I did my GCSEs last year, a few weeks after the April Rebellion. I just scraped through – when you’ve spent two weeks on the barricades watching people being carried away by the police and hearing scary facts about the future of the planet, exams don’t seem that important. Why do I care how good my speling is when the UN say that by the time I’m forty-seven less than half the world’s population will have enough water?
Seeing the impact that Fridays for Future was having, I decided to go on a full-time school strike until the UK government committed to halting the climate and ecological emergency – and followed through.
I feel incredibly guilty for my part in the crisis. Every day I’m supporting destructive industries and adding to the problem, eating eggs and using plastic and generally consuming things I don’t need. The first step is to change your own behaviour, to stop consuming mindlessly and to think about your priorities and how you’re living. But I didn’t know how to go past that and get other people to change their behaviour too.
A year ago I was fed up with feeling like I wasn’t doing anything, but as a young person I didn’t think I had power. There’s a lot of ageism in our society – I can’t vote, and people generally don’t listen to my opinions because I’m a teenager. They say that I’m a kid and they’re older than me so they automatically know more and deserve my respect. Respect your elders is rubbish, like saying you shouldn’t hit a girl but guys are fine. You should respect everyone and not hit anyone.
I’m told to go back to school and become a scientist or politician if I really want to change things, but there’s not enough time – and besides, the general public isn’t listening to scientists either, or electing politicians who want to deal with the climate crisis. We’d already be on our way to a solution if they had the power or the will to change things.
A lot of people are in XR for their children or their grandchildren, because they want to make their lives better. It’s not my kids’ future that I’m fighting for, it’s mine. If the world carries on as it is, I’m not even going to get to have kids. I’m in enough of a fucked-up situation already. I can’t imagine what their world will look like. I’d choose not to be in that world, even if the alternative is not being born, and I can only assume that they would too.
Although young people don’t have a lot of decision-making power, we have emotive power. Hearing your children stand up and tell you that they aren’t going to have kids, that you’re destroying their futures and condemning them to starvation, wars and natural disasters just because you want to go on a plane or drive around in an SUV would affect anyone. You can’t tell a crying child to grow up, when environmental collapse means they may not get a chance to.
School education is a privilege that I’m really lucky to have access to, but it’s more important to me to have a stable future than another year of school. Plus school is only one way to educate yourself, and is, in my experience, far from perfect. Individual teachers are working hard but they can only go so far when the set-up is so backwards. I’m not going to jump through arbitrary hoops and respect a system which is destroying my future.
My year-long truancy has been ignored by the government, despite being illegal – in England you have to be in full time education, whether school or an apprenticeship, until you’re eighteen. My guess is the government doesn’t respect its own system either.
Over the past year I’ve used the time I would have spent in school writing Challenge Everything, a book about how to increase awareness and save the planet by boycotting, direct action and behaviour change. We need to come at this problem from all angles, and books are powerful, and reach people that protest and direct action don’t. We have to open dialogue with such people on their level, or we won’t be able to get through to them at all.
I’ve learnt and achieved far more in the last year than I would have done at school. I’m sure it’s right for some people to be going to school—but for me I couldn’t just sit there and watch the world burn. Now the book is done and has come out, I’m planning to join the HS2 rebellion at Denham. They are cutting down a wood where I used to play as a child. Me and my siblings used to search for golf balls which had fallen in the river. Denham is the closest we’ve got to rainforest, and activism begins at a home.
Blue Sandford is the author of Challenge Everything, the handbook for Extinction Rebellion Youth. Profits from the sale of the book will go to the XR Youth London group. Blue was born in 2002. Growing up at two extremes in the Hebrides, Scotland, without cars, electricity or hot water; and in the middle of London, she witnessed some of the best and the worst of our society. She started doing activism in order to create a better future for herself and everyone else. She joined Extinction Rebellion in 2018, and was hailed as one of ‘the UK’s most impressive young activists’ by The Times in December 2019.
To join Blue in rebelling against HS2, click here to find out how to visit one of the HS2 protection camps, make a donation, or raise awareness through online actions. A 1-minute video about the HS2 Rebellion at Denham can be viewed here.