakout rooms, having indicated their area of interest in the chat. Training for Change have an effective “down and dirty” guide to online facilitation.

Using online Google resources in meetings

So in spring 2019 we worked hard, holding info sessions, a barnstorm, vigil, craft sessions and blitzed supermarkets, train stations and letter dropped.

Barnstorm speakers

We distributed 40,000 leaflets and posters. Lighter Footprints supported the strike with leaflet bundles, poster distribution and many volunteers. Our efforts raised community awareness, we certainly did our share of helping to turn out numbers. But right now traditional organising approaches have to be adapted.

We have to learn to use new tools and adapt our resources

It is difficult to use leaflet distribution currently. Leaflets are useful in increasing attendance for peak events, central to stalls, piggy backing onto other events, directly as letter dropping and as barnstorm resources for volunteers, but this all presumes regular not pandemic conditions. Even if people were to place them into letterboxes during permitted solitary exercise, questions may well be raised. Leaflets on their own without a surrounding campaign are probably more of a blunt instrument in changing opinions as a core methodology. The federal election academically based scorecard was letter dropped and handed out on polling day, but this was supported by many other events and quite a large social media and web presence.

Flyers for the climate strike

For the Council elections, we can certainly from conservative digital “town halls”, with breakout room capacity allowing individual discussions perhaps in conduction with audience engagement options like where questions can be posed and collated, and a team could respond to them under Facebook Live. All of this is very applicable to supporting the school strike movement – with school strikers attending online meetings and attendees planning efforts to support the strikers on line efforts before, during and after May 15th.

Many supporting activities can be adapted for online use

Craft nights like this one where local families and activists made beautiful hand made placards and posters and supported the campaign with a photoshoot can move online, where people get together, maybe even with some music after introductions and speakers, to share their poster making efforts. We could also take selfies, and practice short videos before emailing or tweeting out supportive smart phone moving footage that could be up cycled on our social media channels and also collated into something more definitive.

Craft Night Climate Strike

We also offered support to the school strikers at many other events, such as this StopAdani vigil, or at the larger monthly meetings. Perhaps we could be particularly mindful of supporting our young people, who will be badly hit with school closures, delayed exams and uneven resourcing – javelin, welding or pipe band practice might be just slightly tougher at home especially at 9am on Monday.

So we should be looking for opportunities to support, when are emailing out, or planning our new climate programs and introducing, finishing or following up our regular (online) event schedule.


Offering technical and creative resources, working harder to get impact and cut through

Many volunteers and local families helped with publicity before September 20. Our self printing dropbox link was used many times!

Climate strike self printing artwork

These sort of self publicising resources can still be used even if the campaign is solely on line – ranging from made up social media tiles, resources to help created facebook post text, virtual pop in your (or your target’s head) in here graphics, lists of jokes, addresses and handles, fact sheets and more.  

Huge crowds at the climate strike

And on the day we were overwhelmed with the crowds, creativity, theatre, the goodwill, the sense of purpose. The sense of scale was breathtaking – many people waited patiently for over an hour to join the march. I had tears in my eyes and sat with my kids on Parliament steps, trying to hold onto the significance and sense of history for ever.

climate strike colour and movement

Recycle, upcycle, adapt

Right now May 15th will be an online event, and it will be challenging to promote, participate in and support.

May 15th strike online

Simply sharing screen shots from Zoom galleries has limited effect, even if they are placed on arresting backgrounds, compared to massive crowd shots or powerful images of kids with signs, spokes, multigenerational shots, antics, costumes, flags, giant props and all the pageantry of a massive event.

May 15th strike online tactics

We will be able to use images from previous campaigns. Some like this family group will not need qualifiers – we can offer support to protect our kids in our family or shelter in place households as well by ourselves. 

family for climate strike

Others images involving larger groups (not socially distanced) would benefit from a context, to avoid looking strangely out of place right now.

Barnstorm banner

In fact we may well be nimble, upcycling previous resources, like adapting a previous blog in this particular case, reusing event footage in new video messages or taking advantage of our new vast amounts of spare time to learn more tricks (here is an article on 10 ways to edit video on your smart phone – Splice isn’t bad).

Sep 20 large crowds, First Nations

While some images can’t be replicated lacking the authenticity and crowds associated with large events, our challenge now is to make online versions of events just as powerful or effective.

That means a lot of creative thinking, learning and working up spokespeople, media contacts and seizing moments to achieve cut through.

People on their own, particularly if they are supported with online workshops, can still create impactful signs which can be snapped creatively, not just at the kitchen table. With careful sequencing we can still make poignant stories from our collective efforts.

September 20 th individual signs

The StopAdani movement continues to coordinate action against secondary contractors online, with dedicated teams working on corporate facebooks, letter campaigns, telephone blitzes and regular social media campaigns often involving selfies, or upcyling other actions.

We will need to think laterally to pull out new creative forms to make May 15th, or the next big school strike event, noticeable in the midst of the current level of anxiety and health focus.

Sally Newell, September 20th event and publicity images by Julian Meehan


May 15th strike online

Find about Australia’s May 15th online strike here

More resources collated by Julian Atchison:

Zoom related resources.

A free Zoom account allows 40 mins of meeting time. It’s a much better option than Skype for staying in touch with friends and family.

Advocacy and Campaigning in a pandemic:

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