Thousands of youth activists skip school for UK-wide climate protest

Students in the UK are the latest youth activists to walk out of class for an environmental demonstration.

Following in the footsteps of students in Sweden and Belgium, thousands of schoolchildren gathered in London, Oxford, Leeds, Brighton, Manchester and other cities on Friday.

The Guardian reported that some students traveled hours to attend marches in larger cities, and estimated that over 10,000 are participating. 

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The students carried signs, played music and made speeches, including 9-year-old Lillia Adetoro, who said: “I’m feeling upset and nervous about the future. But I’m hopeful that people are opening their eyes to what’s happening. I think other 9 year olds feel the same.”

Video footage of the march in London shows over a thousand people gathered in Parliament Square. The Guardian reported that former Labour Party leader Ed Milliband attended the march with his 9-year-old son, saying he thinks it’s “inspirational to see these young people today - the older generation has failed them and now needs to step up.”

The push for students to walk out of class to protest climate change was started by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has been striking from school weekly since last year to protest in front of the Swedish parliament.

Friday’s strike in the UK is coordinated by the UK Youth Climate Coalition, and has been backed by groups such as Greenpeace UK.

Some politicians, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, expressed support for the demonstrations. Corbyn tweeted that the participants “are right to feel let down by the generation before them and it’s inspiring to see them making their voice heard today.”

But Prime Minister Theresa May’s office appeared less enthusiastic. A spokesman for Downing Street said in a statement that it is important for “young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most,” but pointed to the “disruption” in the school day and said it “wastes lesson time.”

“That time is crucial for young people, precisely so that they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates we need to help tackle this problem,” the spokesman said.