Two 14-year-old Nelson students have just put in their 53rd consecutive week of striking for the climate, standing on the sidewalk on Ward Street in front of city hall, rain or shine, getting praised, insulted, or ignored by the public.
Ginger Osecki and Calypso Blackman moved their strike online for a month during the spring because of the pandemic, but have been back on the street all summer.
“We live in this place that is in a bubble and people don’t really realize their actions have consequences, so we are just reminding everyone,” Osecki says.
“We want to get people educated on climate change,” says Blackman. “There is not a lot of education on climate change and people think, ‘Oh, I am not causing this, it is not my fault,’ because you don’t see it when you look around here. Most people live in good houses, get a good education, so they are just, ‘Oh, whatever.’”
They are part of Fridays for Future, a global climate strike movement that started in 2018 when 15-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg began a school strike for climate.
Students from more than 150 countries participated in the group’s demonstrations in 2019, including Canada and in Nelson as part of a global movement aimed at pressuring governments to act on combating climate change.
Fridays for Future asks that municipal, provincial, and federal governments declare a climate emergency, aim to transition for net-zero emissions by 2025, and create citizen’s assemblies to oversee this transition.
In collaboration with Stop Ecocide Canada, the group is also asking the federal government to support making ecocide (mass destruction of the environment) a crime at the International Criminal Court, alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity.
Discussing their extended strike, the two young women are very unassuming, as though they are simply doing a job that needs to be done. Do they ever get discouraged?
“In the winter, and when it is pouring rain,” Osecki says. “But it’s worth it.”
Each week, about five or six passersby talk to them. The comments are about 60-to-70 per cent positive.
“Most are supportive and a lot have questions, but some are negative but not really specific,” says Osecki.
“Just harsh words,”says Blackman, “and sometimes people have thrown stuff at us – like a coffee cup from a car, yelling at us.”
Among other students at school there is some support but “lots of people think it’s stupid or a waste of time, and they don’t want to put the effort in,” says Blackman.
“They don’t think we are accomplishing anything,” Osecki says.
They prefer to focus on the positive responses.
“The amount of support our actions over the past year have received shows that there is widespread public support for meaningful climate action,” Blackman says.
The strikers say they are taught nothing about climate change in school.
“There not much about what climate change is and how it is caused and nothing about how we can stop it,” says 16-year-old Oscar Hunter, a member of Nelson’s Fridays for Future group. “There is not much blame put on governments and corporations … and nothing to teach us how to change things.”
How worried or stressed are the Blackman and Osecki about the future?
“I don’t want to think, ‘Oh we are all going to die,’” says Blackman. “To think about that is too stressful, so I think of it as a goal we can reach and as something we can actually do.”
“If we don’t do this the future is going to be bad, but if we keep it up, hopefully things will change,” Osecki says. “I feel that if we don’t keep the momentum up, keep striking, no one will.”
They say they have made several presentations to Nelson city council asking it to declare a climate emergency. They say they are not clear on council’s reasons for not doing so.
“The things they say are generic and don’t mean anything,” says Blackman. “They just say, ‘Wow, you are doing great stuff.’”
Fridays for Future member Mason Voykin, 14, is very impressed by their resolve.
“It is incredible they take that much time and the effort for a year, for hours on end,” he says. “Even if most people are just rushing by them, it’s astounding.”
But Voykin is not impressed by so many adults praising them but doing nothing themselves.
“They don’t realize that it really matters. There is a big difference between saying ‘good job’ and physically showing support by being at a strike, or rallying.”
“It is not something we really enjoy doing,” he says. “It is not a hobby, we are not trying to get people to say, ‘Look at these kids protesting things, so cute.’ It’s a real issue that is killing people daily, so people need to start taking bigger action than just congratulating youth.”
Voykin voices the worries they all feel.
“If we don’t change, it is going to be very, very bleak,” he says. “I feel at some point we will hit a point where we cannot, no matter how hard we try, go back to the way it once was.”
Hunter says the climate change issue should not be seen as generational or left-right.
“It is about not having the human race die out in a couple of generations. It’s like we are not entitled to want a future.”
Youth climate leader Greta Thunberg is often criticized for being just a kid and not a scientist.
“As a climate activist this annoys me,” Osecki says. “We have done extensive research and don’t claim to be scientists. The voices of youth are just as important.”
Asked if they are in for another year of Fridays standing on the Ward Street sidewalk with their signs, she says, “We’ll try our hardest.”
Meanwhile, the group will hold a COVID-safe event on Sept. 25, in co-ordination with a global day of action. They hope to have enough people at the park to line the Orange Bridge from end to end, two metres apart.