'Climate strike' gains momentum in Vancouver as federal election nears

Rebecca Hamilton is helping to organize the General Strike for Climate Action on Sept. 27. GERRY KAHRMANN / PN

The student-led movement is inviting people of all ages to leave school and work on Sept. 27 to rally outside Vancouver City Hall

September 13, 2019

Many of them are too young to vote in next month’s federal election, but they are intent on having a say.

“We plan to be unignorable,” said Rebecca Hamilton, a Grade 12 student at Lord Byng Secondary in Vancouver and one of the organizers behind the General Strike for Climate Action, happening Sept. 27 in Vancouver.

The student-led movement is inviting people of all ages to leave school and work early to rally outside Vancouver City Hall.

“It’s an opportunity for the whole city to come together and have a voice on the biggest issue of our time,” said Hamilton, who wants the federal election to be a “referendum on the climate crisis.”

“We have 10 years left to avoid catastrophe,” she said. “The next four years is a large chunk of that time. It’s frustrating that I don’t have a vote in an election that is so important to me.”

Climate Strike Canada organizer Harrison Johnston said the general strike will show political leaders that the environment should be at the forefront of their platforms.

“We’re hoping this will shift the position of all four parties, because right now, none of them have the ideal plan,” he said.

Vancouver’s event will coincide with other strikes around the world, including one in Montreal, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old student who began the Fridays for Future movement when she encouraged her peers to walk out of school on Friday afternoons, plans to attend.

Students march outside the United Nations during a protest against climate change on September 6, 2019 in New York. BRYAN R. SMITH / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Johnston, a student at Langara College, said he is hoping to see more than 300,000 people join strikes across Canada in the week surrounding the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23.

On Wednesday, Vancouver council passed a motion supporting the movement.

Staff were asked to reach out to the organizers of the local climate strike to discuss ways to support them, as well as to consider ways for city staff to voluntarily support or participate in the strike.

While the Vancouver strike will likely be the largest in B.C., several smaller groups have been planning events in cities across the province.

Fourteen-year-old Lauren Palmer and several of her friends have been striking outside Abbotsford City Hall every Friday for 24 weeks.

“It can get a little boring, but the people are interesting,” she said. “We get honks of support. Some people walk by and want to have an argument. Someone swore at us once.”

The students leave class early on Fridays to get to city hall by “bus, scooter or bike,” said Carly Calhoun, mother of several of the kids.

“My kids were inspired from watching coverage over in the U.K. and Europe. … They’ve been committed ever since.”

The family would like to attend the strike in Vancouver, but that would leave Abbotsford with very few protesters, so they are not certain what they will do on Sept. 27.

Burnaby became the latest city to declare a climate emergency earlier this week. Vancouver council voted to declare a climate emergency in January. More than 600 municipalities around the world have made similar declarations.

[Top photo: Rebecca Hamilton is helping to organize the General Strike for Climate Action on Sept. 27. GERRY KAHRMANN / PNG]