More than 1,000 people gathered this weekend in Victoria, B.C. in support of climate, environmental and social justice. Among them were hundreds of students looking to learn, develop skills and build a movement to affect change.
The annual PowerShift event in Canada took place Oct. 4 to 7, with a variety of workshops, panel discussions and keynote speakers.
Participants learned about the relationships between climatic change and social groups. They also learned how to implement their new knowledge into their own communities.
Learning about climate and social justice
“I wanted to get involved and connected with a movement that is making concrete actions against climate change and climate inequality,” said Dave Gill, an environmental studies student at Langara College.
Gill also notes the link between climate change, indigenous people and other countries, something he learned at the event. Purchasing power in Canada, he says, affects people in other communities and countries, which we often don’t think about.
Kass Cordero, studying macroeconomics and English at Langara agrees. Cordero originally attended the event to reach out to young people about the labour movement but left feeling “empowered” about indigenous rights and self-care.
After hearing firsthand accounts about the effects of climate change on communities from keynote speakers, Cordero says she would like to see Langara “start to take on more of a social justice feel.”
“I think those of us that are progressively minded on campus need to really make a point to get to know the people on our student union and to really hold them accountable,” she said.
Students take initiative at Langara
Both Cordero and Gill would like to see a club started on campus that focuses upon both environment and social justice issues based on their learning from PowerShift.
Gill says he intends to start an environment club at the college but is open to combining the two issues.
“We have the chance right now to pre-emptively stop some catastrophic climatic, economic events,” he said.
The only group similar to an environment club on campus is the International Socialists group he says but they mainly focus on tar sands and pipelines.
Starting his club, Gill says he intends to lobby for a environmentally conscious school, “We need to rally behind a club dedicated to environmental cause … We are going to organize, collaborate and find the best way to attack certain issues. Hopefully it builds from there,” he said.
Encouraging action and addressing the issues
Jillian Griffin, a campaign coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) says campaigns are key to student engagement.
Campaigns the CFS focus on include: banning the privatization of water, the right to an affordable education, raising awareness of sexual abuse on campus and reasonable costs for student transit passes.
Other things students can do to facilitate change is lobby administration and sign petitions.
Furthermore, Caleb Behn, an indigenous PowerShift keynote speaker and recent graduate of the University of Victoria, says students need to direct research papers to “critical real questions.”
Instead of writing about the past, write about the present. While studying at the University of Victoria, Behn said all of his research papers were relevant to “his people” and industrial effects on their land.
PowerShift a success for students
Overall, Gill and Cordero found the event well worth the commute to Victoria.
“Some of the speakers have been absolutely amazing,” said Cordero. Hearing about ongoing issues caused by the resource-based industry in northern B.C. and how they’re affecting communities and people firsthand is “eye-opening.”
Gill found he learned a lot of new information and thoroughly enjoyed his experience at PowerShift.
Along with Behn, other speakers included Crystal Lameman, actively involved in indigenous rights and issues, environmental activist David Suzuki and 12-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney, concerned about the environment. Participants also heard music by The Boom Boom’s and hip-hop artist JB the First Lady.
PowerShift events also take place in New Zealand, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Reported by Jacqueline Langen and Kayla Isomura
Below is a gallery of photos from the event. Click “Show info” for cutline information.
Photos by: Kayla Isomura and Jacqueline Langen