Around 2200 students and staff from the University of Sydney marched to join the Climate Strike on 20 September. This was the largest student mobilisation for the strike in the country and the biggest student rally at the university in the last decade.
The political strength of our demands and the tactics used to publicise the strike and politicise the issue of climate change were crucial.
To kickstart second semester, Spreading the Climate Strike (STCS), the group which formed to build the 15 March Strike, held a general assembly. Ninety students attended. Here, the group discussed and amended its demands. We decided to change the demand, “100 per cent renewable energy by 2030” to include “public renewable energy”. While the demand for green jobs had been our focus in first semester, “public renewables” dominated in building September’s strike. We also voted to include “No nuclear” and debated whether “Stop Adani” should remain in the demands.
The group held open weekly meetings to organise the campaign, and daily stalls on Eastern Avenue. These were a good way to meet new people and build the confidence and politics of newer activists.
We collected thousands of signatures on a statement of support for the strike. These were delivered to the Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, demanding no students or staff be penalised for attending the strike. The university agreed to this.
We passed 190 motions in classes supporting the strike. During first semester, after going into classes once, we could go back and hold a vote. This time we also asked for questions and speakers for or against the motions. Two common questions were “why not nuclear power?” and “why public renewables?” Allowing time for debate engaged more people and drew students into the organising.
We also held a well-attended forum on the need for public renewables and produced a Climate Strike lift-out in the student newspaper.
This time participation by university staff was much stronger, assisted by the university’s assurances of no penalties for attending. Nine courses across different faculties either cancelled their class for the day, or moved their content and tests to another day. Staff in Geosciences voted to shut down for the strike. The Architecture department also shut down and organised their own contingent of 100 people. This support from staff made a huge difference in students’ receptiveness towards the strike.
By Thandi Bethune