Margaret River Senior High School students were determined to have their voices heard when they joined a nationwide protest calling for climate change action on Friday.
This was despite pressure from government figures, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who urged students to stick to learning.
Organisers Maia Sheridan-Hulme and Remy Castan said the lunchtime rally was attended by between 50 and 100 students, with many making their own placards and signs.
“We had a really positive turnout and there were also a lot of kids there who weren’t part of the action but who listened and took in what we had to say,” said Castan.
“Most of the students who attended the Perth protest were from around the city, but we wanted to provide a platform for people in this area who couldn’t make it up to the city.
“There were around thirty regional strikes outside of the main city events,” said Sheridan-Hulme, who said organising the protest was an exercise in mediation and negotiation. There were policies in place as there are with any event, but the school was extremely supportive of us,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of teachers being very supportive as well.”
The duo said being a part of the action was empowering and inspiring for both of them.
“One protest is one thing, but having 260 protests worldwide is amazing, thousands and thousands of kids.”
Sheridan-Hulme said regardless of their political views, student involvement was key to a better understanding of their choices at election time.
“I think a lot of people our age are ready to vote, but I also think events like this are making people take notice and think ‘this is going to affect me, so how am I going to choose who I am voting for?’,” she said.
Castan agreed. “I think the rise of social media has made young people far more socially and politically aware. I think it’s important for kids to start thinking for themselves and what matters to them.
“We had one or two teachers who were sort of playing devil’s advocate, asking us some tough questions. I actually think that’s a really important thing to have at a school, to have different conversations and teachers challenging their students, that’s what creates kids who can learn how to argue and think about what they believe.
“In Year 9 and 10 in Politics and Law studies we look at the political parties, what each one stands for and how that affects us personally, not just our parents or friends,” said Sheridan-Hulme.
Sheridan-Hulme said she and other young people were left feeling ignored after criticisms from politicians who believe students should not be involved in political activism.
“When it comes to the politicians who were condemning the movement, students are very much going to remember that when we are able to vote – these people from these parties were saying ‘students shouldn’t be protesting, students shouldn’t be activists’, it leave us wondering where we stand with those parties.”
“It leaves me distressed about the state of our government, to be honest,” she said.
“They’re saying ‘go back to school’, but school is where we are learning about climate change and we’re learning about science.
“What do you want us to do – go back to school, maybe become a scientist, and then maybe you still won’t listen to us.
“It sends out a message that regardless of what you achieve, we’re probably still not going to listen to what you have to say.”
“I think we’ve moved away from the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ mind set,” said Castan.
“When Scott Morrison said that, I thought, the Prime Minister is supposed to serve every single person in this country, regardless of age or any other factor.
“It’s ridiculous that he’s basically saying that because of our age, we are somehow a less important group in our society.”
Augusta Margaret River Shire Councillor and co-chair of the national Women's Climate Justice Collective Naomi Godden said she was very proud of the students.
“Children and young people have the most at stake under climate change, and they will inherit the consequences of our action or inaction,” Ms Godden said.
“It is their right to demand a safe and just future for people and planet. It is absolutely imperative that young people are listened to, respected, and fully supported to participate in climate decision-making.
“Young people are brave, creative, and visionary, and we must enable young people, in all their diversities, to be front and centre in leading transformative action on climate change.”
Parents Steven Castan and Michelle Sheridan said they were also inspired by the efforts of their children.
“They’re really aware of what the future is bringing – this gives them a real chance to have a voice that can be heard by parents, adults and politicians,” said Mr Castan.
“It gives them a public voice as opposed to just sitting around with their families. I think it’s really important for them to be able to stand up – they’re not kids, they’re young adults.
“I think what these young people are saying is that the action that is being taken is too slow, and that they want governments to pick up speed and actually do something.”
“We couldn’t be prouder,” said Ms Sheridan.
“I can see a big shift between my older son who grew up with the information, but felt powerless, to this generation – and maybe this is partly social media bringing them together so that they feel like their voice has some power.
“It’s really encouraging to see, as parents.”