For Tiara, leading Australia’s School Strike 4 Climate event at age 17 was no small feat. She had to organise the rally, get her parents on board, and deal with online bullies while trying to manage her school work. Uma chatted to Tiara, star of the new web docu-series Youth On Strike!, about what it’s really like being on the front line of the fight for climate justice.
Picture this. As you march, you feel the crowd surrounding you. You hear the desperate pleas from some of your comrades to save the planet, while others are ferociously chanting at the government for disregarding their futures. Everywhere you look you see a sea of people, the tides of signs. Among the thousands some read “Respect existence or expect resistance” and “There’s no planet B”. Even though you knew it before, at this very moment you realise you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself. You’re a part of a global movement.
You are making history. Can you feel it?
These were some of the scenes of the youth-led climate strikes around the world. Millions of people across the globe took to the streets, with young people leading the charge. Youth On Strike! is an upcoming web docu-series following young leaders of climate change action around Australia. I was lucky enough to chat to Tiara, a 17-year-old climate change activist who features in the film. Here’s what I learned from Tiara’s journey so far.
Make it personal
One (of the many it seems) commonalities between Tiara and me, is that we’re both Sri Lankan Australians. And among the many benefits of being a second-gen kid is having a connection to the country where your parents were born. This connection means you live your life through two lenses, which in our case means a Western world/Australian lens, and a developing world/Sri Lankan one. It became clear when talking to Tiara that both of us, almost immediately, understood that the greatest impact of climate change will affect the most vulnerable countries and communities first.
Tiara reflected on her trips to Sri Lanka; how she has experienced crazy weather changes such as monsoon rain for extended periods of time, and how she began normalising 46-degree days.
“That’s when I realised [climate change] won’t just affect Australia, it will affect Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. Countries that aren’t really contributing to climate change, carbon emissions etc, to the extent that we are or the big countries are, will suffer the consequences of climate change, or global warming, if you may. I think I’ve made it personal.”
You’re gonna face challenges on the way
From online bullying to facing some resistance from family, Tiara’s journey to be a climate change activist wasn’t easy.
As you can probably imagine, being openly passionate about saving the environment while attending a private school with many students who are climate change deniers wouldn’t make for a great time. Tiara explained that while this didn’t impact her views on climate change, “it did kind of hinder my ability to persist with activism later because everyone was against what I was doing.”
Tiara expressed that things got rough when she posted on social media about the march she helped organise. “I got massive hate online and it turned into a little storm.” Tiara went on to describe the extent and response of the online bullying.
“People were calling me ‘nazi’, people were calling me ‘clown’, saying my activism was stupid. There was this big wave of kids not knowing what they were talking about but felt the need to undermine others based on their beliefs. And if that happened on any other basis like religion, that would be intolerable. But since climate change has become this political tool that is currently up for debate, it was fine for me to get annoyed or bullied about.”
Another challenge for Tiara was the initial hesitation from her mum about missing school to attend a strike. She was asked questions like “What’s the point of missing school?” and “You wouldn’t strike on the weekend would you?”
Tiara stars in Youth On Strike!, a web docu-series following 14 students as they plan the March 2019 climate strikes.
Tiara relentlessly explained the lack of shock factor in striking on the weekend. She described her defence by saying:
“Exactly—you’re TALKING about it. And it’s at the expense of missing one day of school. But that’s the point. You have to do something to a) get media attention and b) get people talking. If you can get people to talk then you can communicate the root issue to people.”
Tiara’s older sisters and cousins were all supportive of her efforts, and collectively they managed to garner the support of her mum too.
Advice to young activists facing challenges when starting out
Donating money and attending strikes are great, but there are other things you can do too. Tiara said she explores other forms of activism, such as awareness building. “We’re in the age of social media! As minimalistic as it sounds now, sharing a post on Instagram is more impactful than you’d even think. It doesn’t even matter about [the size of your] following. You could share a post and it could reach 2-3 people and if you’ve ever brought up the topic to them that’s contributing more than you think.”
So, while I was learning the lyrics to American rap artist Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ at 17, Tiara, along with millions of others in her generation, are taking collective action to fight for positive climate action. This year Tiara plans on continuing with her activism and focusing on Year 12. In the future, Tiara sees herself possibly seeking a career in politics or policy with an ambition to introduce further policies that can address the climate crisis.
Tiara stars in Youth On Strike!, the three-part documentary series about a group of Australian students in the lead up to Australia’s first youth-led school climate strike in March 2019. Watch now.