Dani Garavelli: Striking schoolchildren are a beacon of hope

The striking schoolchildren were a beacon of hope to all but the feckless and greedy whom they will soon drive from power, writes Dani Garavelli
Striking pupils gather outside the Scottish Parliament on Friday. Picture: Greg MacveanStriking pupils gather outside the Scottish Parliament on Friday. Picture: Greg Macvean
Striking pupils gather outside the Scottish Parliament on Friday. Picture: Greg Macvean

It makes sense that those who mocked the striking school children most savagely were those who had failed them most comprehensively.

To the hollowed out shells who long ago sold their souls for a shot at power or, more cheaply still, for a Spectator column, the sight of thousands of impassioned youngsters, still in possession of their moral compass and with their belief systems intact, must have felt like a stake through the heart.

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After all these glib, old charlatans had done to crush their hopes and lay waste to their futures, there they were, refusing to be beaten or to surrender to the nihilism of their elders.

With their banners aloft, in cities across the country, they stood as a rebuke to the Brexiteers and the climate change deniers, who have shrugged off their responsibilities like Bullingdon tailcoats.

Taking to the streets so soon after MPs voted against the negotiating position they had endorsed a fortnight earlier, the strikers’ principled stance made Westminster’s shallow and shambolic politicking at a time of national crisis seem even more crass.

The children’s resolve should have shamed those politicians and their hangers-on. It would have shamed Tories of yore. But, as we long ago established, this lot are beyond shame. And so, instead of reflecting on their own inadequacy, they chose to double down on the protesters, trolling them in language so lacking self-awareness it felt like they were set-up lines for some awful joke.

Theresa May, who has frittered away the past two years, castigated the children for time-wasting; Andrea Leadsom , who has achieved precisely naught in this process, threw up her hands in horror at their “truancy”; and Toby Young, who swallowed and perpetuated all the Brexit spin, accused them of falling for “crude propaganda”.

When did the baiting of young people become the leisure pursuit of choice for angry, white commentators who dismiss them as conformist, then call for them to be suspended for skipping a single school day?

Despite studying harder and facing a more precarious jobs market than previous generations, they are relentlessly denigrated by hostile nonentities with a fraction of their insight or spirit. And they cannot win. If they are not apathetic, they are virtue signalling. If they don’t have opinions, they are ignorant; but ditto if they do. Last week they were criticised for being uncouth by allies of Jacob Rees-Mogg after he had defended Boer War concentration camps on the grounds that they had the same mortality rate as Glasgow at that time.

You only had to watch Piers Morgan shout down Green MSP Ross Greer as he tried to voice dissenting views on Winston Churchill to understand what they are up against. Morgan is the acme of middle-aged entitlement; the template for the kind of men who so fear the ebbing away of their power, they treat every bold new idea as a threat to be extinguished.

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Those of us who despise these figures, seize on the images of the striking children with a desperation born of watching our country systematically dismantled.

In the US, it was the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre who rekindled hope in a nation worn down by its leader’s refusal to do anything to halt the succession of school shootings.

Emma Gonzalez held Republican politicians to account for taking money from the National Rifle Association and got called a “skinhead lesbian” by a GOP candidate for her trouble.

For others, however, the rally was evidence that the next generation was the answer to our prayers; that one day, the current crop of amoral dissemblers would be swept away by these amazing campaigners.

Here in the UK, it is those school pupils who refuse to sit back and let the planet expire that are keeping us the right side of sanity. Inspired by Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg, these children are determined to force governments to prioritise climate change.

Young accused Thunberg of peddling falsehoods because she said no action had so far been taken when, of course, hundreds of countries signed up to the Kyoto protocol and the Paris Agreement. Well, Toby, aren’t you the big man, picking up on a 16-year-old’s word choice, while ignoring her broader point? You founded a free school and yet you sneer at these children instead of trying to harness their energy. I bet you let out a victory whoop when you thrash your kids at tennis.

The striking children were also criticised because they weren’t being specific enough about what they 
wanted politicians to do; as if it’s reasonable to expect teenagers to have written up a 10-point plan for stopping the polar ice caps from melting when world leaders have failed to make any serious impact.

This hostile attitude was mirrored by the Metropolitan police who – having turned a blind eye to the aggressive pro-Brexit yellow vests – were seen putting several teenagers in handcuffs.

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Although the temptation to treat the climate change strikers as mini-Messiahs is strong, we have to be realistic. Those who took part will be a mish-mash of genuine activists, the curious and kids who just fancy missing double maths. Some of them may – as has been suggested – be calling for others to make grand gestures, while leaving their phones on charge all night .

But, at a time when so many politicians are out only for what they can get, these children are taking a stand. Wiser than their years, they understand climate change ought to be top of the agenda. They can see our politicians are too busy “taking back control” from the EU to take back control of climate change policy and meet our own greenhouse gas emissions target. And they know education is about more than sitting in a classroom.

By striking, the pupils are shouldering the responsibility that rightly belongs to adults. They are shining a harsh light on the feckless and the greedy; the do-littles who have allowed so much of the world’s animal life to be wiped out on their watch.

Fortunately, these kids are only a few years off voting age. Judging by their chants of “F*** off Theresa May,” they won’t be backing the Tories, but the fact they are already politically active increases the prospect of them participating in the democratic process. By the time the Brexiteers are toasting their own wickedness in their special place in hell, some of them could well be in power.

In the next few weeks, we may pay the price of governmental indifference and crash out of the EU with a No Deal. Shop shelves could be stripped bare and medicines impossible to come by. All this while David Attenborough is warning of the potential collapse of civilisations.

But look at all those bright, shiny faces; beacons of hope on a desolate landscape. If these children are the future, then – despite everything – we might yet be saved.