Student poetry demands climate action

On Sept. 20, students from over 150 countries worldwide skipped class to act against climate change in the kickoff to Global Climate Strike Week.

Approximately 400 students at St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick, as well as community members, gathered in front of Harriet Irving Library as some of their peers performed poetry that addressed climate change.

Those who shared their work were led by El Jones, a Halifax activist who has used the art form to advocate for climate action throughout her career.

“Artists have always been at the forefront of social change,” said Jones.

El Jones (above), a Halifax activist, led students who shared their personal poetry against climate change. (Johnny James/AQ)

The movement was started by Friday’s for Future, a global organization inspired by Swedish teen-activist Greta Thunberg.

In 2018, Thunberg took time off school at 15 to demonstrate outside Swedish Parliament because she felt her time would be better spent combating climate change than in a classroom.

Her actions have inspired others to participate in a series of strikes, where students skip class to protest for climate action at legislatures and other political establishments.

Daniel Nunes, the lead organizer of the Fredericton chapter of Fridays for Future, said climate change should be the most important issue and that government needs to move to investing more in renewable energy.

“The stakes are just so high … We need a very comprehensive plan with really concrete action.”

This event was the third Nunes has hosted as lead organizer and the fifth he attended.

This time around he partnered up with fellow UNB activist group Rural Action and Voices for the Environment, or RAVEN, to focus on sharing poetry that addresses environmental issues.

Susan O’Donnell, a researcher in UNB’s sociology department, founded RAVEN last year.

“[Poets] try and make every word count as much as possible, so you have an opportunity to be touched by words in a way that’s really different than just reading a newspaper article.”

It was also O’Donnell’s suggestion to invite El Jones, former poet laureate of Halifax, to campus to share her poetry along with students.

“[Art] always has an important role in any social justice movement and any peoples movement. Art that people can understand that just speaks directly to issues and speaks directly to them, so that’s what I try to do,” said Jones.

After the poetry and speeches concluded on campus, approximately 300 of the attendees marched downtown, parading picket signs down Kings College Road, Regent and King Street, before filling premier Blaine Higgs’ office lobby to deliver a list of demands for climate action.

Students skipped school to use their class time to support Global Climate Strike Week. (Johnny James/AQ)

“We need to keep fossil fuel in the ground, and we need to do it now,” said O’Donnell.

“You can’t on one hand say you’re a climate change leader and on the other hand buy a pipeline.”

Global Climate Strike Week will run until Sept. 27. While Fredericton’s campus does not have another rally scheduled, mass protests across other parts of the world will erupt again on the final day.

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