All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Montreal’s giant Earth Day

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The giant human tree - or hand? - of Earth Day

What does Quebec want?  In a new twist to that never-ending question, a clear answer: Quebecers want a healthy environment.

That, at least, was the very clear message that came out of last week’s Earth Day in Montreal.  A crowd of more than 250,000 people gathered for what turned out to be the biggest demonstration ever!  That’s no small feat, in a city that saw the biggest protests against the war in Iraq and that is currently beset by the longest ever student strike.

You’ve got to give it to Quebecers: if they can show exuberant joie de vivre, they also can express a mood of ras le bol, up-to-here-fed-up more clearly than the rest of Canada, it seems.  And fed up they are, both with the inept (and clearly corrupt) provincial government, as well as, of course, with Harper.

I had an inkling that something big was up when I picked up a free Metro paper in the subway a few days before Earth Day.  The front page lead was an interview with Dominic Champagne, the Quebec director organising the demonstration.  I translated a bit to give the flavour:

You’re an artist who’s very involved in helping the planet.  Aren’t you afraid it’s a lost cause?

Quite the opposite, it’s the main political issue of the moment.  Sure, people are tired of hearing about the environment every two minutes, and they tune out.  It irks me to limit the debate to the sole topic of the environment.  This is more global than protecting the earth, it’s a fight against growing inequality and that concerns everyone.  Look at water: it’s a public good, yet people pollute it, or grab it to sell it back.  That makes no sense!  It’s a moral issue, above all, about the respect of citizens and our collective property…us Quebecers, we’ve championed fairness and equity, but that way of thinking is threatened.  My grandfather could drink water directly from the river.  Nowadays, that’s unthinkable.  How on earth can we accept this!

Then it happened, and on Monday the papers all led with that story.  Le Devoir, in particular, had a front page full spread, with the picture above and the headline “Un grand cri du people!” (A giant scream from the nation!).

The picture shows the creativity that is a new characteristic of demonstrations all over, particularly in Quebec.  In this case, an army of volunteers guided the marchers into the shape of a giant tree that could be seen from the air.  An amazing feat of organisation, given the size of the crowd: imagine five or six Sun Runs, you’ll get the idea.  People were still waiting to start marching while the top of the procession had already arrived at the rallying point in Parc Jeanne Mance.

The shape is that of a tree – so the papers say.  But on closer look, it also looks to me like a hand…giving the finger to Harper, in defiance.  That’s what I mean by creativity.

An inkling of what the event was like can be found here in this article and this clip, both in English – as well as here, at length, with a good video clip in the Montreal paper La Presse (Jour de la terre: une foret humaine! A human forest).

Why were the numbers so huge?  Maybe the issue of shale gas fracking helped – it is huge in Quebec, and everybody is aware of its potential dangers.  And the indignation towards the jettisoning of Kyoto may be strongest in Quebec.  But aside from this, and the need of a venue for people to express their anger, it helped that this was a popular demonstration, not just a political event.  Sure, politicians like Thomas Mulcair were there (where isn’t he, these days?), and welcomed, but mostly artists of all kind were present, many performing.

Sure, it would be easy to dismiss the size of the crowds as simply the result of a free show.  But that would be misinterpreting what really happened.  People wanted to be there, wanted to have their voices heard, amplified by the voices of their performers.  In that respect, Quebec is still like a big family.  Not that there isn’t dissent (god knows how there is!), but the sense of identity that is provided by a big, popular event is something that seems more common and more important in Quebec.  Whatever the reason, it works.

Oh, to have such public displays of indignation in Vancouver!  I can only hope to see such protests grow here.  (And I want to commend the efforts of the group that has started the robocall voter fraud protest movement in Vancouver – look’em up here.)

But there’s something that can be done right here, dear reader: the demonstration produced the mass signing of a declaration in support of the Earth, in French, English, and Innu.  The Suzuki foundation has created a website that anyone can access and sign.  I know, it’s just another petition – but hey, as AVAAZ has demonstrated, they add up, and they’re effective.  C’mon, it takes fifteen seconds…

I want to close with a clip of Lisa Leblanc, one of the signers that was featured there.  I think she’s still fairly unknown in English Canada, but this may be temporary.  Her song – maybe the theme song for the prevailing mood: “Ma vie c’est d’la marde” (My life is just shit).  As in, I’m not gonna put up with it any longer…

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Written by enviropaul

April 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm

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