Toronto Media Co-op

Local Independent News

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!
Not reviewed by Toronto Media Co-op editors. copyeditedfact checked [?]

Extinction Rebellion, 2019: “I’m sorry. I have to.”

Extinction Rebellion, October 7, 2019, Toronto Action

by Deb O'Rourke

They took the bridge
They took the bridge
ACT NOW
ACT NOW
Party on the bridge.
Party on the bridge.
Performance on bridge
Performance on bridge
Ordered to leave
Ordered to leave
Some arrestees
Some arrestees
Penny's smile
Penny's smile
Handcuffed
Handcuffed
arrests
arrests
Carried
Carried
on the ground
on the ground
worried dog
worried dog

It’s 8:30 am, October 7, 2019, Day 1 of the International Rebellion declared by the international climate activist network Extinction Rebellion. This morning in Toronto, activists fill the street to stop traffic at the lights before Toronto’s Prince Edward Viaduct, a vital link in the Bloor-Danforth east-west traffic corridor. Toronto Danforth NDP candidate Min Sook Lee stands in solidarity with the climate action activists.

Soon the iconic 100-year old bridge stands empty, except for the words ACT NOW in giant yellow letters that glow in the mild grey day. ACT NOW is the second demand of Extinction Rebellion, which on this day is holding traffic-stopping actions in cities across the world. The first demand, painted on a long pink banner, is to “Tell the Truth” about climate change.

With police directing cars to turn south along Broadview Ave. commuters are delayed, but no one is stuck. They swerve past signs that read things like: “I’m sorry. I have to do this.” Protestors politely engage passersby, apologize for the inconvenience, explain: “We stop traffic to show that our over-use of fossil fuels finally has to stop.”

The opposition is represented by a lone engineering student who shouts into a megaphone: “Climate justice is nonsense! Support Alberta oil!” When I question him, I learn that he believes oil and its profits should be nationalized.

Over two hundred demonstrators of all ages hold the bridge into early afternoon. It’s a party, with babies, dogs, yoga, performance, street art. No cars allowed, but the bike lane is carefully kept open, trains rumble below and as bemused pedestrians rush by, people relax. We are so accustommed to the sight, noise and danger of cars. To lounge and socialize, play music and be safe from danger in that space is liberating.

Conspicuously absent are the student strikers who've been risking their academic lives to call attention to climate change. Everyone else is giving them a day off from the job they should never have had to take on. Cassie Norton, who also works with the Fridays for Future student climate movement, ensures there’s good music, lots of it. She leads sing-alongs that range from Bob Dylan to civil rights and union songs to new ones written by youth in the student movement.

Everywhere, strangers talk with strangers. Carl, a retired engineer, engages me. Extinction Rebellion is his first foray into environmental activism since, as a student in the 1970s, he helped to set up Toronto’s first recycling depots. “I spent my entire career supporting the machine that is destroying the planet,” he says.  “It slowly came to me: ‘What have I done with my life?’”

“I see traumatized people everywhere, on all sides. One of the governing principles of Extinction Rebellion is that we have a regenerative culture: no shame, no blame. We accept everyone and every part of everyone.”

Carl isn’t optimistic. He thinks the problem has been left too long. But he says, “Even if humanity is doomed, I want to be part of a culture that spreads love, spreads acceptance and dialogue. I think that is what Extinction Rebellion is about.”

At noon, police order that the bridge be cleared. An elderly dog seems visibly worried when the horses show up. Twenty demonstrators who refuse to move from the road are supported by a crowd that sings to them from the sidewalks. As people are led or carried away by police, “I want to hold your hand” seems oddly appropriate.

Teenagers rushing back to class from take-outs on the Danforth stop short at seeing old people standing in handcuffs while younger ones are carried and dragged by police.  Between taking shots of the arrests, I have the interesting experience of explaining non-violent passive resistance to them.

As each arrestee is taken away, they are applauded and thanked, followed by shouts of “We love you!” It’s a courageous thing to do, to submit to the total loss of personal control that arrest entails. Arrestees look, on varying levels, traumatized.

Mindful of Toronto's record of police violence against People of Color, the crowd is extra watchful of the treatment of a young, long-limbed Black man. He seems to be practicing an unusual resistance tactic. As half a dozen police stuff him into the van, a foot pops out. As that is pushed back in, a hand escapes. His head even makes it back out the doorway a couple of times.

Call it “active, non-violent resistance.” The young man uses it in a high-spirited and even comical way, and when police get impatient, the crowd soothes them with calls of “Be kind!” “Be gentle!” Frequent chants of “No shame! No blame!” help things to stay positive.

When traffic finally starts to flow again, I happen to be standing next to some vegan activists in fuzzy animal hats. “I just ate a chicken!” a driver hollers at us.

No shame, no blame, brother.


Socialize:
Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.

Creative Commons license icon Creative Commons license icon

About the poster

Trusted by 0 other users.
Has posted 5 times.
View Deb ORourke's profile »

Recent Posts:


Deb ORourke (Deb O'Rourke)
Toronto
Member since Avril 2011

About:

Deb O'Rourke is a writer and community journalist who has published with the Toronto Media Co-op and Now Magazine.

812 words

Join the media co-op today
Things the Media Co-op does: Support
Things the Media Co-op does: Report
Things the Media Co-op does: Network
Things the Media Co-op does: Educate
Things the Media Co-op does: Discover
Things the Media Co-op does: Cooperate
Things the Media Co-op does: Build
Things the Media Co-op does: Amplify

Connexion utilisateur


Google+
Subscribe to the Dominion $25/year

The Media Co-op's flagship publication features in-depth reporting, original art, and the best grassroots news from across Canada and beyond. Sign up now!