Belgian school students feel abandoned by their politicians so they have started a weekly strike for the climate. Their protests pose a major question about how young people are represented in politics ahead of the EU elections in May.
It was a normal Thursday afternoon when Rue de la Loi, the main street that goes through the EU bubble, was suddenly filled with thousands of school students holding signs and shouting slogans denouncing global warming.
They were cutting class for the climate. “If not now, when? If not us, who?” they wondered.
The demonstration started in Brussels city centre, where they were supposed to remain. But they decided to march towards EU HQ in Schuman, where the decision-making really happens.
The group soon managed to shut down one of the most notorious roads in Brussels for its traffic jams, forcing cars to turn off their engines. The symbolism could not have been clearer.
The protest was originally organised by two students in Antwerp who called on their classmates to join a climate march, inspired by young activist Greta Thunberg who protests every Friday in front of the Swedish parliament with the same goal.
They were supposed to be 700. Around 3,000 showed up. The week after, they were more than 12,000.
“Our future is drowning,” they warned, as astonished pedestrians walked by.
As the EU elections approach, many citizens feel detached. Some citizens feel that their wishes, their needs, their very fears are not a priority for political representatives.
And in the case of those under 18, they cannot even take part in the vote to express their view.
However, the main challenges the EU is facing, and climate change is possibly the main one, will heavily impact their lives.
British youngsters know that all too well. Many of those who were under 18 when the Brexit referendum took place, are now calling for a second vote so that they don’t lose the opportunity to study, work or simply travel across Europe.
And as they will probably be voiceless in the polls next May too, these Belgian kids wanted to have a word and took the streets to state their claims.
According to a recent survey conducted by Eurochild of 15,000 children from 23 countries, protecting the environment is one of the three priorities they consider the EU should have, but also equal treatment.
Today’s young people grew up in heterogeneous societies. They feel more free to express their sexuality, gender, religious, political, ethnic and national identity. They live in a world without borders but they are literally seeing that world shrivel away and die.
As they grew up, so did the far-right in Europe, by attacking the basis of the society in which they were born. They inherited that world and they want to keep it safe.
They are the European leaders of the future. If the EU wants to have a chance, it might better start wondering how they can have their place in the debate. Even if they cannot vote.
By Sam Morgan
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Views are the author’s
Edited by Sam Morgan and Zoran Radosavljevic