I recently attended my first protest… ever.
Being the incredibly green (if you’ll excuse the pun) climate advocate that I am, I owe most of my ideas about protests to television and film. So, walking over to Parliament Hill last Friday for the Global Student Climate Strike, I felt, if I’m being honest, a bit nervous.
“What will it be like? Do I belong here? Is my sign witty enough? What do I do with my hands?”
Luckily I didn’t have long to torture myself. As we neared the gates to The Hill we encountered a huge mass of young climate activists and students marching towards Parliament. Their chants attacked my ears as their smiling faces surrounded me. I froze, suddenly captive to a wave of passionate cries for social justice and imminent climate action. I wasn’t sure what do… respectfully wait for the end of the line? Hope for a natural break in the march?
I don’t normally think of myself as the kind of person to “take to the streets.” I wasn’t sure why I was there. I guess I went because I was invited. I went for work. But I knew there was more. I knew that I had been frustrated by business as usual and a lack of climate action and, when given the opportunity to show how I felt, I jumped on it.
As I looked around, I realized my colleagues were quickly disappearing into the crowd. With no other choice, I dove in after them for fear of being left alone.
And there I was, another face in the crowd. As I settled into the march, the chants gradually took hold of me, drowning out my nerves. Marching forward, I smiled as we took The Hill. And as we passed the Centennial Flame, I gave myself to the mob.
What a rush! What a thrill! I had a faint idea of what a protest would look like, but I was unprepared for what a protest feels like. Earlier, when we were walking to the rally, I had nervously joked with my colleagues that I was preparing to lose myself in an ecstatic Bacchic ritual worthy of the god himself… I had no idea how right I was.
And so I walked and was emboldened by the march. I now took part in the chants and shared in the joy. “Something was in the air!” We were all out there, together, participating in a collective act directed towards a common end. It was amazing. I was almost reduced to weeping at its sheer beauty, only to reflexively steel myself, letting but a single, proud tear roll down my cheek as I grinned stupidly, still unsure of what to do with my hands.
It had all happened so fast! Within a few seconds of encountering the crowd, I had become part of it. A few seconds more, and I was practically leading it!
We soon neared the Centre Block, where we met with our Quebecois partners who had earlier marched from across The River. Seeing them filled me with such joy. As our parties collided, it became a reunion: we greeted one another as old friends.
I knew this feeling couldn’t last and, as I stood motionless, gazing up at the Peace Tower, my spirits drifted down to the snow. I fell out of the ecstasy of the march and, returning to my senses, felt sad. But this experience turned something on inside me, as if lighting a torch. A torch of hope, of passion, of something that will keep me coming back to fight for the rights and values which I hold dear. A torch lit bright enough to burn for a hundred years.
What an experience.
I said earlier that I went to this protest because I was invited, but I wasn’t just being polite—the invitation opened up a world I unknowingly longed for but had never known how to access. It showed me that it isn’t “as big a deal” as I thought it would be to participate in political demonstrations and flex my civic duties. Getting out of my head was half the battle. So don’t think too much about it. Just show up.
Erik Pervin is Ecology Ottawa's new Development Officer. You'll be hearing from Erik over the next few months about all things fundraising. When he's not at Ecology Ottawa offices Erik spends his time hiking, biking, and climbing in the Ottawa area.