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It’s time to meet the new generation of climate leaders

EnvironmentSocial Movements

Thousands of people attended the climate strike rally on the lawn of the legislature in Victoria on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. Photo by Sharon Kravitz (Flickr).

When I was in seventh grade, I hadn’t quite grown into my body yet. I was lanky, and all my teenage brain could render was the capacity to worry whether my classmates thought I was as awkward as I felt. My confidence was sourced through others’ opinions and fluctuated daily. I was impressionable. I certainly had no political knowledge or acute interest in current affairs.

What I am trying to convey here is that I was far from a community leader. Hell, I was a teenager, and teenagers don’t care, right?

Teenagers are not expected to care about anything that expands further than the world of their high school. They are not expected to spend their winter holidays learning about the environment. They certainly aren’t expected to mobilize the masses.

That is, unless, you’re referring to Elliott Anderson.

When I opened the door to the Royal Bank of Canada on the corner of Douglas and Fort in Victoria, I was met with a myriad of teenage faces staring up at me. Mostly sat cross-legged, blocking the entrance to the bank, these children were occupying the space in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose rights, along with those of countless other First Nations, are continuously infringed upon. This time around, the RCMP had invaded unceded Wet’suwet’en territory after the Wet’suwet’en openly rejected Coastal Gas Link’s pipeline project through their lands.

“Are you willing to be arrested?” I was asked before I could squeeze myself into a spot in the corner. “If you get arrested, you do not have to speak to the police. Write a phone number on your hand in case you get separated from your phone.”

I was handed a piece of paper.

“Write your name, address, and emergency contact on this list, so that if you go missing, we will know to come find you.”

Until that day, I had never been instructed how to be arrested by a 12 year-old.

This is becoming the norm. If you have been to a climate strike, you will have noticed that the overwhelming majority of participants are young people. As recommended by the United Nations’ IPCC report, which warns of eminent crisis if the Earth is to hit 1.5 degrees of warming by 2030, the youth have given themselves an 10-year deadline and they’re hitting the ground running. Youth organization numbers have spiked, with new movements sprouting up all over the globe. You may have heard of a few: Fridays for Future, Sunrise Movement, Youth for Climate; the list goes on.

Elliott Anderson is one of many organizers who has brought the global climate movement back to Victoria, except for one key difference—Elliott is just 12 years old.

They are responsible for founding Our Earth Our Future, a group of 28 young people, based in Victoria/Lekwungen territories.

“It started two years ago, when I attended an ‘Enviroschool’ during my winter break,” one of the members explained. “While we were there, Mayor Lisa Helps offered to meet with us any Friday we held a climate strike. I started going to meetings with her and through that, I slowly started to organize the climate strikes we’ve seen occur here in Victoria.”

Anderson has lived in Victoria/Lekwungen territories their whole life, but it wasn’t until last year, at age 11, that they began organizing at the community level in Victoria. “Because I’m so young, I’m going to be one of the people most affected by the climate emergency. I need to have a say on what my future is going to look like,” Anderson explains when asked what prompted their turn to activism. “If I’m old enough to learn algebra, I’m old enough to organize a strike.”

And so they did.

On the first Friday of every month, Our Earth Our Future gets together, skips school, and heads down to the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, and strikes. Additionally, they join in for every global climate strike led by Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future.

Most recently, Anderson has been at the BC Parliament Buildings supporting the Indigenous youth occupying the ceremonial steps in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. The youth have pledged to continue resistance until the RCMP evacuate Wet’suwet’en territory.

“It’s such a loving place,” Anderson says. “When we receive good news, everyone laughs. When the news isn’t so great, we grieve together. There are movie nights, dance parties, and so much community. It’s a very peaceful feeling.”

When asked what Anderson hopes for the future of Our Earth Our Future, they are confident in their message: “We are currently working very hard to plan a few big actions coming up this spring. Our ‘New Growth’ themed climate strike will take place on April 3. We also have a few projects in the back of our minds for the upcoming summer, such as a festival for the climate. In total, in the coming months we really want to show people that we already have all the solutions and there is still hope to come out of this with a planet we can all thrive in.”

To learn more about Our Earth Our Future visit www.ourearthourfuturevictoria.com.

Abby Neufeld is a writer and climate activist based in Victoria.

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