You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words and yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
– Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Summit, September 23, 2019
These are some of the powerful words of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist whose one-person protest in front of the Swedish Parliament a year ago sparked a global climate protest movement that has proven its capacity to mobilize millions.
From September 20-27, 2019 over 9 million people from 185 countries, and all seven continents went out into the streets in defence of mother earth and humanity. On Friday, September 20, the first day of the Global Climate Strike week of action there were 4 million people participating in Climate Strike actions – from 5,000 people in South Africa to 250,000 people in New York City to 1.4 million people in Germany and beyond. On Friday, September 27th over 2 million people mobilized in Canada and Italy alone.
Following the example of Greta, the Global Climate Strike actions around the world were called for by youth and student-led organizations. These actions raise the voices of youth - those whose futures are at risk from an increasingly unstable and disruptive climate, which was most recently modelled in a 2018 United Nations report giving humanity 12 years to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. Although the demands of the actions varied – the overall theme was clear – time is running out for humanity to come together to prevent climate catastrophe. As protestors in New York City put it - “Climate change is not a lie, we won’t let our planet die,” and “Our planet is not for profit!” – or as they demanded in Vietnam “Save Our Planet – Fight Capitalism” and “#SaveThePlanet Change NOW.”
Over 1 Million People Mobilize in Canada
In Canada, more than 1 million people mobilized for the Climate Strike on September 27, as reported by Fridays for Future – making the actions the largest demonstrations in the history of Canada. There were 500,000 people in Montreal, Quebec; 250,000 people in Vancouver, British Columbia; there were even 4,000 people in Edmonton, Alberta, which is at the heart of the oil and natural resource extraction industry in Canada. These were just a few of the 241 actions that were recorded across the country, spanning every province and territory.
Hypocritically, Prime Minister Trudeau, who has led a government that has failed to take action that would even come close to meeting the modest United Nations climate targets, also joined the Climate Strike action in Montreal. The satirical news website the Beaverton highlighted this glaring contradiction when they reported on Trudeau’s participation in the action - “I need to get off my duff and do something!” yelled Trudeau heckling himself and his government through a megaphone. “Climate leaders don’t build pipelines! They take swift and immediate action. Greta was right, I clearly have not done enough,” in reference to the Trudeau government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion for 4.5 billion tax-payer dollars.
Before the massive actions on September 27, the youth and students of Climate Strike Canada called for “die-in” actions on September 20. These actions involved people demonstrating at public locations and feigning “death” by falling on the ground at a coordinated time. For example, in Vancouver this took place in front of the Teck Resources offices (Teck is one of the largest investors in expanding the tar sands oil extraction operations in Alberta, Canada), while protestors in Winnipeg chose to demonstrate at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to call attention to the deaths and violations of human rights brought on by climate change around the world.
250,000 People Fill the Streets of Vancouver
The September 27 action in Vancouver, Canada was the largest demonstration ever to be held in the city. A powerful 250,000 people came out that day – which amounts to nearly one out of every ten people living in the Metro Vancouver region. With the turn out far exceeding any predictions, the Vancouver infrastructure was clearly not ready for that tremendous influx of people, there were long waits to get on the SkyTrain line, and eventually people decided to just start walking to get to the march on time.
With energy and determination, people joined for a rally and march called for by the high school student-organized group “Sustainabiliteens,” which began with an Indigenous opening and speakers at Vancouver City Hall. Youth and students, and people of all ages and from all different communities carried colourful signs and banners as they marched and chanted, filling all four lanes of the Cambie Street Bridge into Downtown Vancouver.
As with other marches around the world, there were many beautiful and creative signs with demands against climate change in and in defence of mother earth – but the chant of “Hey, Hey Trudeau – this pipeline has got to go!” was clearly one that resonated through the spirited crowds.
Must Continue Beyond the Global Climate Strike
The Sept 20-27, 2019 Global Climate Strike demonstrated the tremendous potential that exists to mobilize people around the world in defence of mother earth. We live at a time when those living in the richest countries are still enjoying a relatively high quality of life that intentionally paralyzes them from taking action, while those in the poorest are struggling for their very survival under imperialist wars and occupation and economic devastation. The fact that the international Climate Strike mobilizations have brought millions of people to act by mobilizing in the streets is an incredible opportunity for everyone who believes that climate justice and a better world are possible. However, building a movement to fundamentally confront the climate catastrophe is going to take many more Global Climate Strikes and many more consistent mass actions that unite all working, poor and oppressed people.
In Vancouver and British Columbia, it is also important that the Climate Strike movement joins with the people and organizations mobilizing against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, fracking and the LNG Natural Gas pipeline and the construction of the Site-C Dam – unjustifiable climate-destroying projects that will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and violate Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Moving beyond “Climate Action Now!” to the concrete demands that challenge the profit over people mode of operation in Canada – and around the world - is an important next step. System Change Not Climate Change!
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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