Divest McGill, a student activist group on campus, held a rally and march for the climate on the afternoon of Sept. 23. They started at the bottom of McTavish Street before leading sign-wielding and chanting students up to the George-Étienne Cartier Monument at Parc Jeanne-Mance. There, the McGill group joined the tide of Montrealers attending the annual global climate strike, organized by Fridays for Future.
At the rally, Divest called on McGill to retract its investments in fossil fuels and to recognize the harm that their investments are causing to the environment and to Indigenous communities. Spokespeople for Divestalso stressed the importance of standing against the construction on the Royal Victoria Hospital site, where McGill plans to excavate grounds suspected of containing the unmarked graves of Indigenous children.
Divest was joined by the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), which passed a mandate on Sept. 20 to go on strike for the climate on Sept. 23, even though their affiliate union, the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux, had advised against it.
But according to Kiersten van Vliet, PhD candidate in Musicology and AGSEM Mobilization Officer, striking was imperative due to the urgency of the climate crisis.
“Climate actions like these have not been a part of the labour movement because our employers do not see the connection between climate justice and labour rights,” van Vliet said, addressing the crowd at the rally. “But climate justice is labour justice [.…] There is no economy on a dead planet.”
Before leaving campus for the city-wide protest, McGill protestors were joined by contingents from Concordia University and Dawson College. Laura Doyle Péan, 4L and Divest member, told The McGill Tribune that they believe inter-university solidarity is a powerful tool for the climate justice cause.
Doyle Péan explained that after Divest’s occupation of the Arts building last year, similar protests were held at Concordia and Université de Montreal (UdeM). After the UdeM occupation, students were able to get a commitment from the university to divest from fossil fuels. Doyle Péan emphasized that the multi-school network that activists have built was a key driver of this step forward.
“It brought me a lot of joy today to see AGSEM on strike and to see Concordia and Dawson students coming up to McGill so that we could march together, because the links we are building are essential to the work that we are doing,” Doyle Péan said.
Lola Milder, U2 Arts and member of Divest, said that after Divest’s occupation, the group’s focus has shifted more towards democratizing the university and community building.
“I think climate strike days are a unique moment for people to feel connected to a community of people that have the same frustrations, or motivations,” Milder said in an interview with the Tribune. “I hope that people will be inspired to action, feel a sense of community, and be confident in returning to it, whether that is through coming to a Divest meeting or joining another community organization.”
Aglaé Lambert, U2 Environment, was among the thousands who took to the streets. She explained in an interview with the Tribune that her motivations for attending reflect her hopes for the future.
“I want a more just world for every person,” Lambert said. “I want the world that we have to be possible for the next generation. I feel anxious and stressed about the future. But I know at the bottom of it there is something we can do.” According to Doyle Péan, Divest’s next rally will be held on Oct. 26 in collaboration with the McGill Radical Law Students’ Association (Radlaw) to stand in solidarity with the Kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera, who are currently taking legal action against the New Vic project.