Youth Climate Strikers Visit Brussels

The visit by young climate campaigners to the European Parliament was the first I’ve arranged since becoming the Green MEP for the North West and as such, I hold it particularly precious as a memory. The group showed maturity, honesty, intelligence, humour and strength when questioning and exploring the workings of parliament and in turn – proved to be hugely inspirational and influential on the MEPs and staff in Brussels!

I had a quick chat with three of our young women from the North West, on their thoughts of the European Parliament during their visit:

I’ll leave the young campaigners to tell you the rest with their insights below:

Paris Hayes, 18, Bolton

“The experience has provided young people with the knowledge of the European Union and the role that the EU plays in delivering legislation. Meeting with European Commission civil servants to better understand the EU’s role and workings has enhanced the experience we have had.

“To be told by MEPs from across Europe that climate strikes have had an impact is nothing short of inspiring and provides hope to climate justice campaigners of any age. Knowing that collaboratively in Europe there are people trying to tackle the looming climate catastrophe signals to us that our future is looking brighter. As we know, environmental issues do not remain within the man-made borders of countries and by working together we can deliver better and stronger environmental protections such as clean air directives.

“The trip has provided me personally with the ability to return home and tell fellow campaigners and activists about the efforts of European politicians and that there is work being done to deliver climate justice on the European continent.

“Meeting Belgian climate strikers has provided the trip with further skills to add more pressure to British decision-makers in order to deliver the much-needed changes in our society. Discussing ideas and organisation plans with Belgian activists will benefit us on our return home.”

Amy Woods, 21, Crosby, Liverpool

“I feel very privileged to have been apart of this trip to the European Parliament in Brussels, alongside so many amazing young activists from across the North West. Our time in Brussels allowed us to gain a greater understanding into the intricacies of the European Parliament. We were also able to have meetings with several green MEPs, who answered many of our questions surrounding the climate crisis – it was great finding out first hand how much our activism has influenced conversation at the European Parliament. In the evening, we got the opportunity to meet with a group of young climate activists from Belgium, where we exchanged ideas about future climate strikes.

“The only downside to the trip has been how sad we all felt at the prospect that other young people from the North West may not be able to have such an experience in the near future.  Despite this, I feel inspired by all the work young climate activists are doing in both the North West and in Belgium. I feel inspired by how hard the green MEPs we met are working to ensure climate change is on the top of the agenda at the European Parliament and most importantly, I feel inspired to keep going and fighting for climate justice.”

Juliette Chandler, 18, Morecambe

“I feel incredibly grateful to all the Green Party staff and MEPs who facilitated our visit to Brussels. It was so inspiring to see people from so many countries collaborating and learn about their work regarding climate change, as well as what they are hoping to achieve in the future.

“The most interesting part for me was talking to MEPs about their experiences, as well as watching part of a meeting of Greens- European Free Alliance. The visit has shown me the impact that our strikes and protests are having and inspired me to continue to campaign harder to prevent climate change. Talking to other young campaigners, from both Britain and Belgium, has taught me so much about their brilliant work and it was wonderful to spend time and have discussions with such a kind and thoughtful group of people.”

Clare Pearson, 22, Knowsley

“The opportunity to visit the European Parliament has been absolutely incredible and inspiring! I think we’re all returning to the UK with extra drive and passion to keep campaigning for our climate and spread the word that the EU is listening. I particularly enjoyed the Q&As with the Green MEPs and NGOs as their answers filled me with reassurance that there are people actively working in and lobbying the European Parliament today that value our planet’s future as much as we do.“I really felt we, as young climate activists, were respected and encouraged to keep up with the activism as well as engaging in politics. Meeting the other climate activists from the North West and from Brussels was a great way to exchange ideas and build a network of contacts for future collaboration. We left Brussels already planning starting up a North West youth climate group.

“I would like to give a special thanks to Gina Dowding who made this amazing experience happen and hope that more activists get the opportunity to do the same in the future. Young people are notoriously disengaged with politics in the UK and this is an incredible    way to inspire the next generation.”

Rosie Mills, 18, Lancaster

“I have never felt so incredibly impressed, but at the same time sad, as I have whilst visiting the European Parliament in Brussels. The building itself – the massive scale, the intense security, the modern architecture – and the people inside. I felt as if I was walking into a place of cooperation and compromise, which is so foreign to British politics but so incredibly needed. As a linguist myself, I was in awe at the fantastic translation services and 24 official languages.

“As a climate activist, it was amazing to hear from some of the Green/EFA MEPs how they thought the school strikes for climate were helping to bring climate change to the top of the European agenda. The passion and energy of the MEPs we heard from was inspiring, and has encouraged me to continue the fight for climate action both on the street and with my vote. Similarly, on meeting Belgian youth strikers, despite the fact I felt intimidated by the size of their movement compared to my efforts in Lancaster, I was motivated to do more.

This trip made me want to campaign to achieve a compromise when it comes to Brexit; preferably something that will help us young people remain European and able to fight alongside other young people across the world for real climate action.”

Isobel Deady, 16, Chorley

“The trip Gina Dowding organised to Brussels was an extremely beneficial and inspiring experience. It was great to have the opportunity to connect to other climate activists in the north west, who were all lovely and passionate people.

The time we spent in the European Parliament was eye-opening and it was great to see so many people working together towards a greener future. We were extremely lucky to get the chance to talk with green MEPs from different places, all of which are working really hard to prioritise and help the wellness of our planet.

I found the trip really informative, and it was great to see how the European Parliament works, that even people of completely opposing political opinion must find some common ground and compromise. Also through talking to youth activists in Belgium, we gained new ideas of how to get more young people involved in the fight for our futures.

The trip also made us realise how much power we hold as young people, People’s votes and strikes/marches have helped hugely in bringing the issue to the front of people’s minds and so making it a priority in the parliament. From the trip, we gained the motivation to make our voice louder and fiercer, and really push for fast, effective action against climate change.”

Miette Deady, 20, Chorley

“Thank you so much for the incredible opportunity to visit the EU Parliament! It has been amazing as an activist to get validation that our actions are being heard and felt not only at home but also across Europe. The trip has certainly solidified the importance and power of peaceful protest for all of us I think. It was also so refreshing to meet such friendly and receptive politicians, who contrast those who are generating the most media attention currently.

“It was bittersweet to get the opportunity to visit the European Parliament amidst the current Brexit situation, seeing exactly how amazing what we will be missing out on is, should we leave the EU. Especially with parties like The Greens who support the youth strike movement and environmental activism being on the rise in the EU Parliament.

“Overall the trip has been very empowering, and has instilled more hope and motivation in us to keep protesting and to use what power we have as young people to put pressure on our government for system change that will benefit the environment.

“It has also been reassuring to meet the people applying that pressure inside of the system, as both of these are extremely necessary means of generating productive change, that will alter the current course of the planet from devastation.”

Kayleigh Crawford, 19, Manchester

“My involvement with the school strike movement began in February and grew from there. The first strike I went to was my first ever protest, and I have been to countless others since. Yet in all the months I’ve spent organising and campaigning for climate justice, I’ve never really felt a part of the bigger picture. Visiting the European Parliament with other climate activists from the North West of England has thoroughly changed my outlook and relationship to my activism.

“I made local connections to other campaigners in my area, but also had the opportunity to contextualise our efforts in an international setting. This combination of local and global was amazing and insanely enlightening.

“Meeting Gina Dowding and other Green MEPs in the European Parliament re-inspired a hope within me; sometimes campaigning can be hard when it seems as though nothing is happening as a result of your actions, but the attitude of Green MEPs towards the school strike and Fridays For Future movement has proven that what we are doing has meaning beyond our individual actions.

“I’ve become more aware of how our civil disobedience is linked up to political action and the political decisions that have been made. I’m also inspired to know that the bridge between politicians and activism isn’t as wide as I’d previously thought it to be – it’s even possible to be both.

“The visit was inspiring and gave me amazing opportunities which I hope will carry me forwards with my activism and campaigning. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and all it has given me and I can’t wait to get back to campaigning!”

Grace McMeekin, 20, Clitheroe, Lancashire

“This trip to Brussels has been the most rewarding, educational and inspiring experience I could have hoped for. I have been delighted to meet the most incredible young people both from the North West and Belgium and to have witnessed the hard work being done at the European Parliament by Green MEPs from all over Europe who are working tirelessly to create positive change through legislation and collaboration.

“I particularly enjoyed the Q&A session with German Green MEPs, Michael Bloss and Damien Boeselager who were able to explain the goals and objectives of the European Greens in tackling the climate crisis.

“Equally inspiring was talking to Green MEPs from the UK, Gina Dowding, Alexandra Philips, Ellie Chowns, Magid Magid and Scott Ainslie who have proved that anyone can make a difference by putting themselves forward and standing in elections.

“I was in awe of the wonderful institution that is the European Parliament and saddened by the thought that we may soon not be a part of it. I could not have been more reassured that all of our nations are stronger when we stand together and collaborate for a more positive future for everyone.

“Yet I will come away with hope after meeting a group of incredibly inspiring young people who are completely dedicated to fighting for the future of all life on earth. I am delighted that we have decided to form a North West Climate Committee in order to link up the northern movements. This fight is for everyone and we are all stronger together.”

Lily Mills, 17, Lancaster

“I loved having the opportunity to travel to Brussels. Meeting with MEPs, other European parliament people and young climate activists really made the trip very informative and interesting. Hearing how the European Parliament works, and the ins and outs of it, really helped me to see how what we are doing with climate strikes fits into a bigger political picture

“It was pleasantly surprising to learn from MEPs about how big an impact the young climate strikers have had on politics since the first strike in February. One of the MEPs explained how the May European elections have been referred to as The Climate Elections by some. They explained that the protests and subsequent changes in wider public opinion have led MEPs to prioritise climate and environmental issues. I was really inspired to hear this, it helps motivate me to keep going as we need to have even more impact.

“One of my favourite things was simply spending more time with local young activists, great to get to know people better so we can build a more connected community in the North West.

“Chatting and hanging out with young activists from Brussels was really fun, it was interesting to hear about how they do things differently to us, it gave me a great feeling about how incredibly wide this movement really us. Many more of them turn out to strikes, it seems easier for young people in Belgium to strike than it does for us in England. We need to enable people my age to express their views on climate and other important issues so that our ideas and priorities influence the major changes that are necessary.”

Millie Prosser, 27, Lancaster

“Brussels was an inspiring political experience where over half of the MEP’s we spoke to, all part of the Greens/European Federation Alliance group, were also activists. The message from them was clear: that our efforts protesting with recent youth climate strikes give them political leverage to forward the climate agenda. We were informed that the recent EU elections were named the climate elections and that the climate change issue has shot up the agenda in the European Parliament.

“It struck me that we were sitting in a real representative democracy where our actions as activists, protesting inaction on climate change, were genuinely impactful. We are being heard and we have a voice. It felt empowering to listen to German, Dutch and British MEPs fighting for climate action and vital systemic changes.

“The stark contrast between the European system and the UK was evident, highlighting how our antiquated two-party system requires majority, lacking the impetus for real collaboration, compromise and coalition. As such, it was significant to me that the European parliament is formed of eight political groups, each of which consists of numerous political parties and none of which have a majority.

“The European Commission which is responsible for legislation and implementing decisions has a representative from each of the 28 member states, the European council is comprised of ministers from member states and the European Parliament is the directly elected representatives from each country. Our political parties seem unprepared for this collaborative way of working.

“t was also particularly refreshing to see how the European parliament represents, legislates and governs without unelected members (like the house of lords or a monarch) having significant power over the process.

“The trip has motivated me to continue the work I am doing with climate activism and my work on the climate emergency movement. It has also encouraged me to ask for more, to demand true representation and democracy in Britain where compromise, collaboration and coalition can be regarded as the ideal. To allow us all to be heard instead of being left behind or divided, without a choice or a voice.”

Katie James, 18, Whitehaven

“I am very grateful for Gina, Kai and Tina organising this trip to Brussels because it was an amazing, inspiring experience as I got a once in a lifetime opportunity to look around the European parliament and speak to NGO members and MEPs that I would have never been able to meet if I didn’t take up this opportunity.

“The MEPs listened to our questions and answered them well, making me hopeful that climate change is high on the European parliament’s priority list as well as other issues such as sexism and racism are being tackled within the European parliament. The trip made me feel very inspired and motivated to get involved in politics myself as it normalised and made politics seem more accessible than how it is portrayed in the British media.

“I enjoyed having time to explore Brussels which exposed me to this vibrant and unique city. Meeting the Belgian climate activists was a good experience also as I got to share ideas and find out what their climate strikes/protests are like compared to ours so we could think about how to improve them and our approach to activism in the UK.

“The trip overall made me feel hopeful that we are making more progress and change to deal with the climate emergency than I had previously thought as it is a main priority in the European parliament and there are many people in Belgium who attend protests and are sustainably conscious as shown to us by the Belgian climate activists.”

Matt Sowerby, 18, Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria

“The thing that surprised me most about the European Parliament is how little I – a person who prides himself on being quite politically aware – actually found I knew about it. Although Brexit manages to steal the front covers of every newspaper in the UK, its operations never seem to be covered in our education. As a result, perhaps it is no wonder so many see it as a shadowy, faceless body of government.

“It was a real privilege to be able to visit the European Parliament and discuss the challenges of addressing the Climate Catastrophe with MEPs, NGOs and activists alike. What really stood out to me was the real gratitude of those within the EU towards members of the Fridays For Future campaign, as they felt that the EU’s recent prioritisation of the environment was made possible by the Movement. However, the confirmation that the pace of change within the EU is unlikely to be enough to keep Europe in line with the promises of the Paris Agreement was disheartening. So much is being done, but system change does seem unavoidable if humanity is to have a future.

“The most hopeful part of the trip, for me, was meeting with the Belgian national coordinators of the Fridays For Future movement. The scale of the movement in Belgium seems so much further on than what we have in the UK, and I had a very useful conversation with 2 activists who were advising us about ways to advance what we are doing in the UK. The dedication they have is truly astounding.”

Hannah Cartlidge, 24, Blackpool

“For a while, I have felt powerless and hopeless when thinking about the future. Anthropogenic climate change will impact everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how much money they earn or how they live their life. When governments shy away from renewable energy sources and instead rely on fossil fuels and invest in fracking, we cannot possibly hope to avoid a catastrophic change in the climate. We are already seeing the effects in the North West and unfortunately, this will only continue to worsen and extreme weather events will become much more frequent.

“I was lucky enough to travel to Brussels alongside other young people from the North West of England who either attend climate strikes or are climate change activists. We visited the European Parliament alongside Gina Dowding (MEP) and met with several other MEPs.

“As a group, we were able to question the MEPs about climate change and how they hope to influence Europe into making positive steps forward. Hearing what they all had to say gave me a great sense of hope. I was particularly impressed with Michael Bloss, a German MEP, and what he had to say about climate change.

“The recent EU elections were known as the climate elections due to the collective actions of thousands of young people who attend climate strikes. The actions of these young people have a real effect. Climate change is at the top of the agenda in Brussels, as it should be.

“I was also able to meet with young climate activists from Belgium who all had a clear message: climate action works and is the way forward. Action cannot come from a single political party, it has to be a collective effort which crosses political boundaries. While being in Brussels made me feel hopeful, I couldn’t help but feel a great sadness knowing that the trip I went on could be one of the last to the European Parliament. Our MEPs are doing a fantastic job in Brussels, despite the complexities surrounding Brexit and the uncertainty that surrounds our future. They are good elected members of the EU Parliament that are working together, united against a common threat: anthropogenic climate change.

“This trip showed us just how influential peaceful protesting and activism can be. I have a renewed sense of optimism that we can change the system, instead of dangerously changing the climate.”