Ottawa’s Climate Strike March making it’s way down Wellington on it’s way to Parliament. Photo: Canute Planthara 

By Sophie Price

T

he September 20-27 global climate actions brought more than 7.6 million people to the streets to fight for climate action. This makes the action the biggest climate mobilisation in history. In Ottawa alone, estimates pegged the crowd size at over 10,000 marchers, who filled the streets on September 27. 

Ottawa protesters met at Confederation Park at 11:30, before beginning a march that ended at Parliament Hill, where a series of speeches and performances addressed the urgency of the climate situation. Thousands also converged on the Gatineau side of the river and marched over the Portage Bridge and down Wellington Street.

Climate Strike participants amass at Confederation Park before making their way through Ottawa’s downtown core. Photo: Canute Planthara

Strikes started on September 20, and spanned the globe, with Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and the United States leading the way. Germany had the largest turnout on the 20th, with 1.4 million people attending protests. On September 27 New Zealand, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Chile, and Canada held their protests. Italy had the largest turnout with 1.5 million people hitting the streets. 

The crowds at these marches have been largely made up of young people, as they say it is their future that will be the most affected. Many of the people at the strikes carried signs with slogans like “There is no planet B” and “Stop killing our future.”

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has become the de facto face of the movement, joined the strikes in Montreal, where it is estimated that more than 500,000 participated. At this action, Thunberg said “The people have spoken and we will continue to speak until our leaders listen and act,” adding “We are the change and change is coming.” 

Christina McCarvell, a 19-year-old first-year Ryerson Student, attended and helped organize the Toronto strike. “This strike for me is super exciting because the numbers here are showing that there has been a real change in how people are thinking about climate change,” she told The Leveller

“They are starting to see that it is an emergency and that they have the power to prevent catastrophe,” McCarvell added. “I came from a smaller town, and seeing mass numbers is exciting and is motivating me to continue to push forward and demand action.” 

Climate Strike in Ottawa was joined with similar protests around the world. Photo: Canute Planthara

McCarvell also talked about the community that has been built through the struggle for climate action. “I’ve met some people at this strike who I have only known through online messages and video calls,” she said, “and it’s been so special for me because we are already a family.” 

Others are taking more militant actions. Not long after the September strikes, a different group called Extinction Rebellion began what they called an “International Rebellion.” The group describes themselves as “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse.”

On October 18, Ottawa Extinction Rebellion protesters gathered to block the Laurier bridge to draw attention to the urgent ecological crisis.

Extinction Rebellion Bridgeout shuts down the Laurier Bridge. Photo: Adam Ashby Gibbard

The group was pushing for Extinction Rebellion’s three demands: for the government to tell the truth about the urgency of climate change, for them to cut greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2025, and for them to create a citizens’ assembly to lead climate action. 

The group also started at Confederation Park at 10am, then boldly marched into traffic in a coordinated action and took the bridge. Emmanuel Proulx, one of the organizers, said that the bridge action was a successful event as they had lots of media coverage to help raise awareness of the current crisis.

At the action’s beginning, the group numbered a hundred or more. As the day went on, a steady trickle of people came through, with numbers dipping by the time things wrapped up at 5pm. Organizers had hoped for greater and more sustained numbers, but their efforts were also hampered by the weather, ironically – or appropriately, perhaps.

The action had originally been planned and promoted for a day earlier, October 17, but at the last minute organizers postponed it 24 hours because of all-day heavy rains. As organizers agonized over the decision to postpone, Lee Hunter said “I don’t mind looking vulnerable to weather. That’s actually kind of the point.”

Original plans for the action also included an option where those who wanted to could stay into the evening, deliberately courting arrest in order to make a statement about the dire nature of the climate emergency and the need for serious action.

With the day turning out to be the coldest of the fall to that point and no sign the police would actually arrest anyone, organizers decided to wrap up on a decisive note. They rallied the remaining bridge-blockers for some final songs and a heartfelt message from Hunter, who explained that he had made the difficult decision to skip his daughter’s university graduation in order to be there. He felts he was on the bridge for her future, too.

Overall the group held the bridge for roughly six and a half hours, including the afternoon rush hour, with little resistance from police. 

“No arrests were made,” Proulx commented. “The police in Ottawa [were] extremely lenient and did not even hint [at] arresting us. It’s not the first time we [have done] protests in front of the police and they have not reacted as we expected.” 

Proulx did make very clear however that it’s not about getting arrested, it is more about “ringing the alarm,” and showing that they are serious about fixing this climate crisis.

As The Leveller went to press, Extinction Rebellion organizer Amani Khalfan commented that it’s safe to say “that more disruptive actions can be expected in the upcoming months, as well as lots of community-building and regenerative things.”

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