Taking Matters into Their Own Hands
As the title suggests, European youth have begun to take matters into their own hands. In August of 2018, a 15-year-old Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg chose to cut class and instead protest for stricter climate laws outside of her government’s parliament building. Thousands of European youth have followed suit including many Brussels youth. On various occasions, secondary school students have left school early and flooded the streets of Brussels, calling for government action on climate change.  At one of the secondary schools in Brussels where I teach English and American culture, I had the opportunity to speak with students who took part in the February 14 Brussels climate protest. These students were joined at the march by one of their teachers. I wanted to hear more about the teacher’s support for his students and hear what had motivated the students to attend the march.

“Why did you decide to go to the march?” I asked the reserved class of fourth year secondary students (the equivalent of tenth grade students in the U.S.). One of the students responded, “Because it is important for the future.” After some encouragement from their teacher, more students added that they want Belgians to produce less waste and use more solar panels. When asked how they participated in the march one girl responded with a chant they had done: “On est plus chaud, plus chaud, plus chaud que le climat!” The French word “chaud” is directly translated to “hot” but is also used in French slang to mean “ready”. Translated word-for-word into English the students chanted, “We are hotter, hotter, hotter than the climate!” What they really meant was, “We are ready and here to fight for the climate!”

Right alongside the students at the march was their philosophy and citizenship teacher. In fact, he had encouraged the students to participate. He stated during our interview, “We are in a citizenship class and as a citizen, you need to be involved and fight for the things you believe in.”  He added that the class would do a chapter on climate change towards the end of the year and that this march had helped the students become more aware of the issue before discussing it further in class. The students agreed that the march had been a positive experience for them and that they will likely participate in other upcoming marches.

On March 15, I attended a Brussels climate march myself to see firsthand the effort that Belgian youth are making to change government policy. The March 15 Brussels climate march was one of around 110 marches occurring globally. I quickly noticed at the march that the “youth” fighting for the climate actually included people of all generations. As wind and rain came down as it does only in Belgium, I saw young children sitting on their parents’ shoulders and carrying signs, as well as elderly people joining in on the chants. “What do we want?” “Change!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” Let’s see what happens.

Alexandra DeJongh is a 2018-2019 American Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Belgium who is currently teaching English in two secondary schools in Brussels.

Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.