We often hear that as young people, we are apathetic with our heads stuck in our iPhones. Across North America this fall, we proved otherwise.
Just a few weeks ago, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a millennial like us, donated his Governor General's Literary Award prize money to oppose the Energy East pipeline and urged others to also donate. The campaign raised $350,000 in just days.
On the other side of the country, another pipeline battle: this time the Kinder Morgan pipeline on Burnaby Mountain. Between November 20 and 27, over 100 of us were arrested, including many young people. We were arrested for peacefully opposing the company’s survey work in a publicly-owned conservation area—an area which lies on unceded indigenous territories.
What might seem like distant actions are actually very closely related. They speak to the generation we are defining ourselves to be: not apathetic, but hungry for change, stepping up to stop pipelines and create an epic powershift.
On Burnaby Mountain, the work of young people was amazing to witness. For the most part, it was young people who camped to protect Burnaby Mountain from the pipeline. Known as the caretakers, they—under the leadership of indigenous elders—held down the blockade from day one. Many youth were arrested for putting their bodies on the line to protect the mountain.
I—Tamo Campos—was arrested, as was my mother Tamiko Suzuki, sister Midori Suzuki, and partner Hannah Campbell. Young people organized rallies and legal support, showed up on the mountain between classes to bring food to the camp, played guitar at the fire, hugged friends who just got out of jail, donated money, shared articles on Facebook or Twitter, and snapped photos and video. There is a place for all of us.
Why us? Why now? We are the first generation to grow up in a time where the scientific consensus is that, on our current trajectory, we could actually see in our lifetime a world devastated by catastrophic climate change. We’re acutely aware that the zombie apocalypse is right around the corner. We are confronted with dystopic futures in movies—like The Hunger Games—where a tiny elite win and the rest of us lose.
And our actions have had an impact. We experienced what people power means when a mass mobilization delayed Kinder Morgan from enforcing its injunction to take down the camp. Then as a result of mass arrests later that same week, Kinder Morgan had to retreat from its drilling earlier than it had planned and the courts denied its request for an extended injunction.
It wasn’t just young people. It was incredibly powerful to see generations coming together against an undemocratic pipeline that goes against our collective will: to see 13-year-olds all the way to 80-year-olds as well as three generations of mothers, daughters, and granddaughters joining hands and crossing the line.
We are part of what Naomi Klein refers to as “blockadia”: people putting their bodies on the line to stop fossil fuel expansion. This is part of a transition to a clean, just renewable energy economy controlled by the community. Paired with First Nations legal challenges to projects that violate their rights, frontline blockades are one of our best hopes for stopping climate change.
But it won’t be easy for our generation. Oil and gas companies have shown they are capable of brutal, heavy-handed tactics in the name of profit. They sued people defending Burnaby Mountain for millions of dollars. Two of the defendants are our age.
Because of a court-issued injunction, RCMP officers were authorized to use force against protestors. They threw me, Tamo Campos, to the ground face first. They choked another friend, a Simon Fraser University student. Reflecting the prejudices of our society, they discriminated against people of colour and low-income folks: I saw them shove my friend Mel, an indigenous man, against a cop car. Meanwhile, I, Brigette DePape, a young middle-class white woman, was gently escorted into the paddy wagon.
This blatant racism within our institutions that reared its ugly head during the environmental protest at Burnaby Mountain showcased why increasing numbers of youth are calling not only for changing our environmental practices but also for climate justice. So while the protest at its surface was about the environment, at its core it is also about challenging racism and deep inequalities.
This is in part why many of our friends marched in the climate march in New York City for climate justice. In light of racist decisions not to indict police officers who killed black civilians, youth are also rising up in the United States. And their protests have clearly shown that they are ready to fight racism along with the dysfunctional and unequal economic system in the U.S. Both mobilizations were among the largest seen since the civil rights movement.
Stereotypes are wrong about us. Far from apathetic, we are hungry for change. We want a good life that doesn’t cost us our health, or the health of the frontline communities impacted by tar sands and climate change. Where the water, air, and earth isn’t eaten up by unsustainable energy projects, with future generations and youth left to deal with the consequences. Where indigenous land rights and title are recognized instead of being sacrifice zones for extractive projects. Where racism is no longer built into our institutions. We love this Earth and the people on it and we’re going to fight for it.
We're not apathetic, we are redefining our society—present and future—on our terms.