12,000 Protesters at Climate Change Strike in Leeds City Centre

An estimated 12,000 people of all ages protested against climate change in Leeds today. Participants gathered in Millennium Square at 11am to listen to speeches, before a 1 hour march around the city centre, finishing with a series of performances in the afternoon.

Crowds gathering for a climate change strike at Millenium Square in Leeds City Centre on Friday 20th September 2019. Photo: Clare Redman/The Gryphon.

The strike was part of the ongoing Youth Climate Strikes, in which schoolchildren and young adults have been skipping class on Fridays to protest against society’s apathy towards climate change, named ‘Fridays for Future’.

The movement was started by 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg in July 2018. But for today’s strike, the youth called upon adults to take responsibility by joining them in protests held around the world.

The result was hundreds of Leeds parents, grandparents, children, toddlers, and infants gathered together to listen to speeches by activists, event organisers, musicians, and politicians.

This was all with the goal of increasing awareness around climate change ahead of the United Nation’s Climate Action Youth Summit tomorrow. The crowd grew significantly in number whilst marching, chanting slogans such as “Whose future? Our future” and “Hey, Ho, fossil fuels have got to go”. 

Schoolchildren marched through Leeds city centre with older relatives and Extinction Rebellion members to protest against climate change on Friday 20th September 2019. Photo: Clare Redman/The Gryphon.

The strike caused significant disruption, with most roads blocked in Leeds City Centre and major chaos for pedestrians throughout lunchtime. Strike organisers worked with West Yorkshire Police to contain any unnecessary disturbances. High street retailer Lush closed their Leeds Briggate store in support of the strike, in line with their global shutdown of 900 stores to raise awareness of climate emergency on 20th September 2019.

Leeds East MP Richard Burgon congratulated the protesters for their hard work whilst slamming our current society’s attitude towards climate change.

“Enough is enough. We can’t let free-market fundamentalism continue, putting profit first, destroying our globe. Free market capitalism has a lot to answer for.”

MP Richard Burgon at Leeds Climate Strike 2019/20

These sentiments were reflected amongst the crowds. Gaynor, part of one family spanning three generations at the strike acknowledged that “we’re in a consumerist society that’s all about using the earth’s resources. How can we consume less?”

But her mother Sally highlighted the need for political and corporate powers to also take responsibility. “We need to all do things individually, but ultimately climate change has to be stopped by governments, petrol companies, and big institutions.”

Much of the strike action around climate change has stemmed from children and teenagers, but today’s event was about getting everyone to take part.

“I do think adults should be involved because it’s their children, their grandchildren. It’s about the future,”

Sally

Sally, another member of the family I interviewed, told me “I hate to say it, but I think there is a fair amount of guilt as well because our generation are the people who caused it.”

An estimated 1,000 protesters marched and chanted through the streets of Leeds city centre to raise awareness around climate emergency on Friday 20th September 2019. Photo by Clare Redman/The Gryphon.

Organisers urged crowds to continue raising awareness of climate change to help those who are in more disadvantaged situations, whether it be climate refugees abroad or local Leeds residents who are unable to protest because of poverty or job insecurity.

“We need to get into more deprived areas and get them on board,” said Sally. “It is a privilege to be able to come out and protest” agreed Gaynor.

Extinction Rebellion have been responsible for assisting in the organisation of the Youth Climate Strikes. They will be holding an all-day party on Briggate tomorrow (Saturday 21st September) to celebrate activists’ achievements so far.

The ‘Red Rebel Brigade’ will be making their first public appearance in Leeds, known for their dramatic appearance in red robes and white face paint.

The next Climate Strike will take place on Friday 27th September 2019 around the world. The Leeds protest will again happen at Millennium Square at 11am. A full interactive map of strikes is available at https://globalclimatestrike.net/ and further details can also be found at https://ukscn.org/events/.

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Words & Photos by Clare Redman