Organizing a large demonstration around the issue of climate change in the new reality of the coronavirus pandemic was a complex undertaking for the sixth global climate strike.
This time in Berlin, participants confronted not only the COVID-19 regulations but also foul weather. People gathered in the rain on Friday, Sept. 25, filling the mile-and-a-half corridor between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column, two iconic monuments in the heart of Germany’s capital. Grinding traffic to a halt, the demonstrators stretched across the street while maintaining the two-meter social distance to the best of their abilities.
Berlin’s climate strikes have gained the reputation of enormous mass events. The demonstration, organized by Fridays for Future Berlin, was different this time. The 2020 motto was Kein Grad weiter (No degree further). According to IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels may lead to an irreversible chain reaction, threatening marine life, glaciers, the economy, and millions of lives due to extreme weather conditions. Fridays for Future activists demand political action to stop the downward spiral already underway.
Instead of a single march, over 20 smaller demonstrations led by Extinction Rebellion, Queers for Climate Justice and a plethora of other groups took place. On a stage at the Brandenburg Gate, activists delivered informative, often emotional speeches, for almost three hours. With performances by local artists and breaks to the beat of rock and house music, this protest was about more than just global warming and its impact.
People of different ages and backgrounds also talked about other crucial problems, including racism, sexism, queer rights, and even Nazism. They injected frequent reminders to comply with the safety rules. They noted that during COVID-19 lockdowns, the worldwide carbon dioxide emissions plunged, proving that lowering emissions is indeed possible if we re-evaluate our priorities. Some activists claim the pandemic is a fraction of what the climate crisis is going to look like.
“COVID-19 showed that in a crisis, politicians can act if they want to,” said Lilith, a Berlin activist. “Science was listened to and the politicians acted on the recommendations of science. In the climate crisis, this was not considered politically possible until now. That is why COVID-19 is a good example of how politics can act in the climate crisis, and why it is a must-have to (follow) the science.”
People in cities across the globe marched, sang, and expressed their worries about the uncertain future. Strikes were scheduled in more than 3,000 locations. Over 450 climate-action groups declared their participation in Germany alone.
The 2020 climate strike was nothing like last September’s, when 6 million people around the world were estimated to have taken part in marches, while others were purely online meetings.
Some 10,000 people were expected to attend the sit-in demonstration in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The actual results exceeded expectations. According to Fridays for Future, over 20,000 people turned out for the sixth global climate strike in history.
Standing near the stage, even at a heightened platform for the press, it was hard to see the end of the column of people. The event was streamed live. Back in April, the global youth movement came together in cyberspace for a digital strike.
As the day approached with the foul-weather forecast, Fridays for Future Berlin proclaimed in a Facebook post that “the climate crisis doesn’t wait for sunshine” and advised common-sense measures including rainproof clothes and a pillow or tarp for a sit-down strike.
In the morning, before the main event, bicyclists gathered at Kottbusser Tor, escorted by police, rode in a cordon all the way to the Brandenburg Gate demanding climate justice. Throughout the day, organizers, some armed with hand sanitizers, moved through the crowd to (when necessary) remind people about wearing facemasks and keeping social distance in the first mass rally since the lockdown was lifted.
“In times of Corona, I’d never think that so many people would come,” said Lara, a Fridays for Future activist. “I look at this side, or this side, or this side, and I can’t see the end of the demonstration.”
Fridays for Future is a global climate strike movement launched in August 2018 when then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden began a school strike for climate. Each Friday, instead of attending school, she would sit in front of the Swedish parliament. As time flew, more and more people joined Greta. Today, Fridays for Future is a decentralized global youth movement, regularly putting moral pressure on politicians and policymakers to carry out the Paris Agreement and other action in the fight against climate change.
Thunberg, now a world leader in calling for those in power to treat climate “like the urgent crisis it is,” led a demonstration in Stockholm. “In Sweden, gatherings over 50 people are not allowed due to COVID-19, so we adapt,” she said on Twitter. She noted this event came during the 110th week of her own school strike.
After the day’s action, one of the Berlin organizers hailed the turnout and power of the people. “I’m really, really exhausted, but also I’m so happy,” said Elias. “We’ve had so many people on our strike today. I’m […] overwhelmed by the energy of all those people.”
The activists’ demands are ambitious, yet, as they claim, possible. Though we have seen some progress in climate-friendly policies in recent years, this for sure isn’t the last time we hear from Fridays for Future.