An interview with Hana Arsalane Acedo, a Swiss climate striker

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Interviewed by Kemal Mohamedou for The Bigger Picture blog, all writing with the exception of the interview transcript by Kemal Mohamedou.

Image courtesy of Hana.

The Bigger Picture (Geneva) — Hana Arsalane Acedo is a 17-year-old student in Geneva, Switzerland. Since the start of the school strikes for climate (also known as Fridays for Future), Hana has shown herself to be an active participant in the climate change movement. She has taken up a number of initiatives in her high school in regards to the movement and has played an important role in helping to organise strikes, marches and panels. Hana recently spoke to The Bigger Picture about her role in the climate change movement and discussed her overall view on the current state of the movement both locally and internationally; the discussion has been reprinted in full below.

The Bigger Picture: Why are you striking?

Hana Acedo: I am striking for several reasons.

First of all, to join the collective of strikers who demand that Switzerland declare a state of climate emergency nationwide, that regulations be put into place to reduce Switzerland’s CO2 emissions to 0 by 2030, and that climate justice be respected and defended. Keeping in mind that if these objectives are not recognized, a change in the current system must be pursued and fought for.

As a student, I school-strike to take advantage of these ‘free’ days to reclaim the school grounds and use them as a space to organise activities for students (and for anybody else who is interested), giving a more productive dimension to the strike.

In my high school, like in other public high schools in Geneva, we’ve organised debate events, where students can share their ideas on many topics concerning climate change, signposts workshops for the marches, projections of documentaries and films followed by discussions, “green life-hacks” activities where we share greener alternatives to daily habits (such as using Ecosia instead of google), and more.

The latest activity, organised during the strike of November 29, on Black Friday, was the set up of a second-hand clothes sale in the school’s hallways.

Three weeks before the strike day, we put in place a bin for students, teachers, and staff to leave clothes that they didn’t need anymore. All the clothes were then gathered and sold for 1 chf per item. The money was then sent to the organisers of the marches.

The aim of this event was to give an example of an alternative to fast fashion, and urge students to rethink the way we consume. In fact, all the activities during the strike that day were linked to Black Friday and how it symbolises our over-consumerist society.

To me, the organisation of these activities is what makes the school strikes significant. Indeed they prove that school striking is not simply about skipping class and that we must take action at every level. We need a change in our politics as much as we need change in our public opinions and norms, which is why I believe that triggering the educational institution is a good way to start.

"School striking is not simply about skipping class and that we must take action at every level. We need a change in our politics as much as we need change in our public opinions and norms, which is why I believe that triggering the educational institution is a good way to start."

TBP: How long have you been striking for?

HA: The first strike in Switzerland was on January 18, 2019. I’ve been participating in strikes since then. I spent the months of April, May and June in Berlin for a study abroad programme and found the same engagement and political drive among the students over there, which was extremely boosting.

TBP: How did your school react to the strikes, and to yourself striking individually?

HA: I must say that my school and other schools in Geneva, have been quite comprehensive of the strikes. Teachers do not condemn it and students are not penalized for participating in them. Evidently, missing class is not optimal and most teachers won’t take the strike as an excuse to repeat the information the next lesson, but students are aware of this and their choice to strike is in most cases respected.

There were signs of reluctance in the beginning, with forms to fill in and tight deadlines to provide excuses as to why you were absent, to ward off students from striking. But thanks to good dialogue between students and school authorities, the rules have become more flexible (for example you are no longer sanctioned if you miss a test announced after the strike date was shared), making it more advantageous for students.

However, I do not consider this comprehensiveness to be special, coming from an educational system which prones autonomy and critical thinking. Thus to me, striking and working for change goes hand in hand with the values of earning a Swiss Gymnasial Maturity (highschool diploma).

TBP: How involved are you with the environmental movement?

HA: To me, everyone is involved with the environmental movement, willingly or not. I consider myself lucky though, to be in the position I am in: a politically engaged highschool student, surrounded by others just like me, who are very aware of the width of this movement led by students worldwide.

The environmental movement and its political demands are very important to me. I keep them in mind whenever I must share something on social media, work on a project or whenever I get the chance to spread the message, it’s not simply a label I wear during a march.

I would say that I am pretty involved in the environmental movement as I am part of the delegates of my school who take care of all the logistics in regards to climate action; helping to organise strikes, marches and panels.

Furthermore I believe that involvement in this movement is of utmost importance: this movement is historical, it’s globally widespread, it gives private citizens and younger generations a voice in a society where individuals are often overshadowed by bigger corporations and lobbyists, this movement is a social movement and ​will​ lead to change.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the movement is very big and concentrates many different views, some I do not necessarily agree with, but the message is ultimately unique: we must deal with this climate crisis.

TBP: What are your thoughts on how the movement is being mediatized?

HA: I think the way social media has been used to spread the message about the environmental movement led by students has been very effective. Social media has played a big role in transforming the movement in what it is today. It kicked off in a space where the public is mostly made of younger generations and that’s how the protagonists of the movement came to be students. And we aren’t talking about university students who are known for their inclinations to demonstrate, we are talking about high schoolers and even middle schoolers. Due to the strong influence that social media has on our world view, we become aware of the social, economic, and political issues existing in our world at a much earlier age than we should. Regardless of the frustrations this can bring on, or the misinformation social media can sometimes carry, I think it is what has made such a politically engaged and demanding generation.

However with social media, or any sort of media, comes a narrative, and with a narrative there is often a hero. Greta Thumberg might be a hero to some, or a naive 16-year-old to others, no one should actually care. In fact Greta Thunberg’s instrumentalization by the media, which might not have been deliberate, has centralized the attention to one actor, sometimes outshining or even discrediting all the work that is being done around.

Nevertheless, I would like to leave no room for misinterpretation by saying that Greta Thumberg is in no way a problem, the problem is how media and politicians have used her persona as a center of discussion, thus, ignoring the real problems. This adds to the rage of feeling like you are not being heard: it’s not one angry teenager, there are four million of us.

TBP: What message do you have for the politicians, and the corporations who can take direct, consequential action on the climate?

HA: Listen to the people, do your job. No planet, no production, no profit.

Although it might not seem effective in the short-term and the cost may seem high, investing in developing durably and transforming our way of producing and consuming is the only way to ensure income and longevity on the long term.

Thank you Hana for participating in this interview; follow her on Instagram @hana.arsalane.