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On the ground at the People's Climate March

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Photo: Tracey Mitchell

My name is Tracey Mitchell. I'm a community organizer and facilitator from Saskatchewan and I am in New York City for the People's Climate March. I first got involved in climate change organizing 13 years ago, when a group called The Climate Change Caravan biked across Canada and launched a bet with the Canadian government that regular Canadians could reduce their own emissions in line with the Kyoto Protocol before the government would mandate such changes. I helped organize food, accommodation and logistics for the group while they were in town. I remember being scared and shocked by their presentations. I had heard about climate change before but its severity and the degree of complicity I felt in making it worse were things I was unprepared for.

In particular, I remember the stats they presented on flying. For many years after that presentation, I actively avoided flying. When I took holidays or had to travel for work, most of the time I took the bus or the train including trips from Vancouver to Omaha, Saskatoon to Montreal, Halifax to Toronto, and several others. Over time, and as my work life got busier, I stopped worrying so much about flying and started doing it more often than not when I had to travel a distance of more than 6 hours or so. I feel a little guilty about flying once in awhile, but flying here to New York for a climate rally felt particularly strange. I am determined to justify those emissions by sharing what I learn here and using the experience to help fuel my own work and the work of others.

Part of the reason why I started flying again a few years ago is that I knew that in order to prevent climate change, we need total system change. Individual actions like not flying are part of the process of preventing climate catastrophe, but the impacts of these actions are much smaller than the changes to government and industry that are needed. But it was also partly about denial, not that I doubted that climate change was real or man-made, those facts are clear. Rather, as Naomi Klein describes in her new book This Changes Everything, I engaged in a kind of passive denial. I would read articles about climate change and feel terrified or depressed, and not be able to hold on to that for too long, so I would think about other things. Shamefully, I only attended a couple of sessions of the amazing Saskatchewan Citizens' Hearings on Climate Change last year because I found it too hard to know how bad things were and not feel confident in the possibility of change. With regard to this kind of passive denial of climate change, Klein notes, "All we have to do is not react as if this is a full-blown crisis. All we have to do is keep on denying how frightened we actually are. And then, bit by bit, we will have arrived at the place we most fear, the thing from which we have been averting our eyes. No additional effort required."

After 25 years of inaction by government and industry, it is hard for people to continue to act, to continue to believe that climate justice is possible. This weekend, I think that may change. When I first heard about this march, about Klein's new book, about the Beautiful Solutions gallery, I felt for the first time in years, that we might reverse the dangerous course we are on. I don't think I am alone in this. With enough of us acting today -- over 100,000 are anticipated here in New York, and 2,100 actions are planned in 160 countries around the world -- I think that many more people will be ready to engage and stay engaged. I think we are ready to boldly demand action from government and industry and to do what it takes to stop them in their tracks if they don't act. We're ready to acknowledge the devastation that climate change has already caused and to realize how much worse it will get if we don't act resolutely and immediately.

When the Council of Canadians, on whose board I serve, offered me the opportunity to attend the People's Climate March, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity to re-commit myself to perhaps the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, and to gather inspiration for my work on climate-related issues from stopping the Energy East pipeline to improving public transit in Saskatoon. The climate march is going to be fun, artistic, exciting, engaging and full of surprises. Just a few miles from the Stonewall Inn, it's a coming out party for the kind of vibrant, dynamic movement that we need, the kind of movement that people want to become part of and stay part of. I'm incredibly excited and grateful to be here, and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all!

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