The People’s Climate Assembly: An Insider's Perspective
By Sarah Myatt
On the morning of Federal Parliament’s first sitting day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to look me and other protestors in the eye as he was driven past me into parliament. Later that day I sat in the House of Representatives chamber as he said, “young people give me hope” and all I could do at that moment was laugh because I couldn’t believe it. I thought of my fellow school strikers outside on the lawns and sitting next to me, why would we be here if he was truly inspired by the young people of Australia. I thought of all the families who would not have homes to return to after they were devoured by flames. I thought of the 300, 000+ Australian children who went on strike from school to demand climate action in September 2019. I would like to see the Prime Minister look me in the eye and tell me this isn’t a climate emergency and to look every single one of us in the eye and deny us our futures. I laughed because to me, his words are a lie.
After this nightmare of a summer, over one billion animals and 33 people are dead. So many ecosystems and families will never be the same. 2000 homes have been destroyed and tens of millions of hectares of land has been burnt in fires so hot they melted metal, some of this land hasn’t been impacted by bushfires in centuries. The smoke from these fires has turned New Zealand’s glaciers yellow and reached South America.
Like many other young people, I fear that this could become our future. I live with dread, because it isn’t hard to imagine that this will become a regular, normal thing. This is why I fight for immediate climate action.
The People’s Climate Assembly is an alliance of groups standing together to demand the declaration of a climate emergency and immediate climate action. From the Knitting Nanas against gas and the Stop Adani coalition to the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change and my fellow student climate strikers, we all gathered together on the lawns outside Parliament House for the first parliamentary sitting days of the year. The ACT was in an official state of emergency as bushfires burned through a fifth of the territory, the smoky clouds a reminder of the dire situation around Australia.
I took two days off school and spent them in Canberra to join the first few days of the protest, where I learnt and shared so much. I presented panels with First Nations activists, met MPs including Mark Butler and Zali Steggal to discuss climate action, learnt about solutions helping to fight climate change from scientists and innovators and yelled and chanted my lungs out.
One experience I will never forget was participating in the first successful peaceful encirclement of Parliament House. The feeling of being one of the thousands of people in a passionate crowd of protestors is difficult to explain. A mixture of red-hot anger, grateful solidarity, electric excitement, and the uplifting realisation that you are surrounded by people who will fight with you for a better world.
In Canberra, we were fighting in particular for the declaration of a climate emergency. As I said in my speech at the rally, “Declaring a climate emergency is about mobilisation. By not declaring an emergency the government is saying that this is all ok, well and normal. We know it is nothing of the sort. This declaration is an important step towards the fundamental changes we need to make in order to avert catastrophe.”
I stood in front of Parliament House, microphone in hand and surveyed the crowd in front of me as I shouted:
“All across Australia there are towns that are running out of water, some have already run out. Land that has never burnt beyond living memory has been scorched. Beautiful, lush, green rainforests have burnt. For myself and many others, living in Sydney, the feeling of breathing in heavy, ashy, smoke has become far too familiar. This is unprecedented. This is an emergency.
But every single one of us has power... And we are most powerful when we unite”
I would love to continue the conversation, you can find me at @sarahmytt on Twitter or get in touch with the Woke Editors for my email address!
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.
**Cover image by Gerd Altmann