By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer
Body to body, jostling, jampacked, and barely enough room to move. It’s warm, despite it not actually being a warm day, and you can feel the hot breath of the person behind you, quite literally breathing down your neck. But, then again, you’re doing it to the person in front of you. Endless crowds of people as far as the eye could see fill Downtown Vancouver. It’s Friday September 27, in the afternoon. You should be at school or work, but instead you pound the pavement with hordes of others, chanting along to “WHOSE STREETS?! OUR STREETS!”
And why are you out here on a school day? It’s damn hot and uncomfortable, but the Earth is burning anyway and you give a shit. Hundreds of thousands do. My name is Kelly Chia, but today I have no name. I subsumed my individual identity to the collective mass of people who hit the streets because they give a crap, taking a scorched earth, set-fire-to-the-sky approach to the scorched Earth and the burning skies. The Global Climate Strike took a fierce group of many thousands from Vancouver City Hall after a 3km march across Cambie Street Bridge to West Georgia and Hamilton street.
Many SFU students gathered to join the Strike on Friday, however SFU did not grant blanket academic amnesty to students like some other schools did. SFU President Andrew Petter made a statement on the strike on September 20, saying that SFU “supports members of the university community engaging in activities related to climate change [ . . . ] Thus while the university will maintain regular operations throughout this period, we encourage faculty members and academic units to make accommodations for those who wish to engage in Strike activities.” Following this, SFSS made a statement that they reached out to all department chairs, requesting them to not penalize students. SFU 350, a club pushing for climate action, also wrote an open letter to SFU urging them to follow in Emily Carr University’s footsteps and grant academic amnesty, allowing faculty and TA’s to join.
In the SFU Goldcorp building, a group of contemporary arts students gathered, organized by Laura Marks and Ed Biddle, professors at the School of Contemporary Arts. Earlier in the week, Marks had previously done a lecture about streaming media’s impact on the environment in her “Teach-in for Global Climate Strike Week.” Before the strike, Biddle, Marks and their students got together to make signs. The Peak spoke to Marks and some of the students that had joined to ask them what the strike meant to them.
“I hate it when people from my generation say the youth environmental movement gives them hope. It’s so unfair. We need to do our own activism and create reasons for the young people to hope that the climate will survive, including things young people can’t do, like making sure our pension funds are not invested in fossil fuels. That said, I love that we professors can make a framework for our brilliant and angry students to do creative activism,” Marks said, on the impact of her activism as a professor. An hour before we left for the strike, students were sprawled on the floor or on the tables to finish their signs.
The room pulsed with the urgent creative energy that only arts students can generate. Yet, as Marks pointed out, the energy was channeled towards productive solidarity. This was true with the students I spoke with.
Sage, an SFU student, said, “For me, I grew up in a small town in rural Alberta, and I think that a lot of the argument was whether climate change was real or not . . . and I feel at this point in my life, it doesn’t matter if people don’t believe in the science, it’s just important to take action right now. The dominant paradigm in Alberta right now is that it’s not something that’s important to us, we’d rather care about the economy.”
For some students, being in such a large group is empowering. The group at Goldcorp not only consisted of SFU students, but some high school students who had come in support of the Strike.
“This strike will be a very good way for us to show everyone just how much the climate means to us,” said Riley, a grade 11 student from Cariboo Hill Secondary. “Maybe it’ll show more adults [. . .] how much this matters to us [. . .] I think this many people coming together to show just how much it means will affect everything.”
Altogether, Marks estimates that the Contemporary Arts group had 75 people. Embark Sustainability, a non-profit student group at SFU, had coordinated a meet up for SFU before their march to City Hall. They estimated about 500 students, staff, and faculty had met up to join the Strike. The Facebook page for the Global Climate Strike estimated 11,000 attendees would join the march. As the day drew on, that number grew to 80,000, then over 100,000. On the street, the numbers didn’t matter though. It felt like an ocean of people with the energy of a tidal wave that could topple governments, and the current moving fast towards a more sustainable just world.
As the group prepared to leave, we decided on a collective chant: “We want you to panic! Help save the planet!” Among signs that read, “Will you fight with us? Or lay down and die?” and “There is no Planet B,” our group marched forward to Waterfront station, then rounded the block before going to City Hall.
“Just the spirit of people coming together, and voicing their concerns. I’d feel complacent if I didn’t join and it [feels] really good to be vocal on the streets,” said one attendee Meghan Hill, of the feeling in the air that day.
As we turned the corner, our excitement grew as our little group joined and became just one of the many in the jostling and screaming masses of people gathered today, all demanding justice and a sustainable future. I was one of them.
My name is Kelly Chia. But today I have no name, for I was one of the many, the faceless masses demanding justice for the scorched Mother Earth and the burning Father Sky.