Passing the Torch
“But I’m not sure that’s the right way to go about it.” We’re congregated out the front of the Patagonia store in Jonson Street, Byron Bay, awaiting the start of Strike For Climate march and discussing the bomb that was discovered the previous day behind the bank in Mullumbimby, Wayne’s adopted Northern Rivers home.
Wayne Lynch joins the Global Climate Strike in Byron Bay. Photo:Dane O'Shanassy
We’re about a block away from the meeting point and an hour before the rally’s due to begin the town is heavy with sunshine and buzz. A small group of kids pass, chanting – “What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!” – steering the conversation from the merits of a good bank robbery to the reason we’re here today. “I’ve got great faith in them,” Wayne says after the kids have passed. “I only hope it’s not too late.”
We gather the smattering of signs that the extended Patagonia family have produced and pose for a photo outside the store. Wayne had plans of hand-writing a sign addressed to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (who he refers to as “ScoMo”). Wayne settles for a red handprinted sign that reads, “No Time For Fossils” with a few smiling dinosaurs dotted around the edge. We begin to speculate how many are going to show up to the rally and discuss the schools from the surrounding areas bussing students in. I suggest that if Byron Bay, one of the greenest towns in Australia if not the world, can’t muster a crowd to protest climate change inaction then we really are stuffed.
More than 300,000 youth activist and supporters took to the streets across Australia on September 20th, including 80,000 in Sydney. Photo: Jarrah Lynch.
Why we’re here is quite simple. Whether you pore over the daily papers or take a more laissez faire approach to politics, you can’t fail to have noticed that fossil fuel development is a guiding principle of our Federal Government. Meanwhile, our Great Barrier Reef is on the edge of ruin; it’s getting hotter and drier each year, farms are being devastated, fires are becoming more frequent and severe. Our current policy to counteract such devastating events is to increase the things that science tells us caused them in the first place. The demands of the Australian arm of the global Strike For Climate movement are simple: 1. No new coal, oil and gas projects, including the Adani mine. 2. 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030. 3. Fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel workers and communities.
Protestors on the steps of Geelong Town Hall are rallied by youth activists from the local chapter of School Strike For Climate – the movement started by Swedish 10th Grader, Greta Thunberg. Photo: Nick Morris
Impending doom however couldn’t be further from the vibe as we saunter in the direction of the rally’s congregation point. It’s a scorching day and Byron’s chapter of Strike For Climate – a coordinated worldwide protest which has formed around tenacious Swedish Activist (and 10th Grader) Greta Thunberg – is in high spirits. And why shouldn’t they be? The crowd gathered – estimated at 6000 – is at least half school kids, and they’ve been given the day off school to laugh and wave banners and make as much noise as they want.
Surfing Ambassador Dan Ross bolsters seven-year-old Rayson, as they join protestors in Sydney. Photo: Jarrah Lynch.
As always with such events there’s a crew of volunteers directing traffic, both pedestrian and automobile. Across the road from the meeting point we’re stopped by a man in high vis and sandals who looks like he’s seen his share of protests. He must’ve been in his seventies, and once the cars passed he walked into the middle of the road and handed us over to the volunteer on the other side, a 12-year-old boy with slicked-back hair and a loud hailer. It strikes me as a poignant moment, a literal passing of the megaphone between the last generation to kick up a stink and change the world, and the new generation that has promised to do so, starting now.
By the 10am kick-off it’s scorching hot and we’re passing around sunblock. Wayne catches up with our sprawling crew and asks, “When’s the ice cream being handed out?” before we start picking our way around the numerous handmade signs, playfully critiquing their slogans and artwork. There’s a flabby cartoon “ScoMo” in a bikini with the accompanying slogan “ScoMo Likes It Hot” which Wayne’s particularly fond of, and when one of our entourage holds up a sign that says, “Is there Life on Mars?” Wayne suggests they should’ve written, “Is There Intelligent Life On Earth?” on the other side.
The kids have spoken, they know there’s no room for climate deniers in government and are calling for immediate action. Photo: Jarrah Lynch
A procession of kids stand in the back of a ute and give impassioned speeches to the crowd. The significance of the day isn’t a few thousand kids bunking off school on a pleasant Friday in the activist Mecca of Byron Bay. The significance lies in the millions of kids bunking off school at the same time in towns and cities around the world. The last climate strike was estimated to have had 1.4 million participants worldwide. This one was billed as bigger. For all the pitfalls of fake news, algorithms and its fuelling of rightwing populism around the world, the Internet sure makes organising a global movement easier.
I’ve long believed that music festivals, big sporting occasions and protests are humanity at its finest and yesterday did nothing to quell that theory. They all have a common cause, large numbers and emotion. Any politician who tells you they don’t secretly fear the rabble is lying. And that’s why protests are so often dismissed. What “they” don’t want you to know, is that spending half a day marching through town with a few thousand others, singing and chatting, meeting new people who you automatically have a shared interest with, is just about the most fun you can have. That in itself is a dangerous idea.
Global Sports Activists, staff, and members of the extended Patagonia family wave“Facing Extinction” signs as they march in Sydney. Photo: Jarrah Lynch.
I listened for a moment as we approached Main Beach at Byron to the chanting of a particularly enthusiastic group of kids (“What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!”). There was something about the voices of both boys and girls in the same octave that struck me as uniquely powerful. I then spotted Wayne Lynch, ducking and weaving against the flow of the young mob as it approached its final destination with a big smile on his face. He’d done his part and was leaving the kids to it. After all, it was their rally. He was just joining in.