The first climate strike in a small town of millenial times
A description of how a group of people who had never seen or heard of each other before, came together for a cause on Global Day of Action, 25th September 2020 in a tiny town, Palakkad, Kerala.

On 17th September, the Instagram page of Youth For Climate Volunteers sent me a registration form to participate in the Global Climate Strike. I opened the Google form and opted for Digital Strike, that being the safe option because I thought I shouldn’t be risky and irresponsible and make my grandparents vulnerable. The other side of living in a big family. Always have to put the family first! It’s not that bad either, you learn to manage with each passing year.

climate strikers in Kerala

Soon enough, a guy texted me in WhatsApp asking me if I had registered for Climate Strike. He introduced himself as Kiran, the co-ordinator. Kiran formerly worked with Amazon, now is doing a technical course, MEP. He said that he is thinking of organising the strike in Palakkad. I remember what he told me, “oru kai nokkam ennu vicharichu” (I thought I will try a hand). And what did I do? Ulta, I shared my concerns with him. Poor guy, I surely didn’t give him the support and encouragement, he badly needed. Good thing that Kiran was determined! He immediately created a group and added me and that’s where I met Kalyani, a very enthusiastic student architect, who is now a friend and my strike partner. I think it was just us at that point.

Soon I realised that I wanted to go strike in the streets. And I began to actively take an interest in pulling the strike off. 

We put stories in Instagram, asked our friends and cousins if they wanted to join us and found new enthusiasts to be added to the group.

Kerala is a State of Strikes, which is both a good and a bad thing. I think by now, we have enough examples for how not to strike. We didn’t want to cause any disruption to people’s lives. We were clear that those who needed to have our slogans ringing in their ears lived in the capital cities.

What people in our town needed was awareness and a nudge to open their eyes to the idea of climate change.

The Police were co-operative. They had instructed us just one thing; to keep the number of participants to 10 or less due to Covid protocols. Now a new problem arose since we have already found around 25-30 people. Who do we ask to stay at home?

The initial list of participants had all boys and me, the only girl. I knew some diversity will bring us good and I began to work on it. Finally, we managed to divide among ourselves our representation in streets and in digital space. I had asked Kiran to include someone who will take photos for us to share in social media and motivate others to engage in climate activities in future. He said, Rithwik will take care of it and that he is an amazing photographer. That he is.

As the Global Day Of Action came nearer, we began to work on our placards and posters. We made all our placards with reused or repurposed materials. Nothing was bought from the store new. I used some yellow chart papers that I had made a file folder with, during my college days and wrote slogans on it asking for the translation of  EIA 2020 to Malayalam.

And I pasted this chart paper over a slightly thicker file I got from my school and made a frame with newspaper. I even used sketches and pens from my students’ days. Kalyani brought in the idea of writing slogans on our washable – reusable cloth masks. Next up, I didn’t know what to wear to a street strike. I wore a blue salwar that I borrowed from my Aunt (yes I am my Aunt’s size) I wanted people from my town to see me as one among them. I also wanted to walk to the site of our strike because it felt a little hypocrite to me for all of us to drive in our own vehicles to strike against global warming. Sadly, I didn’t have that option because of COVID security. 

We fixed the date, time and place. Finally, the day of action came! We decided to strike in Fort Maidan, infront of ‘Anju Vilakku‘ (Five Lamps) close to Town Municipality in the corner of a busy junction where most of the office going crowd passes by. What can I say, everything couldn’t be more appropriate.

I still remember the excitement I felt when I saw Kiran and Amal waiting with their placards tucked in their scooter. I walked towards them as fast as I could. Soon I met Kavya, a zoology post graduate student and an active participant in bird surveys. The funny thing is, it was the first time I was seeing them, but I could already feel a bond with them, maybe because of the common cause we believe in.

Kiran asked us, “enna thudangiyalo?” (Shall we start?) and just like that we turned our placards towards people and stood on our cross signs to maintain a social distance. Soon Kalyani joined us with her little sister, Jayalakshmi, a political science student.

It would have been around 8:50 and people had just started to go to work;  shops were just opening up, the town, just busying up. At first, we didn’t get much attention. People looked at us and passed by. A guy passed us in his bike. We knew that he had taken notice. He came back after parking his bike and talked to Kavya and Kiran. Can you imagine? The new guy, wanted to join us!! He had to work today but had asked us to call him for such participations in the future. That was so cool.

Later, a police van stopped by us and asked us what were we striking for? They pressed us for a name of an organization. The thing is, there was none. Before climate strike, we hadn’t seen or heard of each other. They specifically wanted to know how we came together if we hadn’t known each other before. It was a tiring task explaining to them that we are just a couple of youngsters who wanted to show support for the Global Climate Strike.

Gradually media began to take attention too. A journalist might spot us on their way to work and later come back with a team. This went on like a cycle. Everyone wanted to know who was our leader. Which was our organization? We told everyone that we are some Youth For Climate. Nothing more, nothing less. 

I personally noticed an extremely sad thing and had discussed that with Kalyani then and there. I noticed that, It was the guys and gents who were reading our placards and talking to us. A couple of girls saw us from a distance, but went past us looking the other side. And Kalyani told me that the girls might have been spooked by Kiran and Amal who were standing in the front at that time. Geez! That might be true. Girls are conditioned to walk in straight lines. They have to be careful not to get into trouble, not to talk to strangers, they should always keep to themselves. This conditioning might be higher in a small town like ours that the girls literally looked the other way while walking past us.

One of the touching moments was when an Auto ettan (Autowala Bhaiyya) came forward and offered us tea with his own money seeing us stand there in the sun for hours. I don’t think any one of the ten of us can forget this act of kindness. He crossed the streets, bought tea in a steel jug, grabbed some cups from the tea stall, crossed the road again and poured out the steaming hot tea and offered to each one of us with his own hands. That was a great life lesson for us. Kiran later told me that, that ettan’s name is Vijay. I think he is Tamil. 

Then there were others, elder people, who halted a second or two to read our placards and smiled at us and winked both their eyes in affection and acknowledgement. In a time like this, all we have to communicate are our eyes, right?

There were also elderly people who ate food and lived in the streets who came to read our placards after we had called it a day. One such Uncle wanted to know what was happening. He took his time and read all our signs. But he didn’t ask us anything. Maybe he was shy to. I don’t know why I didn’t explain to him though. That would be my biggest regret from yesterday. The poor man gave us more attention than any of the media or camera.

We had earlier decided to strike till noon. But it was only after 11:45 that we began to get more attention so we decided to stand there a little longer and we broke the strike off for a late lunch.

So what was the need for our strike? What did we aim? What did we gain? There’s something that most people don’t know or conviniently forget, that we are in a climate emergency.

Scientists say that we have utmost 7 years to actively do something to save our planet. All the fires and ice cape melting and heat waves we have today, is just because of a 1-degree rise in global temperature. Scientists are now looking at a 1.5 or 2 degrees rise. If we just take a second and sensibly think of our future, we wouldn’t be continuing a lot of our daily practices. We did not want to eco panic anyone. But we want people to be aware of the effect each one of our actions have on our Mother Earth, on each other and on the generations to come. 

Not that we actively did something for the planet on 25th or that we found a solution to the world’s endless problems. Nor did we bring much awareness to the public in these small hours either.

Like a fellow group member, Mithun said, Palakkad to a great extend still believes in construction to be a sign of development. It’s a small town with a larger rural area disconnected from town area. Palakkad as a community has not been able to shake off the conditioning of commercialisation and “development” we have been through for several decades. Oh by the way, Mithun has a big instagram page discussing climate problems. He is personally doing a great job bringing climate news to everyone.

I am extremely happy to have found my group in Palakkad now. Can you believe that one of the guys, Nitheesh, who came for the strike was actually my neighbour and that we didn’t know that. 

I would have never imagined that there are more people like me in Palakkad. Infact, I am a little late to the scene. All my fellow strikers are much younger to me. I am the ‘Chechi’ to the group.

We will meet again. We are planning on making a calender for our activities in the future. We shared our stories and experiences in our social media handles and we get messages from youngsters of Palakkad enquiring how to join us!

It already gave us such a rush to see our town name in the Youth For Climate Instagram page among the name of big cities. We will find a tiny dot spot for our Palakkad on the map of Global Climate Action.

Hey, “your vibe attracts your tribe“.

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

    Related Written Stories