BERN (MindaNews / 01 October) — It was an awesome sight I would remember for years to come – 100,000 people massing up and then marching in this Swiss capital to call for urgent government action on its climate policies.
“What do we want? Climate action! And when do we want it? Now!” was the cry heard when the marchers moved into the Bundesplatz, the small parliament square in the middle of Bern.
They were demanding for a firm climate policy from the Swiss government, and calling on Swiss politicians to forge a consistent and effective climate policy – including a strategy to end the dependence on fossil fuels.
Saturday’s demonstration was the finale of the Swiss edition of the Global Climate Strike. There were a series of build-up marches over the months—many organized by the youth and all well attended across the ages – but this crowd was simply unprecedented.
I was rushing to join the start of the march at 1:30 p.m.at the Schutzenmatte public carpark. And then I heard this crowd and felt its energy. I went up a second-floor balcony to take aerial shots of the crowd and saw masses of people still arriving to take up the tail end of the march. The line felt alive as more people joined – entire families; old people, many of them living on comfortable pensions; youths and students; unionists; non-Swiss nationalities; those from other Swiss cities and cantons; women groups; fringe political groups with their radical messages; and so on. In the end, the start of the rally was delayed for an hour as the massive crowd moved slowly along Bern’s medieval-age streets that were unaccustomed to these huge numbers.
Although the messages were diverse, there was a high understanding of the many issues involving climate change. There was desperation on the placard messages: “There is no second earth” or “There is Planet B” or “Climate action now!”. And there was clearly exasperation with indecisive local politicians who people said took action only when the parties made a majority stand in the councils and in parliament. “New energy for the climate politics” said one. While another claimed: “Politicians are renewable.”
Also targeted were private people, who were urged to rethink their consumption habits, particularly in the areas of food choices and means of travel. A group calling itself “I Bike to Move It” had biked for hours to the march to demonstrate alternative public travel methods. Some groups served meals with reusable plates and cutlery.
Some other takes I had from observing the march and rally:
- The youth are firmly in the front of the climate movement. They take inspiration from the words and brave actions of the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. There is in fact a “Swiss Greta.” She is Marie-Claire Graf, a student at the University of Zurich, who initiated the climate strikes in Switzerland and took part in the first youth climate summit in New York. The youth took charge of the rally program in Bern and did a wonderful job with their earnestness and energy.
- The women are square in the middle of the climate change movement. They protest “Klima politik” from largely male-dominated political bodies who act on climate change policies which, they said, will impact more on the women-led households. The president of the UNIA Swiss trade union – a woman – had in fact in her speech called for an eco-social transformation of the economy and society.
- Unlike other political issues which can divide people, there is no debate on climate change and its urgency. Students in the primary schools know and can articulate the scientific facts of global warming as well as the next scientist. Here, there is no radical fringe; all agree that the time to make changes is now and immediately.
- The 1960s protest movement is still alive and doing well in the hands of the young generation. I was surprised to read circa-60s messages with a new twist: “Make love, not C02” and “Hot climax instead of hot climate” were provocative messages that certainly caught the eye.
Indeed the turnout was heavy and the atmosphere was heady. There was a collective high in the air as people fed on the vibes and energy of their fellow marchers. I reflected that this crowd could easily fill up the local Wankdorf football arena. Its energy and power to influence politics was without limits.
But my thoughts later settled on what a Swiss man standing beside me had said. “This is a very big crowd,” he also marvelled while we watched the crow swell below us. “But Switzerland is a small country. We need the people of the other countries with us, we need support from the big countries like Germany and France and England. We will only make a difference when we will come together.” (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)