“Many people think that I’m brainwashed, but this was just my choice. They say to my mum ‘oh let her be a child and do child things, let her go to school’ and blah, blah, bla… Yeah the internet just goes on and on about this, it’s getting annoying”, says ten-year old Electra. During my first strike with her, her mother makes the analogy with a child that misses school because he or she is training to become a top athlete. “Nobody has a problem with them missing school and they typically miss more than just one hour a week” she says with a short laugh. Electra’s school sees her activism as “her project”, just like they would with a top athlete indeed.
“I think in Mozambique for example they really didn’t deserve this and it really sucks. I think it is just unimaginable, for me it has always been very abstract, but for them it is an actual tidal wave coming through the streets that washes away everything and drowns people. I think it is so unimaginable, that makes me panic the most I think, it is really bad. But I’ve never been afraid of my own life.”
Electra received the green square that's pinned on her jacket from Jeanne, it's a symbol of climate resistance from the students for climate movement.
When I ask Electra about her understanding of the word “climate crisis” she tells me it is the “sixth extinction” and the “dramatic rise of the oceans” which will “definitely submerge” the Netherlands amongst other countries and turn them into an “Atlantis 2.0”. She worries that “evolution might spiral out of control. Ecosystems completely destroyed. And the circle of life is completely out of balance.” as a consequence of global warming. She has a view of earth heavenly transformed by climate change and describes this as “terrifying” and “scary”, thus fearing the results of a changed global climate system.
Striking and demonstrating is, next to the auditive chanting of slogans, a profound visual performance (Pearse, Goodman and Rosewarne 2010). Protests signs are held up in the air, banners are dropped, clothes in symbolic colours are worn, all proclaiming the nature of the strike or demonstration. This aspect gives the environmentalist movement a climate discourse that is partly a visual discourse. It consists of messages, symbols and icons written or painted upon signs that are immersed with meaning. The visual aspect of any strike or demonstration is crucial for its aim: visibility in order to attract attention or raise awareness.
Electra and me at the march in Utrecht. Her mother made the picture and it appeared on the twitter of greenpeace and the instagram of fridays for future nl. So as Pink (2013) describes, I was also photographed in the field, were visual artefacts are important. The photographs are a visual reminder of my influence in the field.
Most of the framing of the photographs have been at a wide angle, because I wanted to visualize a situation. So following Bate (2016) these would be of an “objective” style; they are more contextual. The portraits on the other hand are not, they are close up, typically with a wide aperture and playful framing, and thus of a more “subjective” style. Some of the portraits are posed, but others are not. A story needs contextual elements and detailed elements, creativity and realism so I tried to include all of this to tell a visual story aided by written empirical data and analysis.
Greta Thunberg started a worldwide movement that inspires young children to strike or otherwise demonstrate for political action to mitigate climate change. Motivations are personal for every activist, because everyone’s background is different. However, emotions around climate change and motivations to take it to the streets overlap. All young activist I’ve spoken to are predominantly motivated by inequity between continents, socio-economic statuses and generations. Climate change is an abstract concept, but (natural) disasters that occur geographically far away are experienced by the activists through the media. These events give the consequences of global warming a real dimension, it makes the consequences imaginable. The imagining of a prospective transformed earth leads to feelings of anxiety, since the orientation point of a certain environment feels lost. Feelings of urgency, panic and sadness are expressed by the activists. The environmentalist world view of human responsibility and the activists’ agency combined with these feelings generate action. Many young activist express frustration and anger over the lack of political will and action of older generations. They experience an intergenerational injustice which leads to questions on the effectiveness of the current democratic political system in which older generations get to decide over the future of the next generations to come.