rabble rousers to watch logo and Neelam Chadha
She's a rabble rouser to watch. Meet Neelam Chadha. Credit: Photo courtesy of Neelam Chadha Credit: Photo courtesy of Neelam Chadha

Each year, we here at rabble ask our readers: “What are the organizations that inspire you? Who are the people leading progressive change? Who are the rabble rousers to watch?” Every year, your responses introduce us to a new group of inspiring activists. This is our ‘rabble rousers to watch’ series. Follow our rabble rousers to watch here

Our ‘rabble rousers to watch’ list of 2023 continues to grow with Neelam Chadha. Chadha is a coordinator for the upcoming Hug Burnaby Mountain event. She’s been involved in environmental activism since her high school years. We spoke with Chadha about her efforts to save the planet.

A conversation with Neelam Chadha

Editors’ note: This interview has been edited for length.

rabble.ca: Can you tell us about the work that you’re doing with your organization? 

Neelam Chadha: Those who know of my activism know that I’m constantly organizing a number of actions. I have continued efforts for necessary biosphere  protection, including climate action, protecting ancient forests, stopping  (TMX and CGL) pipelines, and working to change provincial and city  policies towards environmental protection.  

When the future of humanity and all life on this planet is at stake, we need to act. If we don’t do it, who will? 

I became very actively involved in old-growth forest protection back in late May 2021, when enforcement of the injunction began at Ada’itsx, better known to many as Fairy Creek, and logging of ancient forests with trees that are hundreds of years to over 2000 years old was to begin. All of our efforts, including those of everyone who went to Ada’itsx, 1188 front lines forest protectors who were arrested, those who planned or attended  rallies in their cities, those who met with MLAs, made telephone calls and wrote letters to those in governments including provincial ministers, and all other actions large and small, led to limited deferrals. Our efforts do make a difference! 

There is, again, a need for actions on old-growth protection. The two-year deferral on logging old-growth forests in the limited area around Fairy Creek expires on June 8, 2023*, so I have been trying to meet with relevant provincial ministers. I’d encourage everyone to try to meet with their MLAs! The provincial government was to have completed  all 14 recommendations of the old-growth strategic review within three  years of receiving it, and they received it in April 2020. It has been over three years, and the government has not completed a single recommendation. 

I have also been active in efforts to influence policy at the provincial and city level, including speaking at several Vancouver City Hall meetings  about science-informed climate action. 

I am also a coordinator for some organizations, such as being the lead  organizer for Fridays for Future Vancouver, the lead volunteer organizer for  Sue Big Oil Vancouver, and a coordinator for Hug Burnaby Mountain. 

I had also coordinated actions outside RBC banks (in 2022) to draw attention to RBC being the worst Canadian bank, and one of the five worst worldwide, for funding the climate crisis by funding fossil fuels, including the CGL pipeline through sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory, and the TMX  pipeline. I continue to support and attend similar events that are now  coordinated by other organizers through another group called Decolonial Solidarity. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that one person won’t make a difference. Don’t let them stop you from doing what can be done. 

rabble.ca: What are you working on now?

NC: I’m a coordinator for the upcoming Hug Burnaby Mountain on June 18,  2023! I am working with three other fantastic coordinators, and a team on this positive and uplifting community event to show love for Burnaby  Mountain and Mother Earth. This one will be from noon to 4 pm at the Forest Grove Park soccer field. 

Hug Burnaby Mountain was started with the aim of bringing the community  together, to increase awareness about the TMX pipeline going through  Burnaby Mountain and disturbing fragile ecosystems, and the beauty of the area, as well as the climate impact of expanding fossil fuel infrastructure during a climate emergency. 

rabble.ca: How did you first get involved in activism? 

NC: I had begun environmental activism many years ago as a teen. In Grade 9,  I was involved in starting a recycling program at my school, and wrote a song about rainforest protection that year. In Grade 10, I wrote for my school newspaper about the greenhouse effect, the ozone layer, and  rainforest destruction. I was concerned for our future. 

I recently returned to environmental activism when the injunction went in around Ada’itsx. I had earlier sent letters to John Horgan about the need to protect the last remaining 2.7 per cent of productive old growth ancient forests and had mistakenly believed the election promises that it would be protected.  

When the injunction began, and logging was to begin, I jumped to action to organize what became Vancouver’s largest old-growth rally. I then continued to actively organize to protect our biosphere. 

rabble.ca: What does being nominated as a ‘rabble rouser to watch’ mean to  you?  

NC: I am proud to be considered a ‘rabble rouser’! We need to rabble rousers to change things for the better!  

I’m actively working towards increasing public awareness of what we are facing, and how we could take action. I’m also working to change policy — and public awareness is part of that too. The more of us working toward these progressive changes, the better! 

Human-caused climate change is a threat to all life on this planet. Climate disasters will increase in severity and frequency, unless drastic changes  are made. 

The ecosystems in old-growth forests took thousands of years to develop (and trees may be hundreds of years old to over 2000) and are irreplaceable. The beautiful areas in which logging is occurring are the most rare type of old-growth forests (productive old-growth). This type of forest sequesters the most carbon, and cutting it releases the carbon back into the atmosphere, multiplying the effect on climate change. Less than 2.6 per cent remains. These are the forests with the most biodiversity, including many rare and endangered species that cannot live anywhere else. 

There is too much at stake to not rabble rouse. 

rabble.ca: How do you take care of yourself and find the drive to keep going?

NC: When I do finally get to take a break, I enjoy walking in forested areas and walking by the ocean. There is something both awe-inspiring and serene about being around a giant tree. There’s nothing like it. This connection to the natural world is part of why we offer our protection of it.  

The drive to keep going mostly continues due to the need for action. We could stop when there is no longer a need. 

rabble.ca: What is one goal you have in the next year?  

NC: Keep striving. The goal remains climate protection, protecting ancient  forests, and no new fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate emergency. I  would like to see policy changes to achieve these. I don’t think that all will  get accomplished this year, but we need to keep striving to make it happen. 

I’m also going to set a personal goal to try to be in nature more, for my own well-being and serenity. Spending more time connecting with nature, which I love, will be beneficial for my continued advocacy and for myself. 

rabble.ca: What do you wish people knew about the organizing you do?  

NC: I wish they knew how much they are capable of doing too! If you recognize a need to do something, take the initiative! If you know that something needs to be done, do what you can to make it  happen! The greater the number of people who act, the better! Change for the better takes as many people as possible! There are many ways to take actions,  great and small. Be one of the people who changes things for the better!

*Editor’s note: Earlier this month, the province of British Columbia announced it is extending the deferral of old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek watershed area until 2025.

Image: Gilad Cohen

Stephen Wentzell

Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred...