Climate strike in Vancouver draws thousands

THOUSANDS gathered on Friday morning outside the Vancouver Art Gallery for a post-election strike for climate justice. Onstage, Indigenous activists including Audrey Siegl, Ida Manuel, and Dakota Bear, and 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was introduced by Joan and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC).

Initial estimates place the number of attendees at around ten thousand with more pouring in as Greta was scheduled to speak. The crowd spilled out of plaza outside the Vancouver Art Gallery and into surrounding Georgia and Hornby streets. Another 150,000 took to the streets in last month’s General Strike for Climate Action.

Today’s strike comes in the wake of Monday’s federal election. UN scientists say humanity has just 11 years to act before the most catastrophic effects of climate change become irreversible. The newly elected government will be in power for four of those. Said Layla Akin, an activist with Sustainabiliteens, “I was too young to even vote in this election. But we have so little time left. So I’m striking today to tell the new MPs: listen to your children. We are crying for action in the only way we can.”

The strike comes one day after the government of British Columbia proposed a bill to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into law. BC would become the first province to legislate the implementation of the Declaration, which would mean all new policy in the province would require prior consent from Indigenous people whose rights may be affected in order to pass. Indigenous activists spoke about the connection between climate justice and justice for Indigenous people.

Musqueam artist and activist Audrey Seigl said, “If this government had listened to Indigenous people five hundred, three hundred, one hundred, even ten years ago, we would not be facing the climate emergency we are today.”

Directly before the strike, 15 youth plaintiffs announced the beginning of a lawsuit against the Canadian federal government for its contribution to climate change. The youth are suing the government for violating their Charter rights to life, liberty, and security by failing to act against dangerous climate change. The lawsuit is supported by David Suzuki Foundation, Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, and Our Children’s Trust; the latter is supporting a similar lawsuit in the United States.

“This case is my opportunity to take my activism from the streets into the courtroom so that we as youth can demand that our government stop violating our rights,” said Sierra, a 17-year-old plaintiff from Vancouver Island.

“As youth, we have dreams for the future. Without a stable climate, our generation will not fulfill these dreams. My government should not be standing in the way of our dreams.” said Lucas, a 15-year-old plaintiff from Ottawa.

Today’s strike, says organizer Sam Lin with Sustainabiliteens, “shows that we’re not going away. The September climate strike was not a one-off. This movement is only growing stronger, and we won’t back down until our elected officials give us the bold climate action we need.”

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, who became famous for striking alone from school outside the Swedish parliament, sailed across the Atlantic to join young activists at strikes across North America. Her original solitary protest spurred millions of young people around the world to take to the streets for climate action. She marched with the crowd through downtown Vancouver on Friday.

Sustainabiliteens will hold their next action November 29.

(Report from Sustainabiliteens Media / Photos by Sae Sung, Greenpeace)