POV: Sheffield’s COP26 Protest

‘System change, not climate change’


The autumn air wasn’t heavy with rage when I arrived for the COP26 Protest at Devonshire Green on Saturday. Instead, I was instantly struck by a feeling of community spirit. Hundreds of people from those in prams to those with walking sticks had turned out and everyone was peacefully chatting amongst their homemade banners. 

Sheffield was just one of the cities around the world holding a protest after a week of talks to pursue action on climate took place in Glasgow. The COP26 Coalition organised a global day of action demanding governments do more to halt the climate emergency – I heard and saw the slogan “system change, not climate change”, throughout the day. 

The sunshine may have contributed to the quietly joyous feeling and as we began our march to City Hall that would take over an hour, I felt myself become buoyant. The placards pointing up at the sky, all the families that had come out, and the pulsing of Extinction Rebellion’s samba band were uplifting. When a rainbow appeared above the city’s towers I caught myself wondering if this could be a sign. 

It was when a teenager in the procession started shouting, “SHOW ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” and no one responded with the classic reply ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ that I realised what was missing. The righteous anger I have come to expect from a misspent youth of protesting. What did this look like? People of all ages coming together because they care about the planet: inspiring, but was it enough to inspire urgent change? 

The message felt even more scrambled when we approached dozens of people at Arundel Gate looking baffled. They were expecting to see buses on the road, not a crowd of possible hippies preventing any transport from appearing altogether. Suddenly it didn’t feel like ‘us’: ordinary citizens holding truth to power as one vs. ‘them’: morally bankrupt fossil fuel companies ruling the world, it was us everyday people v these everyday people. 

But all demonstrations inevitably cause inconvenience, so we continued. Onto City Hall and into the rain. It suddenly felt like an anticlimax had been reached. Shouting into microphones, the tireless organisers did their best to coax the crowd back to life, however, it was speeches from children which reinvigorated the event. 

Listening to them earnestly imploring the PM to be on the right side of history I was grateful this protest had brought together a wide range of groups. I think that also might have been it’s problem – so many different people were there the formula of assemble, march, speakers didn’t work. We need new methods of collective action to address an issue the public is seeing with new eyes. 

Russ Chandler, a folk musician who sang his song ‘COP26: What’s this?’ on the steps of City Hall told me that if ever the voice of the people needed to be heard it’s now, during COP. I just hope we can make everyone at Glasgow listen.

On 27 November, 10-4pm at Sheffield Quakers Meeting House,  SCCUG Cop26 Coalition have organised a ‘Global Climate Justice Summit’. It will be a day of workshops ‘thinking globally, acting locally’ to discuss further climate justice in Sheffield.

To book your tickets go to their Facebook page @SCCUGCOP26Coalition.

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