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“Not going back”: Toronto activists, students hold sit-in on global day of climate action

Activists block off intersection of Bay, Wellesley, demand just recovery from COVID-19
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Protestors held a socially-distanced sit-in at the intersection of Bay and Wellesley. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THE VARSITY
Protestors held a socially-distanced sit-in at the intersection of Bay and Wellesley. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THE VARSITY

As part of the Global Day of Climate Action on September 25, climate activists and students held a physically distanced sit-in to demand a just recovery from COVID-19, and for action to address the climate crisis.

Last year, the Global Climate Strike and march in Toronto drew over 15,000 participants, a historic number for the city’s second annual climate demonstration after Fridays for Future Toronto was founded in 2018.

This year, activists and participants gathered for a very different event, drawing around 300 people for a sit-in where participants sat masked and six feet apart throughout the four corners of the intersection. Volunteers also circulated with hand sanitizer, and car access to the intersection was blocked by the event.

The sit-in at Bay and Wellesley was organized by Fridays for Future Toronto, a chapter of the global Fridays for Future movement started by Swedish teenager and activist Greta Thunberg. The Toronto sit-in was joined by over 50 cities in Canada that also held climate actions on September 25.

Head of Fridays for Future Toronto and U of T student Aliénor Rougeot explained that one of the themes of the action was “not going back,” explaining that “pre-COVID ‘normal’ was a crisis.” The sit-in was in support of a just recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, which Rougeot described as a just transition to clean energy for workers, combating anti-Blackness and racism in Canada, and supporting Indigenous self-determination.

As a U of T student, Rougeot said that she would like to see the university take more action on climate issues by divesting from fossil fuels and helping students feel like they can be climate leaders.

Though last year’s climate action saw more participants, Rougeot reflected that, “At the same time, this is more powerful in different ways.” She added that, even with the more difficult circumstances this year, “mobilizing in times that are harsh is going to have more effect because we’re showing how determined we are and how this issue is not only when we have time or the luxury — it’s constantly an issue.”

She hopes to see both climate and justice addressed in post-COVID-19 legislation. “This is not the end,” Rougeot concluded.

Cricket Guest, a Métis-Anishinaabe activist, added on the importance of the climate movement supporting Indigenous activists. “Indigenous people are the ones who hold the ancient knowledge on the land that we reside on. And our voices have been repeatedly stifled for hundreds of years,” Guest said.

Students attend the sit-in

Scarborough Students’ Union (SCSU) President Sarah Abdillahi attended the event. She said in an interview with The Varsity that she would like to see recycling being taken more seriously on campus, with the campus doing more to communicate to students about recycling and litter disposal on campus. She added that the SCSU is working on identifying areas for improvement in regard to environmental issues but commented that “it’s sad that the students are left to do the work.”

Rivka Goetz, a student at U of T majoring in equity studies, said that she thought the pandemic had both helped and hindered the conversation around the climate crisis, but “if [she] had to pick one, [she] would say that it has hindered the conversation.” She said, “A lot of world leaders are refusing to recognize that the climate crisis is very much interconnected with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Kanita Satnarajan, a student at UTSC, echoed the need for a just recovery and expressed a similar sense of urgency regarding the government’s responses to the climate crisis and a post-pandemic world. “The economy is going to need help recovering from [COVID-19],” she said.

“And while we’re doing that, we can also put together plans for climate action [and] put together plans for climate reform, which is something we so desperately need for future generations.”

Local activists

Rommel Bellosillo, a volunteer with Greenpeace Canada, provided his perspective on the purpose of the climate sit-in: “We’re just making sure that action speaks louder than words, and we can make sure that [the government follows] through with what they promise.”

Though the Fridays for Future movement is often associated with youth activists, diverse age groups were represented at the event. Older generations could be seen holding up signs alongside university students, including one sign that read, “Grandparents for Climate Justice.”

Marjorie Murray, a retired history and civics teacher, volunteered at the strike as a marshall, directing the participants. “I’ve been worried about this for decades,” she said. “And, finally, people are starting to pay attention again.”

She expressed that people shouldn’t become discouraged from getting involved in climate activism if they are afraid of not being able to make a difference, explaining that every person needs to take action. “There’s millions of us. And that’s the reason for doing it.”