Young environmentalist Cassandra Ly is well aware of the positive aspects of the Canadian narrative.
A teenage daughter of Vietnamese immigrant parents, Ly said people often hear that Canada is a place for new beginnings, a country with lots of opportunities and nice people.
But she said that Canada’s deteriorating environment and environmental reputation trouble her greatly.
“When we talk about tarsands, I feel a little bit ashamed,” Ly told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Our political leaders are not stepping up to the plate to talk about these issues.”
Ly is a Grade 12 student at Windermere secondary in East Vancouver. She’s determined to prove that “youth do care about environmental issues,” she said, and for that reason, she helped form Youth for Climate Justice Now along with 11 of her schoolmates.
The group is aiming to pull off what Ben West—mentor and healthy-communities coordinator with the Wilderness Committee—claims is the first citywide Earth Day celebration organized by youth for youth. The celebration kicks off at 11 a.m. on Earth Day, April 22, which this year also happens to be Good Friday.
“We want to invite as many youth and families out to dress up in colourful, vibrant costumes, carry big posters, sing and chat, and bring creative pedal-powered floats along the parade on Commercial Drive,” Ly said. “We want to empower youth to make a difference, and we want to demonstrate what our world can be like.”
Aside from West, the group has enlisted the help of East Vancouver artist Andrea Curtis.
“The reason that this is so cool, and that I’m so pumped about it, even though I’m doing a million things, is because this is the next generation of stewards,” Curtis told the Straight by phone. “This is the freshest of the grassroots. These are the roots of the grassroots who are showing up and standing up and saying: ”˜I am powerful too. I am awake. I am aware. I know what’s going on, and I care.’ ”
Ly said she began thinking about the environment when she got into high school and entered the leadership program, which focuses on social, humanitarian, and environmental issues.
“And through leadership, you also are encouraged to go out and volunteer and also go out to connect with the community,” Ly said. “That sparked my passion for the environment, just connecting with community members and learning a lot about these things.”
It has been an eye opener, Ly noted. She also described the tarsands as “one of the major environmental disasters”. She said the leadership program at Windermere focused a lot on the topic last year.
The parade will begin at the intersection of Commercial Drive and Grandview Highway, heading northbound, culminating in a festival in the oval field at Britannia Secondary, at William Street and Woodland Drive. The festival will feature guest speakers, including Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Lubicon Cree First Nations woman from northern Alberta who is campaigning against the tarsands, as well as young spoken-word poets and music from local artists such as Maria in the Shower.
Ly said she and her colleagues are asking that people come and show support and raise awareness of global warming and climate change. Curtis said the environmental issue is intergenerational now, and it’s time to pass the baton.
“If we don’t show the kids that we support them, and if we don’t show them they have that kind of backup they need, and that the world cares, how are they going to continue to create a future that we are all going to believe in and stand up for?” Curtis asked.
Curtis said that 350.org founder and The End of Nature author Bill McKibben recorded a promo video with the group.