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Different ways of knowing and defending the climate

Tracey Mitchell and other Council of Canadians supporters at the People's Climate MarchOn Sunday morning, my colleague Kevin and I walked to the People’s Climate March site adjacent to Central Park. We walked along dozens of city blocks that were each assigned to a different section of the march. The march was led by people on the front lines of the climate crisis: Indigenous peoples, peoples from other impacted communities, and environmental justice organizers. There were also sections for scientists, anti-corporate organizers, faith organizations, labour, women, LGBTQ people, and many other groups. I was lucky to be able to march with a large and lively delegation of Canadians in the tar sands bloc, including many other Council of Canadians members, staff and board members from across the country.

One of the greatest strengths of Sunday’s march was having so many people working on so many aspects of the climate crisis, as well as those working on issues that intersect with climate all marching under one banner, but putting their own twist on it. Because of the way the march was organized, I was reminded that there are many different ways of knowing, about pretty much everything, but maybe especially climate change. Science is one. Scientists have spoken and written for years about this crisis and have done so again this weekend. I sometimes have to remind myself that we don’t all have to be scientists to engage in the work of stopping climate change. In fact, it’s better if we’re not. Indigenous knowledge systems are another way of knowing. For instance, Northern Dene people in Saskatchewan have talked about noticing loss of plant and animal species in their communities. Creative minds know through art, words, movement and tactile creations – they showcased their knowledge in this march through beautiful and impressive puppets, costumes, music and street theatre, such as the Bread and Puppet Collective that marched in front of the tar sands contingent with an amazing and moving theatre piece about butterflies and the tar sands. Faith practitioners know that caring for the Earth is part of something larger than ourselves. A group of young American Quakers somehow ended up in the middle of the tar sands bloc of mostly Canadians. They sang lovely and moving songs. There was also a vigil and meditation ceremony for the Earth in Central Park as the march went by, providing a calming presence.

I’ve had to remind myself that we won’t change everything in one day. It’s easy, when you’re caught up in a big march, or enveloped in a social media community where everyone is largely supportive of your work, to feel like things will obviously just change now, because it’s what we all want. Partway through the march, I went to get a drink and sit for a few minutes on Columbus Ave, just one block away from the march route. From the coffee shop I was in, it would have been easy to miss the march entirely. Sure enough, I asked a man who sat down at my table if he had come from the march. “What march?” he asked. For a moment, I was quite crestfallen, but then I thought about what the point of the march was. In part, it was to re-inspire folks who are working on climate issues. The march was also about showing world leaders, who are in NYC for the UN climate negotiations, that there is a great deal of public demand for action. On both fronts I think we succeeded. And part of the march was to awaken new people. We probably did some of that. Me telling this man about the march we took part in is the beginning of all of us who marched, wherever we were, sharing our experience with others to help us build our movement. Having at least 400,000 people show up when 100,000 were anticipated, and having over 2800 solidarity events worldwide with thousands of people at many is an amazing display of strength at a critical moment. It won’t change everything overnight and we will need to work hard to sustain the momentum that we built this weekend all over the world. But, as I said in my previous post, we are ready. Many thanks to the organizers in NYC and everywhere who have made this weekend happen.

One of the key themes of Sunday’s march was “To change everything, we need everyone.” I think each of us can find our own unique way of contributing to stopping the climate crisis, our own ways of knowing. So what’s mine? As a facilitator, a leadership program coordinator, and recently, having become a mental health peer support mentor, I think my part may be to feel these issues deeply and support others who do too, to help us use those feelings to move us to action, and to help build the kind of loving support networks that we will need to get through the climate crisis, whatever happens. What role do you, or can you play?

Monday morning, I am headed to Flood Wall Street, and I am sure I will have more to report soon about that action! Stay tuned!