Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins
October 27, 2009
After the flash mob that appeared in Parliament yesterday, disrupting question period to call immediate attention to climate change, we had very mixed feelings.
The flash mob evokes tactics of yester-year, though a little more clever. To those of us who are used to doing campaign and policy work in the environmental sector, making incremental change by going in the front door with a suit and a tie (well a suit, anyways), it’s hard to not feel like this approach loses credibility for our whole sector and the point we are trying to make – that our government must act now to reduce climate change.
On the other hand, this as a desperate act from people hoping desperately to wake our government up, and on that sentiment, we couldn’t agree more. We have issued press releases, sent letters and petitions, aired public service announcements, written columns (ahem), penned books, held community events and press conferences, schmoozed officials and any other “respectable” tactic you can imagine to try to evoke change, for twenty years! The issue of climate change is by no means new, and two decades of respectability has not bailed us out of this problem.
When Green Party leader Elizabeth May joined the protest on Parliament Hill on the weekend (pre-Parliament flash mob), Rebecca asked her about her days in the Sierra Club and whether she’d ever thought she would see this kind of youth-lead activism when she helped form the Sierra Youth Coalition. Her response surprised us: “I never thought I would have to. I never thought it would get this bad.”
The woman’s got a point. Even the biggest of “doomsdayers” (as we have been affectionately called) didn’t anticipate that this kind of action would be needed because we all hoped our government would wake up before this. While some see the tactics of the flash mob as disrespectful, inappropriate, entitled or juvenile (all taken from the lovely “comments” section at the Globe and Mail), frankly, what mass demonstration has ever been pretty? When people are backed against a wall they will use every tool they have to fight back. After all, we are talking about scientific evidence that points to heightened and increased natural disasters, food and water scarcity for an already over-populated world, and the potential for international conflict, climate refugees and displaced people. Not only is there a Nobel prize-winning international scientific panel who agrees on this, but we have already begun to see the evidence.
In a press conference after the demonstration, May said that these youth were Canada’s best and brightest. Particularly in comparison to the country’s MPs. The chants didn’t sound much different from the regular banter in the House she thought, a theme the Globe picked up on as they started their story on the issue: “The shouting and heckling in the House of Commons had nothing to do with MPs yesterday...”
We didn’t think that the style of activism that spread through campuses in our parents’ generation like carbon-induced wildfires would be included in the activism of today.
May’s commentary was politically risky, but maybe it’s time we all started taking risks.