Moritz Ruhstaller and Zélie Guisset, pictured, were among those who organised the first Youth For Climate march in Luxembourg on 15 March 2019
Photo: Maison Moderne/Pauline Hy
Straight-talking climate activist Greta Thunberg has been hailed as a role model for student activism for initiating the school strike for climate movement, which now has its champions in Luxembourg.
Social media is a double-edged sword. It’s something that organisers of the first Youth for Climate march Zélie Guisset, 17, and Moritz Ruhstaller, 18, agree on.
On the one hand, Facebook was fundamental in helping young climate protestors in Luxembourg find one another and organise the first Youth for Climate Luxembourg student strike on 15 March. On the other, it exposed them to hate-fuelled messages.
The initiative began when students from Esch, who participated in a “Rise for Climate” march, posted the event on Facebook. Combined with the momentum created by protestor Greta Thunberg, who picketed the Swedish parliament every Friday since August 2018, it struck a chord among Luxembourg youth, who formed a chaotic Messenger group.
“I think a lot of people had the same idea at around the same time,” says Guisset, a Belgian national who has been concerned about climate change since she was a child. “For me it was ‘wow! We should get started on this but we have to do it now, otherwise we won’t make it’,” Ruhstaller recalls.
The scores of people who responded met at the Oeko Center in Pfaffenthal. They then formed working groups and shifted communication away from Facebook and onto Slack.
Students from all Luxembourg schools, except for one European School, were permitted to take the day off for the march which saw over 10,000 young people walk from the Glacis to Place Guillaume II, waving banners and chanting.
Photos and footage of the march filled newspapers and TV news programmes. Such a gathering had not been seen for years. The youth appeared to be discovering their power, taking control of their own bleak futures, in a bid to slow climate change. But the general public response was disappointing. “I was partially impressed, partially sad seeing how a lot of people reacted,” Ruhstaller says, adding he received personal, hate-fuelled messages.
“There was stuff about the reason for the march, then outrage at the signs people had.” One sign read “Fuck me, not the planet”, the student explained, adding that “people were interpreting it as an invitation for rape.”
Others criticised the fact some students peeled away from the march to buy lunch at McDonald’s or claimed student protestors left rubbish in the square, a point Ruhstaller contests. “I saw one sign, maybe two bottles. The garbage cans were overflowing so people put stuff next to them,” he says. But, they weren’t deterred. “I think most had us on specific points and not on the goal itself, the real reason we’re doing this,” Guisset says.
“We want Luxembourg to be a pioneer”
There were also those who tried to benefit from the march momentum, in particular politicians. The movement participants were wary not to have their cause hijacked and members were quick to denounce such opportunistic methods.
Far from being a hastily thrown-together gathering, the movement is thoughtfully structured to be as inclusive and impactful as possible. It has a flat hierarchy, is non-partisan, and does not propose policy. Rather, they want to get politicians to act for the good of people and the planet by promoting values and visions for the future. “We want Luxembourg to be a pioneer, leading the world on how to become a truly sustainable country. That’s the kind of nation branding we want,” Ruhstaller says.
The strike showed that people are willing to give the impression they are listening to young people. It fast-tracked them an audience with Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel, who plans to continue the dialogue in schools. “It’s what we didn’t want […] we see it as a way to try to break up the movement and the force it has,” Ruhstaller says. “In the end, our goal is to have concrete action on climate change. It doesn’t happen. Carbon levels are still rising. They are not doing enough,” adds Guisset.
Would they be more effective if they had a place in politics? Ruhstaller was in two minds because of the urgency of climate change.
Since the interview, however, he told Delano that he quit the movement to take up the role of president of the national youth parliament of Luxembourg. There he hopes to have more influence on politicians with regard to waste management, quality of life, conditions for internships, and voting rights for foreigners and 16-year-olds, among other things.