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Student organizers report back on March 15 climate strike

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Photo Credit: Angela N. Riley, Extinction Rebellion Halifax used with permission

Many of us supported and were heartened by students coming out on March 15 to demand that local and federal government take real steps to combat climate change. There were many great interviews and news stories which talked to kids out on the street. The Activist Toolkit, however, decided to take a different approach. I contacted all the local organizers I could find and asked them:

1. How did your local climate strike go?

2. What worked and what did not?

3. What will you be doing for the national day of action in Canada on May 3?

4. What did some of the students that participated say?

5. What are you trying to win in your communities?

I am posting edited versions of the responses I received below. If you would like to connect about your experience organizing the strike in your community, please send it my way. The Activist Toolkit will continue stay in touch with organizers and continue to help support the demand for real action on climate change.

The reports below are the personal feedback of respondents. Here are some of the great photos and videos which were shared with us by the strike organizers in Regina and Halifax.

From Reuben in Victoria, B.C. on unceded Lekwungen territory

The event very well-attended, with high energy and enthusiasm, and potential for ongoing mobilizations.

What worked well was:

Pre-event and outreach

  • Mentorship of the youth organizers who did not have much experience by older grassroots activists
  • Outreach done by youth spreading word through their own networks word-of-mouth and through Instagram
  • Several more established grassroots groups helped with amplifying message and getting the word out
  • The official endorsement from the Greater Victoria Teachers association (GVTA) who sent teachers from each school and executive delegates
  • Older activists helped with networking and connecting lead youth organizer with key contacts in the community
  • Youth and older activists were on the organizing committee

Event design

  • Youth were the only speakers at event for the first hour, adult supporters spoke during the second hour
  • Organized a street procession/march halfway through event
  • Combined speakers with live music
  • Included indigenous people, people of colour, youth and seasoned activists as speakers
  • The action plan was able to change two days before event with fluidity and minimum confusion
  • The route was "easy/beginner level" -- e.g. minimal traffic disruption or potential for tense conflict and right length for first-time marchers
  • Engaging speakers, good length of speeches, well-facilitated/emceed; spirit remained high
  • Lots of colourful, homemade signs
  • Police barricades at corners of streets were helpful for ensuring safety of marchers, even though they were not requested

What didn't work well:

  • Action plans changed two days before the event as a result of misreading the comfort level of youth participants
  • Youth were not aware of their rights to protest and were being manipulated by police into seeking permits and police escort and were subtly threatened with rumour of arrests originated by Victoria Police Department
  • Sound system was inadequate and staging was poor so that speakers could not be seen by people in the back; marshals did nothing about it, to avoid moving youth away from the centre of the action near speakers
  • Marshals had trouble staying together and even seeing one another
  • Marshalling plan changed when police decided to close street for safety concerns and hence marshals were not needed as they said they would be.  There were also not enough vests for marshals
  • Media did not speak to all the media spokespeople
  • Route could have been longer, next time and with more disruption of business as usual

From Spencer at University of British Columbia, B.C.

1. How the events went

At UBC we had a lot of students come check out our pre-demonstration for the big demonstration in downtown Vancouver after. People were super into it and engaged, we made sure to bring the climate strike movement into a Canadian context so we addressed how settler-colonialism is not only causing Indigenous genocide but also climate catastrophe. The speakers were amazing and we brought up what we can do on our campus to fight for climate justice, I will discuss that more in point 3.

2.  What worked and what did not

What worked was bringing the international movement into our campus as many were aware already of the climate strikes in Europe and we saw lots of people who do not generally go to protests at our action which was cool. Places to improve is coordination with student groups on campus, for May 3 I would like to see campus leaders like myself and big environmental groups on campus like UBCC350 organize with other climate/Indigenous/social justice/leftist groups on campus to bring more people into the movement.

3.  What will you be doing for the national day of action in Canada on May 3 and most importantly what did some of the students that participated say and what are you trying to win in your communities?

In the student paper, Sophia Liang said, "I was so angry because I was seeing all the progress and all the information young people had, but big corporations and big oil money and industry and also government officials were not interested in speeding up the pace of what needs to be done."

On our campus we need the Board of Governors to divest its $85 million in fossil fuels. I tried to run for the student union presidency, and unfortunately lost, in an attempt to accelerate the progress. However, from the bottom-up, we can still demand our student union launch a lawsuit against the Board. Also, our student union building should be plastic-free and cut down on waste. For May 3 I will be doing everything I can to organize the most amount of UBC students to join in the Vancouver action, as summer school is happening there will not be as much action on campus so but I think we can reach people nonetheless.

From Aidan in Kelowna, British Columbia

First off thank you so much for helping to amplify our national movement. The planning group for the national day has been absolutely buzzing, especially since Friday!

In Kelowna, our event went very well. It was better than expected. We had roughly 350 youth and community members come out to support the strike. The speakers incuded the Kelowna Deputy Mayor, Loyal Wooldridge, Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr, and CEO of Green Step Solutions, Angela Nagy. We also had a climate ribbon activity (based on this) where we asked all in attendance to write something they do not want to lose to climate change or why they marched. After the climate ribbon, we marched. Near the end of the event we invited everyone to take a ribbon. It could be a friend's or a stranger's but that it would be a reminder as to why this fight matters and why we marched.

We found that, overall, our event was very successful. Our biggest problem was underestimating the turnout for the volume that we had. For us, the march was very successful as it brought us down the main street of downtown Kelowna past businesses and offices and we gained lots of attention from that. We felt that the climate ribbon activity was one of our most well-received portions of the event as it was so interactive and reminded people why this fight needs to not stop on March 16, 17, 18, or any day afterwards, until we achieve our goals.

In terms of what our goals were, they were mostly in line with the national goals. For Kelowna, specifically, we really wanted to focus on raising awareness of how climate change is already impacting the Okanagan and what is happening in the Okanagan to address climate change. To accomplish this we brought in local speakers involved in policy and environmental sustainability. Another important aspect for us in Kelowna was to recognize the importance of building a better relationship with Canada's Indigenous peoples to address the issues we all have in the face of climate change in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Our big takeaway message, which we really tried to instill in people, was that we need to limit warming to 1.5 degrees to stay alive and continue to have a similar quality of life. For May 3, plans are just starting to form and we hope to have an even bigger event than we did on March 15.

From Shanon in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

The Regina strike on March 15 was awesome! It went better than any of the organizers were expecting. It was our first school climate strike and we had over 350 people attend. It was shared widely on multiple social media platforms and by word of mouth. Students of all ages attended, as well as community members. Things we did well: made sure the students were the ones brainstorming ideas for the event and voting on all decisions. The main thing that could be improved: making sure students take the lead on all aspects of planning the rally (while providing whatever support they need to be successful). The March 15 event was planned very quickly and we'll have much more time for planning the May 3 event.

Students have planned another rally/march for this Friday (March 22) again at the Saskatchewan legislature. At the end of that event, they will be starting to make plans for additional future events, including May 3. The students at the rally gave speeches and some of them had previously created a list of demands from the provincial government. The students were really motivated and energized as a result of the successful March 15 event.

From Alexis in Lindsay, Ontario:

The climate strike in Lindsay went well, for a small town. Although 70 people isn't much, for Lindsay it's pretty good. Perhaps walking slower next time would help -- we accidentally left some people behind us. The students, coming from Lindsay, Uxbridge and Fenelon Falls, said that they enjoyed taking part in activism and were excited to have a strike nearby them.

On May 3, a couple of my friends and I plan on convincing the principal to have the whole school walk out on lunch break. Community members would be welcomed. All we're really trying to achieve is immediate action on climate change.

Is it really much to ask for, if all we're asking for is a future?

From Sophie in Brighton, Ontario

My name is Sophie and I am a climate activist from Brighton, Ontario. I have organized one strike so far and have another coming up March 29. Unfortunately I was away for the March 15 strike so I could not organize anything although I showed my support as best I could. I am however organizing a strike on May 3 with all of Canada. We are hoping to get our community involved as we are small as it is. Our goal is to get our government to declare a national emergency. We are starting to put together smaller programs within our school such as getting composts and finding ways to reduce greenhouse gases. We plan on continuing our strikes monthly until the world is officially aware of this crisis. Thank you for supporting our cause.

From Julia and Queen's Backing Action on Climate Change in Kingston, Ontario

Here is an article about the Kingston event and the full report from Queen's Backing Action on Climate Change. The climate strike had one of the biggest turnouts for a public event of its kind in Kingston. See the full report for a complete list of what worked and didn't and what participants said they wanted to do.

How did it go?

  • We received overwhelmingly positive post-rally feedback. It had one of the biggest turnouts for a public event of its kind in Kingston. Overall, it went smoothly and had a variety of presentations/activities. We encountered minor issues involving sound
  • We spent the first hour at a main intersection on our university campus, with a small 1-ft stage and speaker/microphone setup. We sprinkled the hour with short speeches, musical performances, slam poetry, chants, and a few minutes to mingle/visit a booth with snacks/participate in a Climate Ribbon activity. At Kingston City Hall, we encountered a minor sound issue (transportation and setup of the speaker system could have been better organized), and two of the city councillors droned on for a rather long time..

What worked?

  • Having two weeks of pre-rally sign-making. We set up paints and poster boards in public spaces/buildings on our university campus (which helped promote the strike), and invited people to make a sign. We compiled 60+ signs to hand out during the rally, which made it look and feel more alive.  
  • More fun for everyone to have a variety of presenters/entertainers (not just speech after speech) – eg. speakers (students, faculty, community members, politicians), musicians, poets, magicians, with chanting during the transitions.
  • Organizers were fairly prepared for media, brushed up on main messages/ talking points beforehand. I definitely want media training now, though -- could have been better.
  • Handed out a small piece of paper with chant lyrics, "What can I do at this rally?" and march route. It also had a QR code for folks to sign the Queen's fossil fuel divestment petition, which collected more than 250 signatures on rally day.
  • One volunteer took a video of the entire rally and made a shorter edit of it -- great idea to have a two-minute video for promotion of the next rally.
  • We plastered the campus and surrounding community with posters during the 2-3 weeks before March 15. Distributed posters to YMCA, hockey rinks, libraries, high schools, farmers markets, bathroom stalls, people's workplaces, stores and cafes, etc.
  • Promoted a Facebook event 3 to 4 weeks before rally day, which amassed 1,200 "interested" or "going" commitments. Shared posts about Greta Thunberg, sign-making, chant lyrics, etc., to keep people excited and engaged.  

What didn't work? 

  • We found the Climate Ribbon activity to be fairly successful, but next time we will consider an alternative execution (or a different activity) for such a large group.
  • Stage was slightly too low for some people to see speakers.
  • Speaker system could have been arranged better so entire crowd could hear clearly.
  • Speech through megaphone was not very clear.
  • Volunteers on rally-day did not have very clear roles and could have engaged more with rally-goers.  
  • I should have been more prepared with introductions and what I was saying during the transitions. Schedule of the rally should have been distributed earlier, and gone through step by step with team. Next time we will do a dry run of the rally -- make sure everybody knows what's going on.
  • Arranged a parade permit with Kingston Police much too late -- apply at least a month in advance. It worked out in the end, but contributed to unnecessary added stress days before the rally.
  • Next time, set up a tent that compiles emails of rally-goers.
  • Next time, have more time to mingle/get to know each other/visit booths (one booth provided tea and snacks, which worked well).
  • Have more than one megaphone.

What are we trying to win in our community?

  • Queen's must take aggressive action with its building codes, energy supply, and investment portfolio. We demand that Queen's stop investing in fossil fuel companies, as over 1,000 institutions have done already, to show that they are protecting our future rather than selling it off to the highest donor and destroying it.
  • Kingston must implement aggressive, meaningful, action-oriented climate goals in the wake of its climate emergency declaration, to further reduce its emissions and live up to its sustainability claim.

1. Reduce emissions to be compatible with a global 1.5°C temperature rise

2. Recognize and respect Indigenous rights

3. Proactively address housing crisis (low-income/vulnerable populations are most severely affected by local climate change effects like more intense & frequent weather events, flooding, etc.)

4. Electrify and expand public transportation

5. Protect local natural and agricultural areas from development. Prevent urban sprawl. Adjust zoning by-laws to allow for tiny homes, smart social housing.

Plan for May 3

As this was a university-led event, we do not have a plan for May 3, as most students will be home for the summer. However, I am keen on helping high school students in Kingston plan for an event, and am in communication with youth strikers across the country.

At the moment I am taking a break from planning the next event, and am focusing my energies on creating a national structure for the climate strike movement with other youth representatives.

Queen's Backing Action on Climate Change will plan another climate strike for September 27.

From Maurine in Rimouski, Quebec (translated from French)

The events took place in the following way: we all met at the park across from the railway station at noon and at 12:30 we started the march.  Our first stop was the Rimouski mosque, to show our solidarity in the wake of the bombing.  Then we went to Paul Hubert High School to include the high school activists who wanted to join us. We continued the walk until we arrived on Saint-Germain Street, downtown. Everything worked as expected. The police maintained the safety on the roads.

For ​​the national day of action in Canada, I am waiting to see what other cities plan to do in order to do something similar. The students who participated feel things had to change, that we need to improve the way we live so as not to harm the environment. What we are trying to gain in our communities are a zero waste lifestyle, buying produce from local producers, stopping overconsumption, reducing plastic consumption, and building composting in the community. life. 

From Angela in Halifax, Nova Scotia

In my opinion, the protest went well for a first time Fridays for our Future event.  It was well attended with people from all ages participating. I am working with the Extinction Rebellion Canada and we will continue to organize together in Nova Scotia.

Maya Bhullar is rabble's Activist Toolkit Coordinator. The Activist Toolkit Blog is the place to catch up on what's new with the Toolkit. With roundups of newly added tools, highlights of featured tools and extra multimedia content, you'll get up to date info on grassroots organizing.

Photo Credit: Angela N. Riley, Extinction Rebellion Halifax. Used with permission.

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