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All out September 25: System change not climate change!

Brian Champ

September 10, 2020

The global climate justice movement will be back on the streets on September 25th, a year after the huge climate strike week protests that saw over 7 million participate worldwide, over a million across Canada, with 500,000 in Montreal, more than 50,000 in Toronto with hundreds of events in smaller cities, towns and hamlets.

It will be 10 months since climate strikers took to the streets on November 29th, the last strike in Toronto, which saw upwards of 10,000 take part.

In April, planned actions for climate justice were forced online to help contain the spread of Covid and while it was important that these actions continued under difficult circumstances, their impact was not as great.

While these circumstances restricted Fridays for Future Toronto (FFFTO) possibilities for action, activists in the organization continued to build and worked on developing the organization at the school level.

Under the FFFTO umbrella, which organizes the larger climate strikes, there are now specific organizing groups for students at the secondary and post-secondary level that have their own pace of activity and campaigns. For high school students, there is Green Teens Toronto (@greenteensto on IG and FB) which has chapters across the world. For university students there are groups at U of T (@fridaysforfutureuoft on IG), York (@fridaysforfutureyu on IG) and Ryerson (@fridaysforfutureryerson on IG) which have already begun organizing for what is sure to be a hot autumn. All of these groups have built or participated in social media campaigns for climate justice action, support for Indigenous sovereignty, the movement for Black Lives and for defunding the police.

But a key part of the developing climate justice movement is the push for a Just and Green Recovery for All. It is a realization that we are in a moment where our society can move forward by taking care of people and the environment through green job development, investment in renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, or go back to a "normal" that was already a crisis with more tar sands and pipelines. In June, 150+ organizations across the country endorsed the Just Recovery principles that are crucial to ensuring that working people and communities will not be left behind. Endorsers include many labour, environmental and social justice groups from across the country.

In June the International Energy Agency released a report that said that the world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe.

The agency’s executive director Fatih Birol said “This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound,”.

To raise awareness of the short time remaining to act, in August Green Teens Toronto joined in a nationwide campaign called Eyes Open Canada with banner drops in various places demanding that governments invest in a green and just recovery.

16-year-old Toronto student Cooper Price said their “main concern is that coming out of this pandemic is that governments will completely forget about the environment and just try to put forward policies that quickly rebuild an unsustainable economy. So while this could have been a really really big opportunity for complete reset in how governments tackle climate change, our fear is that they’ve kind of done the opposite.”

Another Toronto student, 17-year-old Eden Brown, decried that fact that the Ontario government had not signed on to the UN Declaration of the Rights or Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). She said we “want a recovery that puts the environment, and workers, and marginalized communities first, because those are often communities that are affected the most by the climate crisis, and we don’t think the Ford government is doing that.”

For the Global Day of Climate Action on September 25th, FFFTO is planning a sit-in starting at Wellesley St. and Queen’s Park Circle to demand a Green and Just Recovery for All. This type of action is one that organizers feel more comfortable with during Covid as it provides a better ability for participants to maintain the 2m distance. Masks will be available for those without one, hand sanitizing stations will be provided and event organizers will remind people of the need to stay safe. The inspiration for the sit-in came from the one on Juneteenth organized by Not Another Black Life that started at Toronto police HQ and spread down Bay St. to City Hall.

FFFTO invites climate and social justice activists to join in action using their six intersectional organizing pillars as a guide:

Indigenous self-Determination.
This encompasses the rights of the first peoples of Turtle Island and around the world to live in the traditional ways as they have for tens of thousands of years as stewards of the land, the source of food, shelter, clothing – everything – as well as spirituality. Canadian colonialism has attempted to destroy Indigenous peoples in order to allow free access for settler development of agriculture, mines and pipelines. These same industries are key contributors to the climate crisis. Furthermore, Indigenous ways of thinking about social and environmental sustainability are crucial ideas for a livable future.

Just Transition.
The transition we require is from carbon intensive, extractive economies to low carbon, regenerative economies. This transition is a just one when it guarantees “meaningful opportunities for all workers including decent, low-carbon and waste-free work, inclusionary spaces for all traditions and cultures, access to programs to ease the transition away from unsustainable industry, ecological resilience practices in the workplace, and equitable redistribution of resources.”. This implies increased democracy in decision making for the economy, as corporate profits will have to be challenge to meet these goals, “that provide sustainable, dignified and productive livelihoods for all workers.”

Defending Land, Water and Life.
Inspired by Indigenous leadership, FFFTO commits to “honour this ongoing stewardship and call for collective efforts to maintain and protect ecosystems. We acknowledge how exorbitant emissions, an economy that heavily relies on extractivist practices, and hyper-consumerist culture have led to the deterioration of the life that supports us. Our current food systems are harming people, animals, and ecosystems. As we acknowledge our interdependence with the ecosystems that sustain us, we call for a recentering of food justice, reimagination of today’s harmful food systems and an active effort by institutions to cultivate a respectful culture of relating to non-human beings.”

Livable Futures for All.
Recognizing the threats to human rights and the conditions of poverty and violence that are exacerbated by the environmental crisis, it consists of demands for government investment into “universal public services and infrastructure to build resilience in all communities and for all people. We urge governments to ensure that global temperatures stay below 1.5°C of warming and ensure climate action is immediate and transparent.”

Youth Empowerment.
“This generation is in the last possible position to mitigate the most devastating impacts of the climate crisis. We recognize that youth will bear the long-term burden of the crisis and recognize that immediate and profound actions are needed for what has already taken place. Our organization is youth-led and political. We aim to empower youth to advocate for their futures and the collective future of the planet until all of our demands are met.”

Uplifting and Amplifying Marginalized Communities
“Many powerful nations that have contributed disproportionately to the climate crisis were actively built on white supremacy and the oppression of marginalized groups of people.  We are dedicated to uplift marginalized voices that have been oppressed by capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, genocide and slavery. We require new systems based on the principles of equity and solidarity to transform current and social inequities derived from race, gender, immigrant status, religious persecution, class and other forms of oppression.”

The week leading up to September 25 is Climate Justice Week. FFFTO is calling for groups, coalitions and movements that are active in movements for climate action, social and economic justice to plan protests, meetings and artistic and musical events that connect these various struggles to the climate crisis and the need to confront the political and economic system that is the root cause of all these struggles. Any group that falls within the 6 intersecting organizing pillars of FFFTO is welcome to participate and have their event published on the Week for Climate Justice calendar.

Socialists welcome this intersectionality of demands as an important coming together of the movement for Black Lives, the Indigenous struggle for self-determination, the fight for migrant workers’ rights, rent strikes, climate and environmental actions and workers’ struggles for safe workplaces and a living wage. Solidarity across movements can spark action against the system on all fronts, and greater coordination can lead to bigger challenges to the system.

“System Change, not Climate Change” is a popular slogan in the climate movement, as many people understand that fundamental changes have to be made to the economic and political systems that rule our world. It provides a focus for activity that puts the pressure on the 1% who benefit the most from the way society is organized and emphasizes the system change needed for other movements as well.

For socialists, it’s important to name the system as capitalism. That means that it is a system ruled by a tiny minority that reap the profits from the exploitation of workers at the point of production. They benefit from racist, homophobic, transphobic and elitist ideas that serve to maintain divisions between workers and make collective action for real change more difficult. This drive for profit pushes the capitalist to ignore the environmental and social destruction that their system entails.

All movements that identify the system, and take collective action against it, can have a big impact on mitigating the worst aspects of the system. But capitalism is also in crisis, a reality that was exposed by the Covid pandemic, and those with their hands on the reins are trying to direct the return to “normal” along lines that can restore their profit rates by forcing down labour costs, cutting more public services, tearing up labour laws and hiring more and more police to protect their property.

This is why the struggles of workers, whether in unions or not, is so important for challenging the system. Workers who act collectively to shut down production can halt the flow of profits, leading to a direct challenge to the basis of the rule of the bosses. And in unionized workplaces where there is some protection for collective action and a militant history to draw on, there is more space to build action to challenge the boss.

As teachers, bus drivers, education assistants, janitorial staff and others go back to work this fall, with unsafe conditions being pushed by governments of all stripes this demand takes on a greater significance. It’s significant that the Toronto and York Region Labour Council endorsed the Just Recovery principles in June, and the theme of the virtual Labour Day parade this year is a Just Recovery for All.

Unions are merely defense mechanisms for workers in their workplaces, not organizations for the overthrow of capitalism and the impetus to fight back infects both unionized and non-unionized workers. The interaction of organized workers with activists in movements for climate justice, Black Lives Matter, in the fight to maintain public services, and more, is crucial to building a movement that can challenge the system as a whole.


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