It was was minus 20. I had my winter gear on and hand-warmers in my mitts. A small group of us stood shivering by the side of the road holding our signs. Mine read “Unite Behind the Science,” but the edges were fraying from all the winter months of protesting. To top it off, someone yelled “Get a job!” from their car. We let out a collective sigh. Job done—at least our message was being received.
I went to my first ever climate protest on March 15, 2019. Seeing over 400 young people with so much energy and passion, I knew climate activism was something I had to do. So I kept going. Every Friday at noon, despite what some administrators, parents and classmates said about it, I would skip school and head down to Calgary City Hall. I’ve learned that there are more important things in life than being popular and following the rules.
As good as it feels to strike, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Sometimes it’s just me and four other young people with signs, smiling through all the weird looks and whispers. But the feeling of striking always outweighs the negatives. I look forward to the bit of hope that the Friday protests provide in the midst of what sometimes feels like a bleak climate situation. When a hopeless feeling prevails, I remind myself of the time a woman stopped to talk to us. She thanked us for being there and told us to never stop fighting, because she believed we could change the world. Her words were refreshing and left an impact on me. Moments like these make protest worth it.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our numbers had started to increase. We’d had 30 to 50 people every Friday. But as our numbers increased so did public criticism. Living in oil and gas Alberta, we had become accustomed to a fair amount of heckling, but the greater our numbers, the more threatened people felt by our presence.
The feeling of striking outweighs the negatives. I look forward to the bit of hope it provides.
At Fridays for Future Calgary we are strongly pro-worker and in no way want the immediate shutdown of the oil and gas industry. Instead we want a just transition away from fossil fuels and an embrace of policies such as the Green New Deal. But I’ve learned that some people have a hard time listening to younger people. Many resort to the classy middle finger out the car window or shout things like “Hypocrite!” or “Go back to school!” Others like to argue with us about facts. Alternative climate theories abound, involving sunspots or volcanic energy. To those people we present the science. While we know some minds can’t be changed, every one is worth the effort.
Of course, everything is different now. In the face of the pandemic, our approach to strikes has changed. As of March 8, 2020, we decided to go digital, to avoid congregating in large groups and to help prevent the spread of the virus. Going digital means sending in or posting a photo of yourself with your sign with the comment #climatestrikeonline.
We hope this terrible virus is only temporary, and we want to get back to the streets as soon as possible. If the virus has taught me anything, it’s that radical change is possible. In a matter of weeks our global, national and local communities have come together and changed the way we live our everyday lives. Our government has put in place strict policies, and citizens are doing as they have been asked, all for the good of society.
It’s my hope and the hope of many climate activists that once the risk of COVID-19 is over, our political leaders will treat the climate crisis with the same urgency as they did a pandemic. Until then we will continue to do the morally rewarding but occasionally frustrating work of protesting. It has become the burden of young people to pressure our leaders to make the changes our planet needs. That is my job. And I love it.
Katherine Arich is a 16-year-old climate activist in Calgary with Fridays for Future.