An Interview with an Exeter University Climate Striker
Amy Butterworth, Online Lifestyle Editor, talks to Jessica Bains-Lovering about balancing student life with striking for Fridays for Future Exeter
Meet Exeter University’s Jessica Bains-Lovering: Human Geography student by day, climate striker by night. As Fresher’s Week rolls around, she isn’t worrying about which sport club to join or where the biggest club night will be. Rather, Jessica is preparing for the upcoming Global Strike for Climate on September 20, as part of her involvement with the Fridays For Future Exeter, a youth-led climate activist group operating within and around Exeter. We speak to Jessica to find out more about the strike, her personal involvement and how she balances this all with her studies. Motivated by anger towards blissfully ignorant politicians and fear for an unprecedented global crisis, this is how they she makes her voice heard.
The Friday for Future Exeter exists as a non-hierachical democratic movement, meaning anyone can join, and polls on every decision are made. “The September strike (Global Strike for Climate) is going to be a bit different from previous strikes, as it’s a collaboration between many different activist and climate groups and organisations, like Extinction Rebellion, Earth Strike, and Fridays for Future, with collaboration from RSPB and local businesses”.
The origins of Fridays for Future Exeter saw the members decide on their narrative in fighting for the climate emergency. They quickly realised the necessity to dismantle the ingrained biases of local politicians concerning the climate and environment. “In our first meeting with DCC John Hart, the current leader, he got confused about what a vegan consumes. “But what about your shoes?” he asked as if leather was the only fabric in existence and it was about to be a ‘gotcha’ moment”. Clearly ignorant to the cause, they needed tangible evidence in order to convince these politicians; fear, anger and emotion haven’t been enough to evoke change.
“If explaining to an adult in a position of authority that you are afraid for both your own life and the survival of our species gets you a head pat and a lollipop (or empty reassurances and greenwashing tweets), then that makes it our job to lay out what we think the future should look like”, explains Jessica. So, foreseeing criticisms of being “idealisitic” or “uninformed” with “generalised aims”, climate protesters worldwide sought to make specific targets; these comprise the Green New Deal plan, which you can read more about here.
We were curious to find out more about a day-in-the-life of a climate striker, and how to negotiate student life with climate striking. Amidst attending lectures, Jessica contacts other local activist groups to further the reach of their strikes, as well as attending meetings with politicians (from Devon County Council and Exeter City Council).
To prepare for the day of the strike, volunteers organise their own banners, microphones, leaflets etcetera, discuss the routes via Whatsapp or Slack group chats, set up areas for speeches and lead the marches, with around 10 volunteers spearheading the march. “In September, there’s going to be workshops to teach about individual and system level changes people can make to help the environment, and some guest expert speakers as well as free food. There’s also going to be a Samba band, so if you haven’t come to a strike yet, this should be our biggest and best yet!”
On a Saturday in August local people have asked strikers why they weren’t at school whilst manning an informative stall in the town centre. I guess there’s no pleasing some people
It’s impossible to ignore the perennial debate of whether students can justify missing lectures for protests. However, Jessica praises how protesting can in fact be beneficial in both environmental and personal ways. “We educate ourselves about lesser known causes of environmental issues that you don’t get the opportunity to learn about in classrooms or lecture halls, where the worldview that’s created this mess is industriously reproduced by our narrow curricula, preparing us for jobs which likely won’t exist in a century. Sharing the emotions caused by the climate crisis with a community of people who care, really and deeply, about both our planet and each other is in my opinion invaluable.”
To further the evidence that, first and foremost, the mindset surrounding climate change requires changing, Jessica recalls one person’s response to the strikes: “on a Saturday in August local people have asked strikers why they weren’t at school whilst manning an informative stall in the town centre. I guess there’s no pleasing some people”.
Jessica tackles the vulnerable issue of how eco-anxiety has affected her since involving herself in the protests. An overwhelming sense of uncertainty and the plausible probability of unprecedented environmental devastation is distressing. She describes her intention to facilitate these emotions into tangible actions so as to kept her eco-anxiety under control. “My actions don’t change our future on a global level, but this movement is growing every day. Planning how we can best enact strategic systemic change, and being a part of a community of people who aren’t afraid to care un-ironically and without compromise has helped me to see that there’s a chance that humanity can survive this crisis”.
Environmental activism as a movement is blooming and growing every day, has already made political and social change and will continue to do so, and becoming part of it is probably the best and most influential decision I’ve made at university.
For those who are unable to join the upcoming strike, Jessica urges them to be aware of their diets: “A meat-eater’s diet creates more than 7 times more greenhouse gas emissions than vegan’s diet, and raising and feeding livestock animals for food uses 30% of the Earth’s land mass and 70% of all agricultural land”. She also discusses the issue of fast-fashion: “people can make changes to their own buying habits, and instead of cheap disposable clothes, you can buy certified sustainably produced clothes for something new, genuine vintage for something special, second-hand from charity shops for good value for money, or just don’t buy anything, if you can do without.” Jessica will enter her third year at Exeter University, but rather than her year being defined by dissertation and impending graduation, she, and other protesters, intend to pave the way for a more environmentally-conscious future.
Students and workers are standing together across the globe to demand action from all governments to ensure we have a liveable planet. As part of the Global Strike for Climate, on Friday 20 September, Fridays for Future Exeter will be striking in Bedford Square, Exeter at 11am to call for a Green New Deal.