Editor's Note: This piece is a special contribution to our Faces Behind the Climate March series from a Planet Forward Consortium School member.
In a series of climate strikes across the globe on Sept. 27, Montreal had a larger turnout than any other city in the second week of striking. More than 500,000 people, many painted with green paint and adorned with handcrafted flower crowns, took over the city.
The Montreal transportation system, STM, was made free for the day to encourage people to attend and allow them to come regardless of financial restraints. The Bixi bike system was also free for six hours of the day. As Bixi bikes piled up along the field, droves of people began to collect in the remaining patches of the heavily crowded field. French chants and drum beats echoed off the buildings and statues surrounding Jeanne-Mance Park where the march began. Avenue du Parc was shut down, along with other main roads, as half a million people left their prior commitments to march toward their hope, Greta Thunberg.
Several demonstrations and protests happened away of the marching. Members of McGill University’s student organization Climate Justice Action, CJAM, protested on the steps of the Arts Building. They urged people not to go to class and for McGill to listen to the demands they curated in hopes of combating the climate crisis.
Hanna and Sophie, both 20, and Daan, 19, held a hand painted sign that read, “People Over Pipelines.” They explained their list of demands, including that McGill divest from fossil fuels. Their hope for the strike was to raise awareness to the public and, as Sophie said, “see the youth rise up.” They hope to see a movement that will only grow.
When asked what Greta Thunberg represented to them, Hanna said, “the youth collective as a whole.”
“She represents hope,” another said.
Back in Jeanne-Mance Park, the monument to Sir George-Étienne Cartier loomed over the crowd as people climbed the human sculptures and dressed them in fitting green garments. A young Quebecois woman named Maye stood with her sign at her feet as she rested against a tree.
Maye said she believes that, “if we all come together we can change the system.”
Like many people there, she was optimistic that the climate strike would draw the attention it needs to prompt crucial change. When asked what Greta represented to her, she simply and quickly said, “hope.”
Just across the street from Maye, an older woman sat on a simple set of stairs that was crowded with eager people. Debbie, 62, is also originally from Montreal, but now she resides in San Diego. She came from California for the climate strike. She was driven by her worry for her children and grandchildren. She fears we are too close to the “tipping point.” She wants action at the municipal level. She wants better accessibility to biking, especially in the winter. She admits though she is losing hope in the provincial and federal level. However, to her, “Greta represents the hope.”
Back on the main road, the rowdy, cumbersome crowd shifted onto Avenue Sherbrooke. Stilt walkers, drummers, and chanters entertained. People hopped in and out of local cafes and cheap pizzeria shops to sustain their journey to the end of the march. Children clung on to their parent’s shoulders and people proudly hoisted their witty, empowering, and occasionally crude signs high above the crowd. People climbed lampposts and traffic light poles to be higher than anyone else. Groups on apartment building roofs waved and stared wide-eyed at the sea of people below.
Winding around city streets, with police surrounding the mass, the crowd finally arrived at its destination. A small stage awaited the 500,000 where the Bonaventure Expressway normally empties a monstrous amount of cars into the city. People continued to chant and elevate their signs.
When Greta came on the stage around 4 p.m., nearly four hours after the march officially began, the crowd erupted. Each sentence she spoke seemed to move the audience and lift their spirits after a very long walk. She said that Canada reminded her of her home, Sweden. She compared both countries being “alleged” climate leaders, and how they are both doing too little. She presented scary statistics and accused international leaders of “empty words.” As she announced, “change is coming” people cried and screamed.
Having yearned for a change for so long, many people are beginning to see it on the horizon because of Greta. It was astonishing to see such a small girl captivate people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and political backgrounds. Maybe it comes after seeing how she maturely handles being mocked by prominent political figures and media “talking heads.” Maybe it is because young people see themselves in her, and older people see their children in her. Maybe it is because she stands for science at a time when it is more crucial than ever to believe. Whatever the reason, she represents hope; and people need hope.