Written by: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor
The Sparknotes version of United We Roll’s story is that a convoy of trucks traveled from Red Deer to Ottawa in the hopes of raising concerns over Alberta’s economic development with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They essentially wanted him to ditch two environmental laws getting in the way of constructing oil pipelines, and also for him to take a stronger stance regarding the Trans Mountain Pipeline (despite the Liberals being under fire for being too supportive of it). They came, they saw, and then went home on February 20.
Before I go on, I want to acknowledge the massive moral problems with the United We Roll convoy: Namely, that the convoy itself is a beacon of xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and all manners of hatred. This was greatly due to its past and lingering affiliations with the nationalistic Yellow Vests Canada, whose Facebook page is rife with hate towards visible minorities. Despite what Conservative leader Andrew Scheer may say, supporting the convey can’t be done without supporting these attitudes by default, given the crowds of protesters sporting yellow vests, “Make Canada Great Again” hats, and chanting against migration. Organizers have done little to divorce themselves from this or clean up the movement.
While the convoy’s leader claimed that they were “100 per cent, unequivocally” successful, there were still internal and external concerns that the convoy’s message got lost somewhere amongst all those racial slurs. While I’m far from qualified to talk about racism other than to say “don’t be that way” (which Indigenous protesters and other anti-fascism activists did much better than I could), I think that one of the convoy’s messages was loud and clear, particularly the part that said “fuck climate change.”
The problem with United We Roll is that they make one point while ignoring twelve others. Alberta’s economy does hinge on oil production, and the province shouldn’t be allowed to suffer economically because of it. But in the process, United We Roll ignores the environmental consequences of that status quo. Should Alberta be allowed to fizzle in that environmental crisis that scientists are giving us a 10-year-or-so ETA for along with the rest of us instead?
United We Roll isn’t acknowledging any complexities and — in the same way that it’s become a cesspool of hate speech — it’s become a platform for anti-science climate change deniers. A good example of this is Mark Friesen, a Yellow Vest Canada organizer who checks both the racism box and the climate change denial one (because, according to him, climate change is a scam that anyways wouldn’t affect Canadians given how many trees there are in the country).
While speaking at the United We Roll rally, Scheer — who has a rocky relationship with the issue of climate change — told the crowd: “I am sick and tired of watching people, you know, chaining themselves to trees and laying down in front of bulldozers trying to block Canadian energy from reaching markets.”
Not only does that statement generalize and belittle environmental activists, but it also mischaracterizes them as wanting no energy and no economic growth, while really, the call is for sustainability and innovation. Worth noting is that Indigenous activists have also made the incredibly strong point that pro-pipeline activism and anti-environmentalism slip into colonialism and anti-Indigeneity.
The political right has a lot to figure out right now, but recognizing that energy, economic growth, and environmentalism are not inherently incompatible is urgent. In 2018, Georgetown, Texas became the largest American city to be powered entirely by renewable energy under a Republican governor who recognized that “it’s good for our citizens,” thus becoming the largest American city to be powered entirely by renewable energy. Leaders like Hillary Clinton have offered plans and platforms to help workers and economies dependent on coal transition to sustainable green energy, and NGOs have also made reeducation efforts, meaning there are ways for conservatives to progress without hurting their constituents.
These things are possible. They just require the kind of willingness to change, openness, and education that the United We Roll movement didn’t have.