A report from a successful environmental justice rally and action in downtown London, Ontario, Canada, on Saturday, February 13th –
The local protest was part of a wider day of action, which was called by the Indigenous Environmental Network, with others who supported action against Olympics sponsors, Olympics greenwashing, the Albertan tar sands, and native oppression. Local activists here in London, Ontario know of other Canadian protests in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Montreal. There even was an event in London, England, which was timed to coincide with the Canadian protests.
In each city, the focus was the same: we were raising awareness about and protesting against the social dislocation and environmental destruction associated with the Olympics and its leading sponsors — including RBC (the leading financier of tar sands projects) and PetroCanada/Suncor (which directly operates six tar sands projects).
The tar sands in Alberta are the world’s most environmentally destructive energy source. ‘Tailing ponds’ of toxic waste from the tar sands are known to be poisoning the drinking water and food sources of Indigenous communities downstream along the Athabasca River, leading to demonstrably elevated cancer and death rates in those communities, not to mention the massive contribution of tar sands projects to climate change.
The London, Ontario event was organized out of the Activist Assembly, with support from a local Mobilization for Climate Justice group, and other activists. All together, about 20 people participated in the London day of action protesting.
After a rally in front of the local RBC headquarters, some of us moved in to the building to stage a die-in. While several of us participated in that action inside the RBC branch, several others stayed outside to continue leafletting passersby. Inside the branch, about twenty customers using ATMs stopped to discuss the issues we were raising, and to take our literature. A security guard demanded that we leave the RBC building and called the police when we declined to do so. Most of the customers seemed to be open to the information that we were passing on to them; and we had great discussions with a few very supportive customers, who we probably wouldn’t have met under other circumstances. Inside the RBC branch, two of the activists held up an anti-Olympics banner — facing out towards a major downtown street. We stayed in the RBC branch for another half hour, before moving on to our second target: the McDonald’s down the street.
Outside the McDonald’s we used our megaphone to lead chants, among ourselves, and with sympathetic passersbys. Two of our chants were “I’m not lovin’ the Olympics, on stolen native land”, and “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
The right-wing extremist National Post editors responded to anti-Olympic protestors by denouncing us as “spoilsports,” for demanding social and environmental justice. If nothing else, we can take some pride in that.
Over the course of our local protest, hundreds of Londoners were given copies of various leaflets exposing the corporate greenwashing and social and environmental injustice associated with the 2010 Olympics and their leading sponsors. Several of the RBC customers were supportive.
After the demonstration, about a dozen of us went for coffee to discuss how to move forward with our ongoing efforts to drive RBC out of the tar sands. We are planning to return for more actions in the weeks and months ahead.
Lately there has been a surge in local activism against the disastrous tar sands mega-project, and that campaign gained another boost on Saturday. This ongoing tar sands campaigning is connected with a local Facebook group that was formed after a visit from the Rainforest Action Network, which has brought a lot more momentum to local activism against the tar sands.
Some of us are looking forward an upcoming March 3rd day of action against RBC’s tar sands financing. Activists will be organizing a local protest just before March 3rd, and we will be making arrangements to join the Toronto protest on March 3rd. We also have started to talk about Fossil Fools Day on April 1st.