Coming Together to “Defend Our Coast”

This is a guest post by CYH Volunteer, Sarah Busch.

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As I approached the Legislative Assembly in Victoria on October 22, I felt excitement, anticipation, and an overwhelming sense of hope. I was there to attend the Defend Our Coast sit-in, and was eagerly anticipating what the day had in store. Upon reaching the legislature, I saw thousands of people had already arrived. What first struck me was the diversity of people gathered in front of me. Youth, adults, families, and seniors – some in costumes and some with signs – had all come to show their solidarity against tar sands pipelines and tankers.

I wove my way through the crowd, and found a place with a clear view of the speakers. Behind the podium, standing on the steps of the legislature, were the members of First Nations who have been leading the resistance against tar sands projects. Many First Nations leaders spoke that day, and told impassioned stories of resistance, personal experience, and solidarity. One of the first speakers was Chief Ruben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, who had this to say:

…When we come together like this, our spirits collide together and we become stronger. Let the sacredness of what we have be the driving force behind what we do. There’s no price we can put on those things, the earth, the water, our lands…Each of us a pebble thrown into the pond, rippling out our message to others so that Canadians understand that this isn’t just an environmental problem we are talking about, or a First Nation problem. This is all of our problem…

To me, this statement epitomized what that day was all about: this affects all of us, and we’re in it together. At several points throughout the day, the crowd of thousands took up the chant “the people, united, will never be defeated.” For the first time in a long while, I really felt the power of this statement. Each of us was a pebble, and while one pebble thrown into a pond creates a small ripple, many thrown into a pond can cause a huge splash. When Art Sterritt, the Coastal First Nations Executive Director, asked “who is going to lay down in front of the bulldozers”, the resounding response, “WE WILL” boomed across the lawn and reverberated off the walls of the legislature.

Representatives from unions, advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and political parties also spoke throughout the afternoon, each equally passionate and compelling. David Coles, the national President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, condemned the Enbridge pipeline as a “job-killer, not a job creator”, and drew roars of approval when he proclaimed “don’t let anyone tell you there is a divide between the labour movement and the environmental movement. If they do, they’re lying to you. We are united!”

As the speeches came to a close, the next event was the act of civil disobedience. People who were taking part in the act were called forward, and were asked to grab the wooden stakes that were attached to a 245 meter long banner of black fabric, and drive them into the ground. The banner was the exact length of a supertanker, and encircled the grounds of the legislature. It was a powerful reminder of the tremendous size of these tankers, but also of the united opposition against them. Further action took place in communities all across BC on October 24, as an estimated 7,100 people gathered in 76 communities across the province to tell their elected representatives that our environment shouldn’t be sacrificed at any cost.

Although the Defend Our Coast days of action have come and gone, there are many other ways we can stand up for our environment. Here are just a few things we can do:

  1. Support the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in their constitutional challenge against Shell Canada’s application to expand the Jackpine oil sands mine by writing to Shell Executives.
  2. Learn more about the issues. Tzeporah Berman, one of the speakers and organizers of Defend Our Coast, will be taking part in a panel discussion at Media Democracy Days (November 2 & 3) on the federal government’s muzzling of scientists.
  3. Join one of the many grassroots movements across the province against tar sands pipelines and tankers.

When we stand together, we can achieve almost anything. In closing, I want to leave you with this statement from the Defend Our Coast website:

We are living in a tipping point moment. The moment in history when we have the capacity, responsibility and opportunity to re-envision the world. It is now time for us to respond in a way that shows the urgency of the situation and clearly states that the health of our coast and the stability of our climate are not for sale at any price.

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Sarah is an avid hiker, ice cream connoisseur and lover of roller derby. She is completing her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science at Simon Fraser University, and works in agricultural consulting.

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