Last week, environmentalist group the UK Student Climate Network was nominated for the Designs of the Year prize for its placard project, wherein the group worked with creative agency ILoveYou and social enterprise Play Nice to commission five artworks by Will Knight, Harry Butt, Indiana Lawrence, Lena Manger and Axel Lagerborg. Extinction Rebellion famously turned down its nomination, and contrary to its calls to boycott the exhibition due to the “unacceptable behaviours” of its sponsor Beazley, UKSCN decided to remain part of the show. Here, UKSCN’s Noga Levy-Rapoport explains why.
Our placards mean what they say. They are angry, viciously so. They take the screaming chants of millions of marching schoolchildren and spell it out clearly and plainly: we are not waiting, we are fighting; we are not alone, we are uniting.
A million snowflakes make a blizzard.
In March 2019, two million young people took to the streets in the largest global action we have seen in recent years. This Friday 20 September 2019, we will be joined by millions of adults, calling for action, calling for change, and calling for justice. So it is fitting that these placards, a stark yet nostalgic reminder of where we started – just inexperienced children organising with other children for a global children’s strike – have been nominated for Design of the Year at the Design Museum’s annual Beazley-sponsored awards, and have been unveiled just this week. It has been a historic year for climate action, and we cannot forget where we began.
A future through action!
Neither, then, can we, even for a moment, put aside where we will end – both in the scenario of immediate climate action, global solidarity and a Green New Deal for climate justice, or in the disaster scenario of unchecked global warming and soaring temperatures, the impacts of which we have already seen in areas of the Global South devastated and utterly destroyed by the climate crisis. Urgency should be the only word on our minds, and on the minds of those watching us, too. Whether you’re watching us on your screens, or from your windows as we march by, or staring at our placards: get up, grab a megaphone, a pen, a placard, a friend, and act.
The time for voluntary action is over. Hold the government to account now.
Other climate action groups made the choice to pull out of the exhibition, to avoid this space, tainted by the cruelty and criminality of the fossil fuel industry. We don’t have that choice. Young people have spent our whole lives fighting to be heard, screaming out as loudly as we can for even a smidge of a fighting chance, and we can’t pass up an opportunity to let the world’s elite know that we are winning. To beat corporate climate criminals, we need to stare them in the face, to both intimidate the giants who are laying waste to our world, and to articulate our message: that there is nothing weak about being “just kids”. As a collective, we decided to stay in the Design Museum, because our presence, in any space, is critical not just for our cause, but for our identity as young people so often barred from these spaces. Our placards must be a reminder that we are leaving a mark on this world that will be keenly felt in whatever direction we go in. Either you hear us, act, and join us, or you let us down.
Inaction will not be my epitaph.
We stayed on at the exhibition because to remain in our own echo chambers, our own radical and exciting spaces, is to forget that in order to mobilise, we have to first engage. So look at our placards. Read what they say. Let them hang above your head when you walk by, and let them be in your head when you walk away – ingrained, instilled, and inspiring. Unite!