Climate protests and shifting behaviour – will they work?

On Friday afternoon workers and students left their posts to fight for something they felt more important. Do demonstrations such as the Global Climate Strike really move the dial? We asked people on the ground.

At Marketing, we study the practice of creating influence, the deliberate action of changing minds and behaviours on a mass scale. Across the country, more than 300,000 workers and students marched to influence governments on more urgent climate action – Melbourne’s CBD was inundated with a crowd estimated at 100,000 strong, the largest in Australia.

But do strikes really work to influence those at the top? Claire Cooke, honorary research fellow in history at the University of Western Australia, says they do. With a particular focus on student demonstrations in a piece for The Conversation, Cooke writes “Student protests can make a big difference.”

Cooke says that if protests can be sustained, they “are likely to have significant impact at the local level, by creating conversations”. 

At a global level, protests can also “help to keep media attention and pressure focused” on governments to make necessary change.

We spoke to several protesters at the Melbourne School Strike 4 Climate protests on Friday 20 September on if and how protests really make change.

Portions of these interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity

Melbourne Climate Strikes crowd – Treasury Gardens

Melbourne School Strike 4 Climate – Treasury Gardens

Marketing: Why are you here today?

Edward, 25: We’re here because it’s so easy to become overwhelmed with nihilism about the world, about climate change, about the exploitation of our environment. 

It’s really good to get together with many more like-minded people and really try to send a message to the government and the population of earth to say ‘we’ve had enough’. 

We’re fed up with the way our politicians are acting, we’re fed up with complacency and the acceptance of a status quo that exploits our environment and puts our lives at risk for short-term gain.

Tom: I’m pretty keen on climate action and most of us here clearly are. So far, I’ve kind of sat by, this is my first rally and I just knew that it was going to be an important moment in history for Australia.

Do you think this demonstration will be effective in changing minds at the government level?

Edward, 25: Absolutely. You just have to look at the positive coverage of the strike today, look at the messages that people are bringing out. There’s such diversity within the people here, yet there’s a strong message that resonates among all of us. Something as universal as a strike, or at least mass demonstration, really does bring people together and the message really does come through.

Tom: Looking through history, people have protested against wars, against other threats – people have just been trying to bring peace. What do you expect us to do?

There have been a couple politicians today, including deputy prime minister Michael McCormack, who’ve called this demonstration “just a disruption” and said that it should have been held on the weekend. What do you think about that?

Tom: I would hope that our politicians would be more willing to hear us out.

To the people that have been inconvenienced by [the protests] – it’s certainly been well organised. The big protest that happened in the CBD without anyone knowing, you could expect a lot more people to get annoyed. But people have known about this [demonstration] for ages, they’ve had time to work around it, it wasn’t sudden.

O: I don’t think it really matters that it’s not on a weekend either, people will set aside time to come to this sort of thing. I did, and obviously a lot of other people have. It seems that plenty of people are really wanting some change.

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Image credit: Josh Loh

Josh Loh
BY Josh Loh ON 23 September 2019
Josh Loh is assistant editor at MarketingMag.com.au