Nita’s interviewees had very different experiences in school and at home when they decided to become politically active. Sometimes they had to accept that not everyone was on their side. “Overwhelmingly, they said they try to ignore or at least try not to engage too much of the negative feedback from community,” Nita says.
The feedback from schools was also varied. “Some schools have been fairly supportive of this activism, from what I can tell, whereas other schools are very much opposed and don't allow any advertising or promotion of these events,” Nita says. “Some of the children have also been threatened with punishment, but mainly through the schooling systems. It's things like 'you'll fail the subject, you'll get detention'.
“But what we are seeing in Australia, separate to the research I've done, is that attacks on activism are starting to happen, with environmental activists being charged or spending time in prison. It is a trend globally, I would say, but it's not something that the young people expressed any concern about.”
The power of striking
Nita also saw her interviewees celebrating successes at their schools. “Some of them were feeling incredibly proud when they realised that they changed their entire class's attitude. Everyone started to ask them questions about how they could become involved as well,” Nita says.
“They take a lot of pride in that, that just through talking and continuing to have these conversations, that they have been able to influence people.”
One event that Nita found particularly fascinating was a webinar that was organised by a group of students from Perth with participants from all over Australia. “It was called ‘The Power of Striking', and it was organised by the School Strike 4 Climate organisers,” Nita says.
“The purpose of this event was to explain to other young people what they were doing and why. It was wonderful to listen to them speak and to articulate what they saw as the power of striking and why it was necessary.
A fight for justice
“One of the things that became clear is that they understood the power systems, the systems of oppression, and recognised that the fight for climate justice is so intricately linked with other issues,” Nita says.
“This includes the fight for Indigenous rights, for queer rights and women's rights. I was amazed at how well they thought this through and how well they were able to articulate what they wanted to achieve.”
When the adult perspective is no longer relevant
One thing that Nita has found in her research is that young activists have often developed radically different values than their parents. “The generalised perspective of young people, what's expected of them, is to go to school,” Nita says, and adds that beyond that, children have very little say or choice until they are eighteen.
However, it is natural that norms change over time. “What we are seeing at the moment is that the typical expectations are no longer considered relevant,” Nita says.
“It's not that education is unimportant, but we’re seeing that the priority is this climate emergency, which is an emergency for the entire planet. To the children that is the priority and their focus as they are growing up in the 2020s.”