I see my first students at the Greenwood subway station. Young teens, still in middle school, maybe a hundred of them.
As the train doors open they pour into my car. Fresh-faced, bright-eyed, backpacked, chattering excitedly, many have signs folded under their arms. For most this is likely their first protest, first raising of a voice, first brush with democracy. I reminisce on my own protest forays from the suburbs into downtown Toronto at that age. Yes, there was the heady excitement of it all, the chance to hang with friends outside of supervision, but there was also a nascent sense of purpose in our stride, of leveraging the bubbling idealism of impending adulthood for what we instinctively believed to be right in a world we now understood to be so full of wrongs it could overwhelm the weak. Action was an antidote, a lesson in how to learn more than you could in school, to push back against the prevailing orthodoxy of profit before reason, and to imagine how to effect change when enough people gave a shit about something.
A few seconds in the energetic company of these kids, and my own solo mission to the #ClimateStrikeCanada in Toronto suddenly has wings.
Leaving the subway and heading south on University Avenue, I can already see this is going to be huge. Both sides of the street are packed, and from the throngs flowing into Queen's Park toward the lawn fronting the Ontario Legislature where the rally will begin, it's clear the massive space is already full, and those converging from a dozen different streets will back up into the spokes of the wheel. Having attended many public rallies in Toronto, I've yet to see anything this large, this edifying, this diverse. For in addition to tens of thousands of students, there are unions, clubs, and office workers galore. Plus thousands of families—mom and dad with all the kids in tow regardless of age—who felt this an occasion important enough to skip work or school to make a stand together.
Given that organizers underestimated the turnout—they expected 2,000, but a cop tells me they've already blown past 30K—there's a bit of confusion; people unsure of the parade route, ambulances trying to get through the mob (there's a half dozen hospitals in the vicinity), and a stage and sound system too small to reach further than the first few rows of a kilometre-deep crowd. Still, folks are patient, chatting and circulating with their signs—far more than I've seen at any other protest, including Victoria's infamous anti-Northern Gateway pipeline rally. Some are boilerplate ("There's No Planet B," "Panels not Pipelines"), some more prosaic ("Frack You"), some just plain inventive ("I've seen Smarter Cabinets at Ikea"). My favourite is a young girl's that reads "The Wrong Amazon is Burning," where Amazon is represented by the corporate logo of the world's largest internet company. Perhaps the most amusing comes in a clutch of marchers representing a women's group, all of whom hold large placards calling for various environmental, climate, social and First Nations actions; among their ranks, one woman waves a popsicle stick with a tiny square of rumpled cardboard on which is written "Use less Paper."
There are, of course, many "How Dare You" references, allusions to the withering speech delivered by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at the UN in New York the previous week. In fact, it's hard not to feel the palpable inspiration of, and support for, Greta in every corner of this milling human organism—particularly given news she's leading 500,000 people through the "nearby" streets of Montreal.
With no axes to grind and beholden to no one, Greta is the unflinchingly face of the facts of climate science available to all but ignored by many. Her speaking of either of these truths seems to threaten many of the latter. A psychologist might note it's because these are truths we all—conservatives and other denialists alike—know inside to be real; those who react most vehemently are those who repress that knowledge most deeply.
As Jennifer O'Connell noted in piece penned for The Irish Times, "Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering for certain men?"—it's likely because of what she represents: "In an age when democracy is under assault, she hints at the emergence of a new kind of power, a convergence of youth, popular protest and irrefutable science. And for her loudest detractors, she also represents something else: the sight of their impending obsolescence hurtling towards them."
Around Canada on Sept. 27, there was a minimum of 750,000—some two per cent of the country's population—hurtling toward those people.
Leslie Anthony is a scientist and author who enjoys connecting the dots to reverse political and media spin.