I can come up with a lot of words to describe Friday the 27th, the day of the Global Climate Strike, but like the grounds of Queens Park, they just aren’t big enough. They cannot contain all of the power, excitement and promise of the day.
The official numbers from police are 15,000 for the rally and 20,000 for the march, but calculations from a Fridays for Future tweet, put the number closer to 80,000 and Greenpeace Canada estimates 50,000-100,000. The message of the day was broadcast loud and clear - we are in a climate emergency, our house is on fire and we need swift action from those in power, to douse the fast rising flames.
Strike Banner - Photo, Brian Young
As Anne, Parents for Future and S27 organizer expressed it, “I feel like a wave is breaking over this city….So many have been building, and organizing, and connecting, and creating - and not sleeping! But the momentum and energy is palpable now. The next wave will be even bigger and we will keep building these waves until we wash out the industries hell bent on polluting and destroying our planet, our politics, and our futures.”
My personal strike experience started when, stuck on the subway, I received a picture of the stage from one of the logistics team, the strike banner stretched out at the top, a clear announcement of collective hope and intention. On the way into the grounds, I walked past the Greenpeace volunteers sweeping the sidewalk for one of their beautiful murals. Music spilled out onto the sidewalks from the stage area, and enlivened the early morning hours.
Toronto Mural 15. Photo Credit: Greenpeace, Morgan Corseaux. Link to press release here.
From the vantage of the volunteer tent, I could hear but not see the voices of the speakers - wise, emotional, passionate. The voices included those from Indigenous communities protecting land and water, including Beze and Vanessa Gray, Water protectors from Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Cody Looking Horse, Haudenosaunee and Lakota, Sioux, who was an activist at Standing Rock. Speakers were also migrant rights and social justice advocates, including Sonam Chokey, of Students for a Free Tibet.
The initiative for the day came from the Climate Strikers, a movement originated by Greta Thunberg in Sweden, who began walking out of class every Friday and striking for climate action. In Toronto, the Fridays for Future organizers led the charge and in recognition of the fact that many students would join them in striking, the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board asked teachers to avoid scheduling tests and assessments for the day.
Other signs of support in the city came from Patagonia, Lush, Indigo and MEC who closed their stores so employees could attend. Many small storefronts and businesses also displayed signs of support and climate strike posters in their windows. The media also showed their support by interviewing some of the participants (they kept spokespeople busy all day long!).
According to one article by the CBC, Allie Rougeot, Toronto Fridays for Future lead organizer, described that among the goals of the day was the need to let people know leading up to the federal election, that many issues are tied to climate change, saying, “your health care and your house insurance, for example, they heavily depend on the risk of climate change.” Roy Bateman, another Fridays for Future striker, challenged elected officials to “shift their priorities and take quick, decisive and meaningful climate action.”1
In Toronto, the S27 coalition came together to support Fridays for Future and the Climate Strikers demands, with youth from Climate Justice Toronto taking a lead. Members include diverse groups, such as Artists for Climate, Migrant Justice, and Indigenous Sovereignty, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Elementary Teachers of Toronto, Indigenous Climate Action, Kairos Canada, No One Is Illegal TO, OPSEU, Students Say No, Toronto Labour Council and TTCriders. For a full list see here.
Among the demands augmented by the coalition, found at the link here, are:
- Indigenous Rights and Sovereignty
- Defending Land, Water and Life, “Indigenous people have cared for, defended, and protected the land and water—and the life they sustain—for thousands of years.”
- Zero-Carbon Economy and Separation of Oil & State
- No Worker Left Behind, “We have more than enough to lift everybody into decent work, rest, leisure, and safety.”
- Universal Public Services & Infrastructure
- Justice for Migrants & Refugees “We call for asylum for those displaced, and, in the words of No One Is Illegal, affirm the freedom of everyone to move, to return, and to stay.”
- Futures for All “From the land and water, to our housing and wages, we want a government that invests in our communities—not corporations eager to put a price-tag on our lives. For those already trapped in cycles of poverty and state violence, a just transition was needed centuries ago. Now is our time."
Part of the message is that, to put this fire out, we need to find the underlying tinder that ignited it and that keeps it burning. We cannot address one systemic harm without addressing them all - destruction of natural spaces, air and water pollution, environmental racism, colonial subjugation of land and people, health threats and economic inequality - they all stem from the same exploitive and destructive roots.
To put it another way, to make changes that avert the worst of the climate crisis we need to remake the world we live in, creating more habitable, equitable and compassionate communities. Ones that will support us all and work for the long haul!
As the speeches progressed, people poured into the grounds from either side. Just when I thought everyone must be there, I got a text from a friend saying she was on her way with 1,000 more!
At the one and a half hour point, people (especially those on the outer edge of the crowd who couldn’t hear very well), anxious to move, began the March on their own, filing out either side of the grounds before the speeches finished. I heard though, from those in attendance, that the speakers, like Maya Menezes of No One is Illegal and The Leap, made it well worth the wait! I also felt that a reward of staying in the volunteer tent as the others danced and marched through the streets, was the beautiful vocalizing of Lido Pimiento, as she warmed up for a stellar after-march concert performance.
To quote Brian, an S27 coalition organizer and TO350 member, “We caught the rising wave of a global movement and enabled Torontonians to share the spirit with the millions of fellow protesters around the world....This struggle is only beginning and I look forward to...moving forward, and connecting with new layers of people to be involved in organizing the next global climate strike.”
Youth are among the most vulnerable, and this was their global strike. They spoke up loud and clear. Adults in power must listen.
What’s next? Three ideas for now, to keep speaking up for climate:
Extinction Rebellion - Global Rebellion October 7
FridaysforFuture - Global Day of Climate Action November 29
Vote - Early polls October 11-14; Election Day October 21
For a non-partisan look at party platforms through a climate lens see: https://www.shakeuptheestab.org/vote
1 CBC News, September 27 9:04 am ET, “Youth are rising': Thousands hit Queen's Park as part of global climate strikes,” (With files from Jessica Cheung and The Canadian Press).