September 30, 2019 by Gabija Vilkaitė
Demanding Change: Thousands Flood the Streets at Lisbon’s Global Climate Strike
Photos by Vanmayi Shetty
On Friday, September 27, 30 of Portugal’s cities saw people take to the streets for what is known to be the largest climate strike ever, with six million participants across all continents. While Fridays for Future originated as a student movement, initiated by Swedish student Greta Thunberg a year ago, this time the strike was joined by many adults. Trade unions and well-known companies worldwide, such as Lush, Ben & Jerry’s, The North Face, and others announced their cooperation, instructing their members and employees to march alongside the dedicated students instead of spending a day in the office.
The climate strike in Lisbon was one of the last ones in Europe, preceded by strikes in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and other countries. Around 20,000 protesters gathered at 15h in Cais do Sodré before heading east. Much like in the rest of the world, the participants’ age was not limited to students — the demonstration left out neither toddlers nor the elderly. As one of the organizers of the Student Climate Strike pointed out, “it is everyone’s right and duty to fight for the planet.” The crowd marched joyfully, accompanied by the encouraging beat of drums, cheering, and slogans in both Portuguese and English. “Power to the people,” they shouted. “People got the power!”
What Are Some of the Demands?
The uplifting atmosphere of the climate strike could not divert attention away from its serious cause. Thousands of banners called on the government and corporations to act, the main demand being the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and carbon neutrality by 2030, ahead of Europe’s green leader Germany, which is currently committed to achieving this goal by 2050. For such an ambitious objective to be accomplished, several steps must be taken. A good start would be shutting down the Sines and Pego coal power plants, preventing new thermal stations from being built, and investing in electric public transport.
At the moment, however, the activists feel their voices are not being heard by those in power. “The government has to act now if we want to have any shot at a normal future,” one of the Student Climate Strike members said, “and we will not stop until they do.” With the Portuguese elections right around the corner, the climate issue finally has a chance to take center stage.
The importance of Friday’s strike is apparent to almost everyone. During the last year, the level of awareness about global climate issues has rocketed and continues to grow at an accelerated speed. According to a 20-year-old protester, a lot has changed in Lisbon, for instance, “there are more sustainable options to choose from in the stores, as well as more green initiatives going on in the city.”
It seems like young people all around the world are sending a message to those in charge, announcing that they will not back down when their future is in question. The youngsters are doing everything they can to draw attention to the cause and inspire action that needs to be taken urgently. This very same message has also been outlined in several speeches given by the participating non-governmental organizations Amnesty International and others.
Occupying Rossio and Anjos
The demonstration arrived at Rossio square at around 17h30. While the square was the final stop of the march, the action did not end there. Besides listening to the speeches, the participants could grab some vegan food and continue chatting about the event. Towards the evening, more activities followed. Around 500 peaceful protesters occupied the intersection of Avenida Almirante Reis and Rua de Angola, setting up a tent camp outside the Bank of Portugal. This act was curated by Extinction Rebellion Portugal, a non-violent socio-political movement founded in the United Kingdom in 2018. As of now, local Extinction Rebellion groups exist in hundreds of towns and cities worldwide, regularly engaging in similar initiatives.
Friday’s occupation lasted around 3 hours and ended abruptly when the police removed the protesters from the site. Extinction Rebellion Portugal shares their demands with the student movement, urging for climate neutrality by 2030 as well as for the climate emergency to be declared.
How Can I Get Involved?
There are many ways to contribute to the cause you believe in. Whether you are out marching in the streets, camping in busy intersections, or refusing plastic bags, what matters is that you are contributing to the collective action. People taking that power and using it to pressure companies into sustainable practices as well as electing a government that will translate those demands into legislation is the only way to save our world from a worrying end. As the author of one simple yet very effective sign said: “Act now!”