Four reasons why the 'Defend' movement has gone viral

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Image: Defend Our Coast

In only five days, organizers have seen the Defend Our Climate National Day of Action grow exponentially from 50 events to over 120, with rallies happening now in all major cities and every corner of Canada and a vibrant, functional coalition of over 40 organizations big and small putting everything they’ve got into making this a success. The momentum is growing every hour.

I’ve worked on environmental, climate and justice campaigns for nearly 20 years now and I’ve never seen anything like what we’re witnessing now in Canada. What’s going on here that’s fuelling this kind of movement growth?

Not just B.C. hippies anymore

Everyone knows people in "Wacky B.C." -- we prefer to think of ourselves as trend-setters, thank you --are fired up about pipelines. Big Oil and its captured Harper government picked the wrong province in which to start its war.

While they love to frame British Columbians as anti-development radicals who don't live in the real world, but if you look at the photos from the wildly successful Defend Our Coast rallies a year ago last month, or at any of the polls, you'd see this movement has captured the heart of this province in a way nothing has in a long time.

In 2012 resistance to the tar sands was largely isolated to two or three mostly locally driven campaigns. Folks in B.C. were all fired up -- rightly so -- about Enbridge, the dumbest industrial project anyone could possibly conceive of. But we only saw pockets of concern to this very national tar sands disaster in most other areas of the country.

Four things happened in 2013 to change that.

1. Americans made us famous

As Canadians we love to snub our noses at various forms of American extremism, while thinking of ourselves as a slightly more advanced culture. How the tables have turned in just a few short years! I’ve had countless conversations this year with American progressive friends, who all ask me the same thing -- hat the heck happened to you guys, and how did it happen so fast?

The Keystone XL battle brought the full force of the powerful U.S. climate movement against our tar sands because it was a rare decision Obama could make on his own, and anyone who is willing to look at the climate math knows this pipeline will unlock massive growth of the world’s dirtiest oil that will undo any meaningful progress on carbon emissions the U.S. can make otherwise.

The almost daily negative comments from Robert Redford, The New York Times editorial board, Senators, Billionaires and even President Obama himself have taken their toll on Brand Canada. Americans are finally interested in us! But not for what we wanted them to.

2. Pipelines are everywhere

2013 is the year industry brought their pipes to the people. In addition to two in B.C. and through the U.S. heartland, thanks to Enbridge’s Line 9 and TransCanada’s giant Energy East -- and let’s not even count the other giant Great Lakes pipe they are planning now -- high pressure bitumen pipelines are now planned to pass through the aquifers and waterways of the majority of Canada’s population.

All politics is local, and the people who really delayed Keystone in 2012, and who have so far halted Enbridge in its tracks, are those who live along the pipeline route who got educated, got angry, and got organized.

Add to the fact that these pipes keep on spilling, in some insanely high profile ways and industry has an atrocious record of even noticing its own spills, and you’ve got a perfect storm for making this issue local.

3. First Nations claimed their moral high ground

Last July the fourth Healing Walk happened in Northern Alberta. It drew nearly 1,000 activists from across North America to this powerful ceremony led by local First Nations to pray for healing of the land and the people who are being poisoned every day.

The thousand leaders who witnessed "Mordor" first hand with their own eyes and noses were forever transformed by their experiences. These were amplified 10 times via media and social media storytelling, and the weekend marked a real turning point in how progressive Canadians viewed the tar sands.

Add the growth of Idle No More and an almost mainstream Reconciliation movement in Canada, and the human rights disaster that is the tar sands added a deep sense of moral urgency to many influential conscious Canadians.

4. Harper overreached

The final reason is what happens whenever any demagogue or all powerful institution displays the level of arrogance and hubris Steven Harper's Conservatives and the richest industry on the planet have shown. The single-minded pursuit of maximum immediate extraction -- the vast majority of whose benefits go only to Canada’s 1% or big foreign oil giants -- over any other vision for this country is simply turning more and more people off.

Whether it's the well publicized muzzling of scientists, consistent climate-denying gaffes and policies, continued demonization of environmentalists or the spending of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in advertising to lull Canadians to sleep, continuing to repeat the same talking points -- most of which are blatant lies with literally zero scientific backing -- is starting to blow up in their faces.

Because the rest of the world can see clearly what’s happening, and they aren’t impressed. And Canadians are smarter, and nicer, than we think.

We are a movement united in disgust with the current behaviour of Canada, with a vastly different vision for a nation whose wealth and prosperity is not earned with the pain and suffering of millions of people.

So that's why this movement has almost tripled in size in just a week's time, and why you’re going to see thousands of nice, beautiful Canadians of all ages doing a very un-Canadian thing -- getting out in the streets -- this Saturday.

And we’re just getting started.

Jason Mogus runs Communicopia, a digital strategy consultancy that supports social change clients globally. He is also the digital director for the Tar Sands Solutions Network. @mogusmoves 

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