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Young, Rural Climate Strikers Are Going It Alone

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg began striking solo outside of the Swedish parliament building before she garnered worldwide attention and turned her strike into a global youth movement to raise awareness for climate change. Michael Campanella/Getty Images

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In a remote village in north Norfolk, England, 9-year-old Amelia Bradbury has been standing alone outside her school gates every Friday for months. Like hundreds of thousands of young people across the world, she is following Greta Thunberg's lead and campaigning for action on the climate crisis. But, far from any of the big city demonstrations, she's having to go it alone.

"I was quite scared the first time because no one was doing it with me," says Bradbury. "But I'm doing this because I care about something. I really want people to listen to me and to make a difference."

She holds a handmade sign reading: "I'm striking for our nature," and it is her passion for wildlife and the outdoors that keeps her going each week. On the weekends she volunteers for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust with her family and enjoys birdwatching.

Nevertheless, there are times when striking alone can be difficult. "It is quite hard in the cold, especially when it's freezing," she says. A few of her friends at school are interested, but their parents are not so sure — with only one person, it is hard to get the ball rolling.

Although there are young people from all walks of life striking alone, it's often those in rural areas who struggle to make themselves, and the issues they most care about, heard. Holly Gillibrand, 14, in Fort William, Scotland, has been striking for more than a year.

"The bigger towns and cities get all this media attention, obviously, because a lot of people turn up," she says. "But I think the media tend to forget about the people in the rural places around Scotland and the rest of the U.K. We have a different perspective on things and our voices deserve to be put out there just as much as anyone else's."

But social media has provided a platform for rural voices to be amplified. In November 2019, Bradbury's father uploaded a video of her to Twitter after the U.K. prime minister, Boris Johnson, failed to show up to the climate leadership debate before the election. In it she said: "Tomorrow I'm going to be standing outside in the rain and you couldn't be bothered to turn up in a warm studio to debate the other leaders. How pathetic are you?"

It generated more than 1,000 retweets and praise from the wildlife conservationist Chris Packham. "It was a bit crazy but I feel really proud because it shows that people notice and care," Bradbury says.

It was the power of social media that inspired Anna Kernahan, 17, Grace Maddrell, 14, and Helen Jackson, 21, to set up Solo But Not Alone, a Twitter account dedicated to sharing the stories of solo climate strikers.

"People will say 'Oh, you're not alone,' but it's hard to see that when you are sitting there at the strike and there's no one else around you, everyone's walking past," Kernahan says. She strikes alone in Belfast, Northern Ireland, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. every Friday, often reading a book or catching up on homework. Although she struggles to get friends to join her, she has one powerful supporter to keep her going: Greta Thunberg.

"My phone crashes whenever she retweets me because she gets so many likes," Kernahan says.

Within weeks of setting up Solo But Not Alone at the end of 2019, the trio had hundreds of followers, and have been able to profile other solo strikers across the globe.

Mulindwa Moses climate strike
Mulindwa Moses strikes alone in his hometown of Kampala, Uganda, where there's a lack of tolerance for climate activism.
Mulindwa Moses

It has helped them connect with people such as Mulindwa Moses, a 23-year-old climate activist from Uganda who strikes alone on the roadside. At one point Moses did it for 55 days consecutively, but now he strikes on Fridays and Saturdays, raising awareness for the #SaveCongoRainforest and #TwoTreesaWeek campaigns.

Moses was inspired to take action after speaking to people who had lost family members in landslides and floods, which he later found were being caused by the climate crisis. "There are literally no reports about the climate and ecological crisis in the media, which has kept the population ignorant, and leaders are taking advantage of this to not take action," Moses says.

Living in Kampala, Uganda's capital, Moses strikes alone not because he lives in an isolated area, but because of his country's lack of tolerance for climate activism.

"Being a climate activist in Uganda is very hard," Moses says. "You cannot hold a strike with large numbers to create awareness because the government [does not] allow it, and I have lost friends, who say they can no longer associate with me because I stand on the side of roads holding signs and spend most of my time planting trees."

But like other solo climate strikers around the world, his loneliness is eased by the support he receives from fellow climate activists online. Kernahan says "We really want to make sure that even if only one person is striking, their voice is heard and it is loud."

This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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