15 March 2021
Given what the past year has brought, it almost boggles the mind to remember that thousands of people flooded the streets of Dublin in the name of climate action two years ago today.
Even before you made your way over to the assembly point, the city centre felt different on the morning of 15 March 2019.
It was a day of international climate action, where school strikers the world over were taking to the streets in protest.
Placards and posters were tucked under arms, and you could make out words like “stop”, “now” and “action” if you squinted hard enough from across the street.
Groups of teenagers streamed down footpaths. They were chatting all the while until someone plucked up the courage to start a chant.
By the time you got down to Stephen’s Green – the designated meeting spot for the march – chants were coming and going like the tide.
A pocket of students from one school would start up and before long everyone around them, whether they were a classmate or a total stranger, would join in.
Beth Doherty, who’s now preparing for her Leaving Cert, was one of the strike’s organisers. She woke up that morning thinking, if they were lucky, they might be able to get a 100 people to show up.
By the time the march started making its way towards the Dáil, there were 10,000.
Protesters started heading down Dawson Street, and Beth remembers it as “such an energy of being together”.
“I’d never seen anything like that before,” she said.
Beth and her fellow organisers took turns sharing a megaphone once they were before government buildings and outlined their demands.
One of the people watching was Jessica Dunne. A student living in Dublin, she found out about the strike through social media and felt excited that finally there was something she could do about the climate crisis.
After the march wrapped up and had been reported across the media, Jessica knew she wanted to do more.
She started messaging the Fridays for Future account on Instagram and asked how she could get more involved in the movement.
Just two months later, she sang at a May school strike and helped oversee the logistics of another international student-led climate action on 20 September 2019.
In order to get permission to hold the march, organisers were asked to estimate the numbers they anticipated to see on the day.
They wrote down 10,000 as the maximum as that aligned with the amount of protesters that took part just six months earlier.
Yet again, their expectations were shattered and then some. 20,000 people took to the streets of Dublin to march and demand climate action that day.
The event was like 15 March, but in fellow organiser’s words Chaya Smith was both bigger and better.
Chaya was part of the team pulling together the March strike, and was just thirteen at the time.
In August of the same year, she joined the Irish delegation to Friday’s for Future’s first summit in Switzerland.
Just a month later, she gave a speech to the aforementioned 20,000 people gathered in Dublin and told protesters to look around them and take stock of their numbers.
“Look at how many of us are in Dublin and across the country. We’re going to keep fighting, we’re not going to be ignored, and we’re not going to go quietly,” she remembers telling the crowd.
And there were protests the country over too on 15 March.
5000 students took the streets of Cork City, and hundreds too in Limerick.
Saorise Exton, a then-thirteen year old living in Limerick city, was the main organiser for her locality’s protest.
She too had lower expectations of crowd turnout. She was hoping about 50 people might congregate, but in the end there were roughly 400 people gathered at Arthur’s Quay Park.
People then started to join her in weekly strikes from that point onwards.
Around 150 people also gathered in Ennis, Co. Clare. Aine Dempsey, a then-fifth year student, had met a solo striker in town just a week earlier and managed to put the strike together just in time.
Aine left school just about ten minutes before the strike was set to begin, and on her way she got a call from her mother.
“She told me I needed to get there right away as there were members of the press asking her if she knew me and where I was,” Aine recalls.
“It was so bizarre. I was only 16 at the time and I’d never done anything like that in my life before.”
This March 15 however, is an incredibly different one.
Fridays for Future have moved their actions online since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and are organising another digital action for this Friday, 19 March.
Socially distanced, covid-restrictions-compliant protests were held in Ireland and around the world on 25 September 2020. Participants in Cork gathered placards and displayed them before the Peace Park and protesters in Dublin wrote out messages of protest in chalk before the Dáil.
The pandemic has also highlighted that, “we can respond to crises when we need to” by changing how the world functions, according to Beth Doherty.
The past two years have also been a steep learning curve for many school strikers.
The ones who spoke to The Green News say they’ve learned about the importance and power of community. They’ve learned more about the intersectional nature of the climate crisis, and they’ve got their eyes fixed on the immediate horizon.
They’re looking towards COP26, an international gathering of world leaders set to be held in Scotland later this year.
That meeting, in Beth’s own words, must be one that goes further than the previously agreed Paris Agreement and must “get us to where we need to be.”
“I also hope we keep community organising going. I hope that we keep growing, keep learning, and keep up that pressure.”