Some Calgarians seem to be hostile towards climate change activists, however, Extinction Rebellion Calgary continues to hold workshops to train people to be non-violent protesters.
Despite the non-violent nature of its demonstrations, Calgarians took to social media to say things like, “Stay out of Calgary please” and, “I would have arrested you” when Extinction Rebellion took to Memorial Drive on Oct. 7 for the worldwide bridge-out, an event where Extinction Rebellion protesters all over the world blocked main roads and bridges to attract media attention.
Comments also included Calgarians saying things like, “If you want to make a difference, stop consuming,” and, “Nice sign made of hydrocarbons.”
In addition to this, some Calgarians have shown hostility through the mainstream media.
An article from CBC talks directly to locals about their feelings towards climate strikers. An oil and gas industry insider from the article stated that, “demands by organizers of Friday’s Global Climate Strike to transition swiftly away from fossil fuels to 100 per cent renewable energy are naïve and unrealistic.”
Another source from the same article, Hal Kvisle, said, “The strikes themselves are not offering any answers.”
Additionally, Rick Bell, a columnist from the Calgary Sun wrote an opinion piece on Extinction Rebellion Calgary, in which his headline read, “Calgarians show enviro-wacko protesters who’s boss.”
Despite these negative opinions, Extinction Rebellion Calgary is still choosing to spread their message through protesting in a non-violent way, in hopes of bringing about a radical shift in society.
Ginny Kloos, a coordinator for Extinction Rebellion Calgary says, “Extinction Rebellion is really inspired by [past activists’ groups in history] to try to kickstart a radical shift that is desperately needed for us to continue living on this world and living in a more just way for all humans.”
Kloos says their hope is to break down the divisions between oil and gas workers and activists in Calgary.
“We don't want to create enemies or divisions in society. We know that especially in Calgary there's quite a bit of history of strong adversity between the oil culture here and environmental activists.”
Kloos hopes to open up the conversation about climate change to all Calgarians through Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent direct-action trainings.
“[We’re trying to see] how we can change the discussion of climate change and oil and gas to see if we can reach out to more people in Calgary specifically, bring[ing] oil and gas workers into this movement,” she says.
“Because it's their future too and it's their children too.”
Preparing for protests
A.C, who prefers to only use his initials due to his concern that his climate activist position could impact his academic standing, is a participant in the Extinction Rebellion movement and has attended more than one non-violent direct-action training.
He says his role in the movement is working with people to bring awareness to the issue of climate change.
“Anytime we put people together who are trying to move things, change focus, and change attention... I am just trying to network and amplify,” says A.C.
In order to prepare themselves for future protests, Extinction Rebellion Calgary organizers continue to hold non-violent direct-action training sessions to help their members know what to expect during tense situations.
One such session happened towards the end of October. In a rented room in downtown Calgary, the main coordinators adjusted the tables and chairs to form a U-shape that faced the projector at the front of the room — this made it easier to start discussions between the presenters and other members.
The event began with coordinators providing information on what Extinction Rebellion is, and what the group’s demands were through a presentation.
After this, members began the physical portion of the training by practicing passive protesting — a form of protesting in which activists become “limp” or refuse to move when asked.
While people took turns being carried and moved around by others in the training, they began to smile and talk about different ways to protest peacefully. A.C. says the takeaway from non-violent direct-action trainings is learning ways to deal with conflict during protests.
“The clearest takeaway is the strategies to keep non-violent and to keep calm in the face of angry people, whether it is authority or counter protesters,” he says.
During a global strike with the Friday for Future group, A.C says he used what he learned at the non-violent direct-action training to de-escalate a tense situation between a protester and an angry Calgarian.
“We had the numbers [at the protest] to support a total traffic block,” he explains.
“[Someone in their car jolted] forward into this intersection and one of the protesters motioned as if he was going to kick the car, so the guy got out of the car [and began yelling at them]. So, tensions are high.”
A.C says his ability to calm the situation using his non-violent direct-action training made him feel more at ease.
“I felt really good about having the non-violent direct-action training in that instance because I had the tools to remain calm in the face of high tensions and to be able to step in between one of our friends and this aggressor,” he says.
“It felt really empowering.”
Not only have these non-violent direct-action trainings helped A.C, but they’ve also bridged the gap between protesters and oil and gas workers on what Extinction Rebellion Calgary is. Kloos says the trainings are helping participants get Extinction Rebellion’s main message across — they are non-violent and a peaceful activist group.
"That's what the purpose of these non-violent direct-action trainings are,” Kloss explains.
“To really teach people how to remain calm in their bodies and just get that clear message across that we are peaceful, and we are doing this out of our love for each other and wanting a better world.”
Kloos says despite the challenges of protesting in Calgary — an oil and gas-based city — Extinction Rebellion will continue to fight for their message to be heard.
“We know what our message is and we're not going to change that in any way to appease people in the public,” she says.
“If it's going to result in some adversity, then that's to be expected.”
Kloos says that coming from a place of non-violence is the key to successful movements in the future.
“We are going to keep pushing for what our values are and what we believe in and ideally try to come from a place of non-violence, love and openness.”
- By Gabrielle Pyska and Keanna Rapin