I would much rather be studying than talking down security officers about why we are striking
With five days to go until the protest, 20-year-old university student Maddie Karcher takes a quick break from an activism workshop being held at Montreal’s Centre for Gender Advocacy. ‘Extinction Rebellion has streets and we have the university,’ she explains.
Karcher is organizing a university strike with Québec climate-activism network La Planète s’invite à l’Université (LPSU) – along with catching up on missed lessons and preparing for final exams next week. She says that educational institutions ‘are really scared of student climate strikes’. Earlier this month she and other LPSU activists held a strike at Concordia University that led to a pledge to withdraw $10.7-million worth of investments from fossil fuels by 2025.
Karcher has learnt lessons about how to organize from extended student protests dubbed the ‘Maple Spring’, which successfully defeated a 75-per-cent hike in tuition fees in 2012. Karcher believes that calling general assemblies, collectively deciding action, voting on it and organizing picket lines, is much more effective than individual walk-outs. ‘It forces classes to change, all academic activity for that day is cancelled,’ she explains. ‘No exams, no class, no assignments handed in.’
In her efforts to balance activism and her studies, Karcher says her ‘grades are definitely hurting’. She even turned down a paid internship to devote more time to LPSU. ‘It would look good on a resumé, but I just can’t leave climate activism,’ she says. Climate change to Karcher ‘feels like a dagger in my heart...’ she trails off. ‘I would much rather be studying than talking down security officers about why we are striking.’
It is not just crying all the time, ‘oh no, the end of the world!’ We have fun with it
FRANÇOIS LÉGER BOYER
An experienced activist, Léger Boyer started out at Montreal’s Occupy and is now part of Extinction Rebellion Québec. Now in his thirties, he’s one of the most knowledgeable people on the scene, and is supporting multiple climate groups across the c it y.
Léger Boyer admires how younger activists are prepared to be more radical than their adult counterparts, something he puts down to them having ‘so much more to lose than adults in terms of climate change’. Having an arrest on your record can effect your ability to travel, work with vulnerable people, to study or practise law; it can even affect future child custody battles. ‘It takes time and energy to go through the legal stuff. And you never know how it will end,’ he says.
If a protester is arrested, Léger Boyer assures me, ‘they will feel we are backing them till the end. This is really important, as that is the world we want to exist in, one where we support each other.’ Adult supporters have crowdfunded money for legal fees.
A steady stream of events in Montreal helps to build this sense of a supportive community. There’s something for every day of the week – documentary screenings, climate science lectures and meetings about energy projects. ‘It is not just crying all the time, “oh no, the end of the world!”’ clarifies Léger Boyer. ‘We have fun with it.’
In Montreal’s Greenpeace office, a small group of LPSU activists sits around a communal table, typing on sticker-covered laptops surrounded by crisps and fizzy drinks. Ashley Torres is a 23-year-old Political Science student at Concordia University who works long hours on climate activism, sometimes as much as 40 a week, including at weekends. She also has a part-time job.
Her commitment has led to some difficult conversations with her mother, who ‘doesn’t understand why I’m working so much for something I am not paid to