Q&A: Fridays For Future's Cathy Orlando Explains May 3 Canada-Wide Student Strike, Greta Thunberg's Influence

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A substantial number of Canadian students will not be in school on May 3. That's because they'll be on strike, participating in the National Climate Strike, an ongoing campaign of action inspired by Swedish teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg.

The 16-year-old Thunberg has become the figurehead for a massive, continually-growing youth protest movement focused on combating climate change. What started as a personal decision on her part to strike from school for climate change in August 2018 is now a movement where students around the world are striking regularly to support stronger climate action.

In Canada, a number of groups, some student-led, some adult-led, and often centrally organized through Fridays For Future Canada or the Climate Strike Canada, have been doing ongoing strikes for climate action. The National Strike these groups are participating in is expected to take place in at least 75 places across Canada on May 3. A separate Global Strike has been announced for May 24.

Fridays For Future Canada (FFFC) operates as a sort of community bulletin board for these strike actions. The FFFC website tracks where strike events are taking place across the country as well as provide some basic protest-related advice like suggesting checking in with police in advance of an event and teaming up with area NGOs that may have experience in protest organizing.

Sudbury, Ontario's Cathy Orlando has been active with Fridays For Future Canada since her 11-year-old daughter Sophie Mathur expressed interest in following Greta. Samaritanmag spoke to her in advance of the National Strike For Climate on May 3.

Can you explain what Fridays For Future is?

Fridays For Future is a grassroots organization where people strike on Fridays from school or work or whatever. They do it in solidarity with Greta Thunberg from Sweden.

What is your specific involvement in this?

My 11-year-old daughter last summer wanted to join Greta in August and she finally convinced her father and myself in October. So I started to get to know the Fridays For Future team just to make sure I was comfortable and my daughter did the first (climate) strike in all of the Americas. After that I tapped into my network, because I'm an activist, and I was able to make sure there was a Fridays For Future strike the first Friday of December during the (U.N. COP24 climate action conference) negotiations. At that point my daughter was in communication with Greta on Twitter so they were, not friends, but certainly knew of each others. We got nine groups across Canada to strike and we got on the national news and Greta tweeted her appreciation. My daughter was just 11 though, so getting her on social media and all that stuff is really difficult, like using Slack channels and working with older teens and young adults is a bit difficult, but we've worked together in January and February with the goal to have astrike in March and the national strike in May and out of that has come a wonderful organization.

Fridays For Future is an umbrella organization that tries to capture everything and curate what's going on and make sure the data on the strike map is good and the social media is motivating. But there's also a really amazing organization that's come out of this that's for older teens and young adults called Climate Strike and I think that's going to be a really amazing youth mobilizing group.

We're just curating. We're not doing top-down messaging, nobody is getting paid anything, we're just finding ways to keep the youth mobilized and connected to each other through the website and social media. And pushing those who really want to get connected with other youth towards Climate Strike Canada that's developing.

You mentioned events in December and in March. Can you give me a picture of the actions that have taken place in Canada?

I want to say that most of the empowerment is coming from Greta, not us. It's her. We're just using her mantle and hope that other groups use it as well to connect. So November was the first strike, it was one lone kid. December it was nine strikes, there was 60 people in Sudbury and about a hundred in Vancouver and about 200 in Toronto. Winnipeg had about 30 kids coming out led by an amazing young woman in grade seven. Then the kids are striking once a month, regardless. So they striked in January and February as well. And they're all doing their own actions each month trying to get deeper into their own communities so by the May 3 strike it will be big.

The problem with the March 15 strike was it was a holiday in Ontario, so getting the big numbers from the schools was hard and we didn't end up having a big strike in Ontario. But the other provinces... a lot of the kids striked. A group in Quebec, university students, basically the union of students, they organized intensely and they got like a 100,000 people out in Montreal. Vancouver got a couple thousand people, Toronto had about five or six hundred people. There was wonderful work being done in Waterloo and London as well, just getting people out once per month, London they go out every week actually.

Probably every week there are about 20 groups who are Fridays For Future connected striking across Canada and some of them are youth-led and some are adult-led. For example, in Bancroft [Ontario] a nine-year-old is leading it, whereas in Georgetown [Ontario] a city councilor is leading it in [member of parliament, Conservative] Michael Chong and [member of provincial parliament, Progressive Conservative] Ted Arnott's riding, is leading it. She's trying to mobilize her community through Fridays For Future to get people out and talking about climate change.

On May 3 we're really confident at least 75 groups will be striking across Canada that we know of.

We've talked about it a bit, but what exactly is the National Climate Strike on May 3?

It's just a day of action where people should take time away from school... actually, they don't even have to skip school. For example, in Sudbury we have four schools coming to a rally in Laurentian University and a walk through the woods, so kids aren't skipping school, the school is bringing them to the university so it's a day of action whether you choose to skip school or work together, whatever works for your community. There's really no top-down directive. And thats the sense I've always gotten from the people in Sweden. They really don't want to tell people to do. Because what we need to do in Sudbury is different than what people need to do in Toronto and people need to do in Iqaluit. Everybody knows their own community and what's going to work. So Sudbury is such an environmental town we don't have to strike from school, the schools are going to work with us. It's that simple. Whereas in other communities you just might have to work out.

Just use what Greta's saying — stay within the carbon budget, follow the Paris Agreement, using science is the greatest method — and let people find that themselves.

What are some of the key goals this critical mass of young activists want heard and to be actioned upon?

If you go over to Climate Strike Canada they've done an amazing job of outlining it. They want carbon emissions reduced by more than 50 per cent by 2030, 65 per cent, they want... I don't know all the things because every group has their own message. But follow the science, acknowledge indigenous territories — that is huge for them, just the acknowledgement of the indigenous rights as well — and just follow the science. Everybody's worried we'll go backwards in 2019.

What is Greta Thunberg's impact on young people?

It's twofold, I think. One, because she's a female she has really sparked young women. I come from STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). My day job is in STEM. And for the first time in my life while organizing an event I have to actively seek out males. We need more males. It's really cool and I'm not complaining, but she has really mobilized young women. There's really good men in there, too. I think what else is so brilliant of her, and I'm speaking from the perspective of a mother of an 11-year-old child, because Greta speaks in such black-and-white language and not that convoluted language that adults sometimes use, she just can reach out to these younger kids like nobody's business. Her choice of words is impeccable and they're reaching across ages, they're reaching the younger kids as well as the adults and through one simple action she's changing the world. She's shown youths how powerful their voices are and she's empowering them.

What is the most exciting thing that you personally see out of this growing movement?
There's so much. I think it's the action. It's awakening. It's the shaking the adults out of their complacency. Because the biggest tool that the denial, dismissive, destructive team has had the last few years is adult complacency, so I think these youths are shaking these adults out of the complacency that will destroy us if we don't snap out of it. I think they are extremely powerful. The youth come with a moral authority you can't argue against. It's their future.

Watch Greta Thunberg's TED Talk

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