We Are More than A Photo-Op

There is an unfortunate trend of political figures using the climate protests for electoral gain

On Friday the 20th, over 15,000 Irish teenagers took to the street for a global protest demanding climate action. In what was a thrilling feat of passion and organization, thousands upon thousands of people showed up to march and declare loudly that climate change is the pressing issue of our time. It was screamed at the top of our collective lungs that political change for climate action is necessary, immediately.

But if you are part of a political apparatus, there’s a more cynical view. Upon looking at these street protests, there is one thing to be seen : thousands and thousands of future voters. It is clear that the gathering crowds are civically engaged members of society. And in the eyes of politicians, these individuals are ripe for the political plucking. So every party wants to get in at the ground floor, and try convince as many young ones as possible that ‘climate action will happen, so long as you vote for us!’

To a degree, this could be acceptable. Each party could go about its ways in convincing voters that they are genuine and serious and proactive on climate change. They can pledge lower carbon emissions ceilings, higher renewable energy subsidies, comprehensive public transport plans and investment in other green technologies, all in the hopes of winning over the future voters of Éire. And sure, this is essentially the end goal. But what is not acceptable is the way that certain elements of the political sphere have been reacting to these protests.

Unfortunately, this message has not always been heeded by the political apparatus. Several government officials, including ministers, have been decried as using the protests as ‘a photo op’. These instances were not unique, but happened across the political spectrum. In a quite telling fashion, after the September 20th protests, political parties released heavily-edited publicity videos, self-empowering photos decorated their social media, all with the striking youth reduced to mere props. In what seems to be recurring motifs. these protests are in fact used as a stage for attacks on political opponents, often the incumbent government or close political rivals.

Climate Strike

Furthermore, a handful of political parties were criticized for setting up political stands at the protests, handing out leaflets and displaying banners, despite being explicitly told by the organizers to abide by the non-political ethos.

This shows how the political agendas and politics-as-usual attitudes can permeate something that is the antithesis of daily politics. As such it is our duty to call these instances out. Politicians who want to acknowledge the crisis should do so, should attend protests, should fight for the environment, and primarily should use their voice to raise up those of others - but must face the fact that society does not revolve around the next election.

By Ciarán Meers

Robert O'Donnell