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They are young, they are motivated, and they are ready. Ready to take to the streets of Luxembourg once again and make their demands heard. The Journal was present during the planning of the climate strike on 24 September and talked to two members of Youth for Climate Luxembourg.
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Tuesday August 31, almost 5.30 pm, Pfaffenthal. As every week, the youth movement Youth for Climate Luxembourg (YFCL) gathers at the Oekozenter to move forward with their work. After a period during which it was rather quiet, during which the squad continued to see each other at least once a week nonetheless, a significant point is on today's agenda: the climate strike at the end of September.
Tension yes, stressed no
We are greeted by Zohra, who became part of the "inner circle" quite quickly at the beginning of the movement, as she told the Lëtzebuerger Journal last May. She has her girlfriend's beagle dog with her, who greets the members as they arrive. From the very beginning, it is noticeable that the group is very friendly with each other and as an outsider, you don't get the impression that an important meeting is coming up in a few minutes. No one seems to be stressed, but a certain tension can still be felt. Understandable, because even though this is not the first time they have planned a strike, an event like this requires preparation, organisation and a high level of stress resilience.
The meeting, through which Zohra leads the group of 13 people present that evening, begins. Association assemblies or meetings at work – such meetings traditionally always follow the same pattern: what is on the agenda, what has already been done, what still needs to be planned, who takes care of what. With Youth for Climate Luxembourg, it's different. One of the first questions is: "How do you feel today?" Followed by a short exchange through a round of introductions. Not only names are mentioned, but also the pronouns with which each person present would like to be addressed.
Weekly meeting in the rooms of the Oekozenter in Pfaffenthal
Then the individual points of a very long list talked about, because a strike requires more than loud young people marching through the streets of the capital: waste disposal, logistics, insurance, ensuring the safety of all participants, first aid team, person to motivate and energise the crowd with megaphone and banner (also called entertainer or energizer), coverage of the strike via social media channels, photographers, flyers. Due to the pandemic, another item has been added to the list. "We have to ensure that the hygiene regulations are followed", says Sarah, also a member of the collective, during the discussion. Masks are compulsory at the entire event.
"Eis steet d'Waasser bis zum Hals"
Under the motto "Eis steet d'Waasser bis zum Hals" (English: "The water is up to our necks"), Youth for Climate Luxembourg is organising a nationwide school strike on September 24. This will start at around 10 am at the main station to march towards the city centre and the elevator to Pfaffenthal. September 24 is World Climate Strike Day, so the strike is also meant to be an appeal to politicians to "finally live up to their responsibility to prevent further catastrophes and deaths and to leave a future worth living for our future generation", says the youth movement in its press release of 16 May. In addition, the recent floods in Luxembourg, the heat wave in Canada, the devastating fires in Greece, Russia or Turkey are mentioned.
"The question is how many more people and animals have to suffer and die before our government finally realises that something really has to change. When will politicians understand that our demands are not wishful thinking, but the only way to save us from the deadly consequences of climate change?" But it is not only in Luxembourg that this displeasure is being vented. On that Friday, there will be strikes all over the world. In Germany alone, more than 200 actions and demonstrations are planned, according to the climate movement Fridays for Future.
Youth for Climate Luxembourg posts all important updates regarding the strike on Instagram (@youthforclimatelux).
Every student can take part in the strike without having to expect a "non-excusé", as Youth for Climate Luxembourg announced two days before the strike in a press release and after discussions with the Ministry of Education. Forms are provided in the secretary's office of the respective school, which have to be signed by the parents in the case of underage pupils, whereas adult pupils can fill them out and sign them themselves. The letter must be handed in by 9.00 am latest on the day of the strike. If this procedure is not followed and the student still participates in the strike, the absence from the rest of the lessons will not be excused. Students from lycées in the capital can leave after the second lesson, all others can go to the main railway station after the first lesson.
The virus and its related restrictions pose major challenges in other areas. Food trucks were originally planned, but after a discussion, weighing up all the pros and cons and a vote, the group decides they have to scrap the idea "mainly because of COVID-19". With everything that has to be planned, they are aware of their responsibility and do not want to take any risks. The protection of all participants, as well as those who are an integral part of the YFCL movement, has top priority. For this reason, a de-escalation team is being put together for the event.
Plan, plan, plan
After the individual discussions and votes – approval is signalled with the appropriate gesture of sign language – another task has to be ticked off. "We have to write to Minister Meisch and maybe also to the school directors", Jerry says. It's about whether the students taking part in the strike should be officially excused or have to expect a "non-excusé". In any case, a meeting with the minister would have to take place in advance to clarify all the details, says Zohra: "I don't want any of our members to receive any more phone calls by the minister."
A persistent comment found under almost every article concerning the group, the strikes or other climate actions is that they only organise the strikes during school hours, implying that they mainly intend to skip class. "We are giving up our fundamental right to education to go on strike. This is not a decision we take lightly", Jonny explains during a conversation after the group's meeting. Of course, there are exceptions, "but if you're only attending to skip class, it's not an intelligent decision." Olga agrees, adding, "Such statements are a tactic to distract from what we are actually saying."
Olga is 19 years young, has recently passed her final exams and is taking a one-year break to think about what she wants to do later. She has been involved since the first strike, which was organised on 15 March 2019. Jonny, 16, joined two years ago and currently attends the European School in Mamer. Both are used to such negative comments by now, "but when you put so much effort and work into it, it's frustrating, " says Olga. Hate comments are the less enjoyable moments that come with their commitment. "After the strike, I read through all the articles that go online. I then just have to scroll a little to I see these negative statements."
A kind of ecstasy
In addition, it is sad to see the energy level of some activists decrease over time. "It can get very stressful. I would even go so far as to say that there is quite a bit of activism burn-out. You give and give and give and get nothing in return." Sometimes you have to admit to yourself when you need a break. As an activist, this constant exposure to the issues and knowledge of the dire consequences of climate change and global warming are scary, says Jonny. Despite these worries, all the criticism and negative reactions, other moments predominate. "The feeling of being on the streets at a strike is like a kind of ecstasy", he says, describing the moment from his perspective. "You see all the happy people around you." People who are being noticed. "To be honest, it's incredible to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together in the end."
"The message was clear. The country does not want young people to get involved."
Olga on the result of the 2015 referendum
For both of them, it is above all the small moments within the group that make them happy. "We are friends. Like a little family that has grown together over the last few years." They don't only see each other for their weekly meetings, they also have meals together afterwards. Getting involved in a climate movement also comes with great challenges. Few of them were familiar with the various administrative processes beforehand, they say, because the strikes, events and other actions have to be approved by officials. "Suddenly you have to fill out applications and forms", says Olga, "and write emails to organisations and associations", adds Jonny. He sees this work as a learning opportunity to develop as a person. "You become independent very quickly and you learn a lot."
Jonny joined Youth for Climate Luxembourg two years ago
For the two young people, this is the best way to make their voice heard and change something in the world. However, they also think that young people are not concerned enough with the issue of climate protection. "But I don't think this is their fault", Olga counters. "At school, the effects of climate change, global warming and climate protection are addressed far too little, and if they are, it is with a lack of urgency. As if it is something purely scientific and has nothing to do with politics." In this context, the 2015 referendum played a significant role. "The message was clear. The country does not want young people to get involved. So the lack of motivation is hardly surprising."
She thinks that the general attitude of politics has to change. "The government keeps talking about the social consensus that needs to exist so that politics can be more ambitious. I am in favour of increased democracy and citizen participation, but during the pandemic, this was not the case either. Because we had a crisis that threatened our lives. So decisions had to be made quickly." Jonny adds that "during the pandemic we realised that both crises (health and climate crises, ed.) were equally important, but the government's response was very different in both cases."
Olga, member of the youth and climate movement since 2019
A lot has changed since the youth movement first took to the streets in 2019. However, if you look at the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the climate targets set in Luxembourg are not enough, even though they are now more ambitious. Even after the recent floods in some parts of the country, Jonny is not convinced that people have understood the situation we are in, but differentiates. "Blame is placed on the individual. Some want to suppress this or say to themselves, 'I'm doing my best, I can't do any more.' But the fact that 100 companies are responsible for a good 70 per cent of CO2 emissions is not taught in schools. Because this is possibly too political." He stresses, however, that this statistic was only published recently.
"We are giving up our fundamental right to education to go on strike. This is not a decision we take lightly."
Jonny on criticism that strikes would only serve for truancy
One moment is particularly frustrating for him. "When talking to politicians, when they look us in the eye and say: 'Yes, we are doing enough'. No, you are not. The science says otherwise. We have climate experts with years of experience, and they must finally be listened to." The youth and future generations are the ones who will be affected, and maintaining the status quo is a "daunting thought". Youth for Climate Luxembourg has various demands, including climate neutrality by 2030, but the young people are not experts who can propose specific measures. "The specific plans have to come from the politicians." Even if the decision to take action is out of their hands, they will not stop and will continue to make their voices heard. The young climate activists will continue to take to the streets, keep striking, demanding and campaigning. Until even the last person realises that it is not about a few free hours at school.