Hundreds of people in Fredericton gathered on Sept. 20 for the first events in the global week of climate action. Mobilizations were organized also in Bathurst and Saint John on that day. Around the world, millions of people in an estimated 185 countries demonstrated to demand more action from political leaders on the crisis in the biggest climate protest ever.
In Fredericton at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) the climate action events were opened with a ceremony by Ramona Nicholas, UNB Elder-in-Residence and traditional knowledge keeper. The first event, Poetry for the Climate Crisis, held outside at the UNB Poets’ Corner, featured four local poets – Lauren R. Korn, Rebecca Salazar, Emily Skov-Nielson, Sue Sinclair and from Halifax, El Jones.
In addition to her UNB performance, Jones was invited by the poetry event organizers, the UNB RAVEN project and the NB Media Co-op, to lead a spoken word workshop on poetry for the climate crisis in Fredericton on the weekend. The workshop goal is to support the development of local poets who could speak at future climate action events.
Event MC Indigo Poirier, echoing the words of El Jones, said that the climate crisis intersects with all justice issues. Fighting for climate action means also talking about power, capitalism, labour, space, race, social and economic inequality, discrimination and white privilege. “We must take on a climate justice narrative that joins environmental activism and all struggles for liberation,” said Poirier, adding that artists have always been at the forefront of liberation struggles, and “today we put artists – poets – first.”
The Fridays for Future Fredericton climate strike and rally followed the poetry. About 250 people on the lawn of the UNB quad and dozens more students and faculty members walking by heard the rally speeches. Fridays for Future had issued a media release linking the day’s events to the global climate action movement started by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. On Sept. 20, Thunberg spoke at a rally in New York demanding action from world leaders meeting next week at a UN summit on the climate crisis.
First up at the Fredericton rally, invited speakers St. Thomas University (STU) student Hannah Moore and UNB students Rachel Bensler and Patrick Donovan launched the Orange Square fossil fuel divestment campaign on both campuses. The Orange Square petition circulating at the rally collected almost 200 signatures. Donovan led the crowd in the campaign chant: Fossil-Free UNB!
Also invited were two professors – David Wagner from the UNB faculty of Education and Janice Harvey from STU environmental studies – who spoke in support of climate action. Wagner’s speech asked: what does a climate strike mean?
Candidates in the October 21 federal election, Matt DeCourcey (Liberal) and Jenica Atwin (Green) also addressed the crowd, with people chanting during DeCourcey’s speech “no pipelines.”
The rally open microphone attracted a dozen youth including several who shared poems expressing their fears and desires about the climate crisis. Some familiar older allies and advocates for climate action who spoke were Jim Emberger from the NB Anti-Shale Gas Alliance and David Coon, leader of the Green Party of NB. Several others also encouraged the youth to continue raising their voices and to know that others are listening and supporting their efforts to bring about climate justice for all.
Extinction Rebellion NB (XR-NB) led the final climate action event: a march from the UNB campus down Regent Street and on to Chancery Place in downtown Fredericton, the location of the office of premier Blaine Higgs. For more than 40 minutes inside the building lobby, a crowd of more than 100 loudly chanted, demanding climate action.
The XR-NB media release outlined the global demands of the XR movement that were also read out at the Chancery Place demonstration and passed on to the Premier’s office. The three demands are: 1) Tell the truth about the climate crisis; 2) Act now to stop the loss of biodiversity and reach net zero emissions by 2025; and 3) Go beyond politics by convening a citizens’ assembly to make decisions on a climate emergency plan. XR-NB is also planning an action in Moncton on September 27.
The week of climate action continues in Fredericton with events sponsored by RAVEN and the NB Media Co-op, including a discussion of the campus divestment campaigns on Sept. 24, a teach-in on citizen responses to the climate crisis on Sept. 25, a discussion on activist research on the environment on Sept. 26 and a photovoice exhibition and panel on the women resisting extractivism and bridging the research-activist divide on Sept. 27.
In Moncton, a large rally is planned for Sept. 27, the final day of the global week of climate action, and other events are planned that day in centres across the province, including Woodstock, Bathurst, Edmundston, Sackville, St. Louis-de-Kent and Pokemouche.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board and the principal investigator of the RAVEN research project at UNB.