The world has changed, and so have our protests.
We are always respectful of the current government guidelines, and we continue to listen to science. That is why on the morning of Friday the 29th May there was no crowd, shouting or singing and striking. Instead it was a small group of local activists, quietly and diligently working, determined to take action in any way we could.
We used chalk, a medium so often associated with our childhood, to advocate for a green recovery: a transition out of lockdown that will shape our adult lives. Using the imagery of footprints, we symbolised not only the activists that could not physically take part, but also the steps our government needs to take towards a better, greener future for Northern Ireland. These lined the streets up and down our small town, and as people slowly milled about that morning they stopped and read; their mind distracted from their day’s to do list with a childish curiosity.
Perhaps it was the quiet, determined way in which we worked, that we were no longer perceived as a group of scary teenagers protesting, or just that the sun was shining; but our community approached us much more than they ever had done.
The painter, working hard on a local cafe, stopped his work to ask what we were doing. When he heard our demand to keep air pollution at its current low levels, he told us he couldn’t agree more; he was asthmatic, but hadn’t needed to take his medication since lockdown began.
The older gentleman, who wanted to know if we were taking donations. When we told him we currently weren’t, he insisted on buying one of our activists a bottle of water, as he was worried about her being out in the sun on such a warm day.
The family, who’s young children jumped from footstep to footstep, excited to see something colourful in the town.
The older woman, protecting our work as she told passers-by not to stand on the footsteps that “those wee girls spent so long drawing” in case they ruined them.
The man who stopped us to ask us what we were campaigning for, listened to us with clear respect and then took down the name of our organisation and our hashtags, determined to support the cause.
Engaging with your community is so important in climate activism. Throughout our action we continued to have conversations, to smile at those who offered words of encouragement, to wave at those who gave us thumbs up as they passed in their cars.
This type of social distanced protest is becoming the new norm and we are so glad that those in Omagh received it so well. This is only the beginning of our “#greenrecoveryNI” campaign and we hope all future actions will receive the same warm welcome.
By Aoibhin Spriggs