Scores of students from Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best Secondary School skipped classes today, joining hundreds of thousands of other students around the world to protest inaction on climate change.
Mobilizing with other students under the hashtag #climatestrike, Emerson Gestrin and Rhema Plunkett organized the protest after they realized the closest rally was in downtown Vancouver.
The two 15-year-olds were inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden who gained fame for skipping class to protest in front of the Swedish parliament (just yesterday, Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize).
“It's inspiring that a teenager — Greta Thundberg in Sweden — is standing up for her future and the future of other teenagers because we don't have the right to vote yet,” said Gestrin as she stood on the median dividing Como Lake Avenue.
“Us protesting is our way of making a change and our way of trying to influence the government to protect our climate — to save our future.”
Felix Feng said he too was protesting the long-term affects carbon pollution will have on the planet. But he’s also worried about the local effects of un-checked pollution.
“I have relatives in China. I see the difference between a developed country and rural places in China,” said Feng.
“I had my grandfather come over for a few months and his lungs kind of got used to the air here. A few days after he went back to China he had some medical issues because he wasn't used to the polluted air anymore.”
“At the time, I didn't really know what to do about it. Right now, well, this is something I can do,” he added.
While climate science might not be as divisive in Canada as it is for our southern neighbour, the students still got a taste of what can happen when you dip your toe into politics.
“We've been laughed at, we've had someone call us communists, we've had people tell us we're going to get run over,” said one grade 10 student. “You could sense the anger — so aggressive.”
Between the eye-rolls, glares and hardly veiled threats, most of the people driving by laid on the horns and shouted their support, said the students. When the principal came out, Plunkett thought she was going to kick the striking students off the premises.
“She brought us all doughnuts,” laughed Plunkett.
But amidst the shouts, laughs and obvious thrill of standing in the middle of a busy street, the striking students of Dr. Charles Best Secondary remained wildly practical.
As Gestrin put it, “They know that we are future voters, so if we're protesting now and they don't make changes then why would we vote for them in the future?”