Invermere residents gathered last week in the district’s cenotaph park, carrying signs, delivering speeches and marching to the municipal office with a signature-laden petition, demanding local action on climate change.
The event on Friday, September 20th, was part of the Global Climate Strike, an event inspired in part by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, which saw rallies and protests of tens of thousands of people in cities spanning the globe.
Here in Invermere more than 250 people, including several dozen high school students, went on temporary ‘strike’ from school or their jobs to promote taking immediate steps to address climate change.
The crowd filled the cenotaph plaza for almost two hours, with placard carrying students encouraging passing motorists to honk in support, while local singers played music and then a series of local residents and politicians gave speeches on topics ranging from electric cars to getting leaders to pay attention. Once the rally wrapped up, the crowd walked en-mass to the District of Invermere office, where a large petition, decorated with an image of planet Earth, was delivered. Organizers vowed to hold similar events going forward.
“We had a really great turnout, far more than we were expecting,” said David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) student strike organizer Aurora Orchiston. “Definitely we’ve had a lot of people come, and we are encouraging people to come out again next week. We’ll try again next Friday, so if you couldn’t make it to the first one you can make it to the next one,” added student organizer Masha Stich.
Adult strike organizers Cam Gillies and Meredith Hamstead were also pleased with the turnout.
“We are quite happy. We were hoping for a large number of people, but you never know and we did have worst-case visions that maybe it’s only going to be 12 of us there,” said Mr. Gillies. “To have this kind of response is encouraging. I feel there is an emerging appetite for governments to take action.”
“Our goal was three per cent (of the Invermere population) — 100 people — because that’s the threshold at which change starts to occurs. So to have two and a half times that shows that this community is ready. What really moves me is to see high school students speaking and acting on this issue too,” chimed in Ms. Hamstead, later adding that the biggest challenge she sees to turning the energy of the strike into municipal policies is “the way we are (currently) making land use decisions and how we incentivize — or do not incentivize — (environmental) behaviour…We still make land use decisions that will have a lasting impact on our greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. But I am optimistic that our community will be heard, now that we’ve come together visually and vocally.”
Invermere councillor Kayja Becker was one of three municipal politicians at the strike (others were Invermere councillor Ute Juras and Regional District of East Kootenay Area G director Gerry Wilkie) and after the event she spoke of her desire to carry the strikers’ message to Invermere council.
“It was really incredible energy down there (at the cenotaph plaza), you can feel the passion our community has for change,” Ms. Becker told the Pioneer. “This community cares, and even if they are not coming to council meetings, we can’t dismiss this segment of the community.”
Ms. Becker cited, as an example, municipal efforts to effect a plastic bag ban, which have recently foundered because of a lack of volunteers willing to sit on a committee for the issue, saying that “I feel after today that we don’t need a committee, we (as a council) can make the decision and guide those (businesses) having trouble adjusting (to a plastic bag ban).”
Similar events in cities around the world also had massive turnouts, with tens of thousands turning up to strikes and rallies in major urban centres on every single continent (even Antarctica saw a group of scientist on ‘strike’), and more than 100,000 in several cities, including Melbourne, Berlin and London.