On Sydney’s Palm Sunday rally in 2017, I passed a man leaning against a piece of street furniture, who said, more in melancholy than in rancour, but with clearly hostile intention, ‘It’s just like the Children’s Crusade.’
Because, like many people these days, I tend to associate mainly with like-minded people, I stopped to ask him what he meant.
‘There was a mediaeval belief that because children in their ignorance of the world were pure of heart they would prevail against the heathens in the Holy Land,’ he explained. ‘And thousands of children marched to their deaths.’
I’ll spare you the rest. My mother always said I liked to argue, and she didn’t mean it as a virtue. Certainly in this case my compulsion to argue didn’t lead anywhere useful.
This was before Greta Thunberg started her lone protest outside the Swedish parliament, before school students all over the planet went on strike, hoping to prevail on political leaders to address the issue of climate change.
But his initial comment has lingered in my mind. In the Children’s Crusade of 1212, which almost certainly didn’t actually happen, two boys claiming to have seen Jesus in visions led tens of thousands of children from Germany and France aiming to reach Jerusalem and peacefully convert the Muslims there to Christianity. The project failed: the children either drowned or were sold into slavery, depending on who’s telling the story. (Wikipedia discusses the probably historical sources here.)
No doubt, if he is still with us, that gentleman sees the current students’ strikes as pure folly, but I like to think he was being prescient: whatever his opinion of its efficacy, he was seeing that, the way things were going, children were going to rise up, and this time they would take us with them in our thousands – tens of thousands today in Sydney alone.
My favourite placard from today’s rally in the Domain: ‘What Greta Said.’