by Floris de Bruin, United World College Maastricht
10th March, 2019
The train churns on as the grim clouds spew out flecks of raindrops. Seats taken, I seek refuge on an iron bar by the train door, important in function yet poor in comfort. Looking down, feeling sorry for myself that I could not secure a better place to sit in what would be an hour train ride, the conductor walks by. Before passing through he catches a glimpse of the banner in between my legs and stops in his tracks. He looks at me with a plain expression and mentions that the first class seats are available. Puzzled, I ask what he is implying, to which he points at my poster and claims that anyone who is willing to stand up for something as important as this deserves a comfortable seat.
This story, however, does not start with this little act of gratitude. In fact, it starts with a 15-year-old Swedish girl, disillusioned by the weak governmental policies in place to combat a future reality: climate change. Her name is Greta Thunberg, a pioneer in school protesting, sparking global conversation. Valuing action over conversation, she is to be found sitting on the steps of Swedish parliament every Friday, being ever so relentless in her quest for change. Age is truly just a number when considering the impact she has had on the international community, galvanising student populations to stand up for what we stand on. Students across Europe, including Belgium and Germany, have followed her brave example by taking to the streets every Thursday for a greener climate accord.
Being UWC students, we crave change. Ever since we voyaged across the moat to squeeze our way into the bubble, we have been earnestly waiting for the call of change. This idealistic and often overarching standard of being a changemaker, while pure in its intention of inciting action, can eat away at our conscious as we aim to strengthen our moral and civic identity. The daily grind of assignments consumes us and may lead us to question whether we are working towards a grade or a better tomorrow.
The opportunity to be ambassadors of change actualised on the 7th of February. A peaceful student protest was organised by the ‘Youth for Climate’ action group, in which students of the Netherlands, from far and wide, would come together in The Hague. The purpose of the march, in which we would skip school, was to appeal to the Dutch government for a greener and more efficient climate accord. This has already led to a subsequent action, in which 350 Dutch scientists have written their names down in an open letter demonstrating their support for the youth protests through explicitly stating the compounding evidence of global warming. The scientists point out that the Netherlands will not achieve their climate target in 2020, that their targets set for 2030 and 2050 are too lenient, and above all argue for a stricter tax on CO2 for businesses.
Our school did not fail to live up to the demands of the day; rather, it managed to thrive. With more than a hundred participants, we came together as a community to organise group tickets, design inventive banners and powerful chants, along with organising lunch meals and more, to support those who wished to go. Our collectivism allowed us to exit the train in Den Haag Centraal with our head held high and our mouths stretched large ready to leave our mark in the Dutch government’s backyard. We battled through the cold winds with ease as our vibrant energy kept us warm, being cheered on by older citizens bystanders as we overcrowded the streets to the dismay of those behind the wheel. The protest came to a rather festive end with a gathering in the park consumed by loud music and energetic dancing. I suppose it is a gospel that there is always a reason to dance. While there were certain elements that weakened the strength of the protest, what with mass groupings eating at McDonald’s or those who were misinformed as to the nature of the protest, it takes little away from the core statement of the youth gathering together through skipping school for a greater purpose.
It is fair to say that as UWC students, environmentalists and global citizens, we served our duty in making our voice heard. We demonstrated maturity and responsibility for our plight in the security of our home while coming at the necessary and pivotal cost of missing a class or two. However, only through being relentless can we ignite true change. On to the following Thursday.
The Flying Dutchman team consists of UWC students aiming to reflect the news relevant to the people engaged with the UWC movement.