Activist community

Sustainabiliteens on refocusing the community in climate activism

Climate activists of all ages gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on September 23. They huddled and listened intently to Finch, an Aboriginal elder, sharing a song from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation: “Save the skies for the eagles. Save the water for the salmon. Save the forest for the bears. Let’s all live in peace. »

He encouraged the crowd to chant in response, so dozens of voices echoed throughout the square, repeating his demands for justice. For the first time in years, I felt like the climate movement was united around a common vision – a vision defined not only by struggle, but also by carefully and deliberately constructed joy.

Behind that were Sustainabiliteens, a group of high school students from across the Lower Mainland, whose members overlap considerably with UBC’s climate justice community.

Get away from the strike

Sustainabiliteens is known for its 2019 climate strike which brought over 100,000 people to the streets of Vancouver. After the strike, the group attracted new members, including myself – we planned actions, reached out to community members for support, and educated ourselves and those around us about the climate crisis. .

However, although the strike generated publicity and inspired new action, it came at a cost. The student climate movement is increasingly defined by the idea of ​​sacrifice: missing school and giving up free time, all to fight for a livable future that seems to be getting more and more unlikely despite our efforts.

Striking as a work tactic only works when workers go on strike until their demands are met. For most students, this level of sacrifice is neither achievable nor inspiring.

A Publish on the Instagram page Sustainabiliteens says the strike can “often feel very obligation-based and issue-focused, maybe almost a bit intimidating.”

Creating an environment where people can also experience joy and connection is absolutely necessary, especially as an organization that caters to young people who may have no prior experience in activism.

These ideas inspired the organization’s most recent action, a block party that took place on the annual Global Day of Action. It all started with a walk from Coal Harbor Park to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where the space was set up for talks, workshops and performances by emerging BIPOC musicians. Danivotrecheri and Zainab.

A just transition

Sustainable businesses and climate advocacy organizations – including West Coast Environmental Law and the Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice – briefed attendees on their respective initiatives, all aligned with the event’s theme: “a just transition”.

For high school students and lead organizers Zoha Faisal and Amber Leung, a just transition means prioritizing workers currently working in fossil fuel industries by “reinvesting that money into green energy, so those people who are operated by fossil fuel companies can transition smoothly” into greener areas of work.

This year’s block party was an effort to regain momentum as a movement, as well as an opportunity to not only highlight the climate justice work that still needs to be done, but also to celebrate all that has already been achieved. accomplished.

It proved that Sustainabiliteens is able to move away from the narrative of climate strikes as the only form of youth protest to try something different.

“One of the main ways we have evolved is that we have also incorporated our hope, our joy, our cultures, our traditions, our optimism and our love into this work,” Faisal explained. When she spoke to me, she had just delivered a personal account of how her Arabic name symbolizes hope and a new beginning for her family, and how this has inspired her approach to social justice.

Rebuilding solidarity after social distancing

As I spoke to this new group of climate activists, I couldn’t help but think back to what the Sustainabiliteens looked like a few years ago.

Since this was the peak of the pandemic, we were limited to holding online meetings. Although I have worked closely with so many people, to date I have only met a handful. All the actions we managed to plan were small, since we were working according to public health protocols.

What has never changed is the fact that our messages were always strong and often critical; we had to make sure people didn’t forget the climate crisis at a time when so many other topics were flooding the news.

We did our best to stay motivated, but how could we effectively advocate for our planet when we couldn’t even set foot outside and engage directly with our communities?

All larger events have stopped, including the solidarity that big events produce. We were losing an essential part of being activists.

As this structure did not prove to be sustainable, Sustainabiliteens gradually continued to organize events as a collective. This opportunity to come together and discuss sparked some much-needed reflection on their values ​​and how these are put into practice.

Interjecting intersectionality

Global Resource Systems freshman Naomi Leung, a former member of Sustainabiliteen and current Climate Justice UBC, said “the biggest change from 2019 was really about making our movement intersectional and making it more accessible, certainly by centering more people of color on our leadership team. I think we’ve certainly done a lot of internal learning about what a sustainable organization looks like.

When young organizers of color — who are often among the demographics hardest hit by the climate crisis — aren’t heard or appreciated, it hurts the whole group.

As an entirely youth-led project that received very little external support, Faisal and Leung said planning for this event was exhausting, but their passion for the work they were doing kept them motivated.

Over the next few weeks, members of Sustainabiliteens will focus on endorsing candidates for the October 15 municipal elections.

While it is important to have climate champions involved in political decision-making, Naomi Leung reiterated how crucial it is that climate activists and their supporters continue to push, because “everyone is necessary and essential in the organization of the climate – in the organization of collective liberation – and it is never too late”. join.”