A Short March by One Person in a Small Town for Climate Justice

CROSSWALK-1Most of my fellow enviro guerrillas went to the People’s March for Climate Justice in New York City on Sept. 21. I could have been on the bus with them, but I decided to stay local. Not that I had any problem with 300,000 people going on a bus or carpooling to New York to get the attention of world leaders at the UN. That was worth burning a small amount of fossil fuel per person to get world leaders to see that we were serious about climate change. Tens of thousands of Canadians marched in NYC, protesting the tar sands, pipelines, and fracking. There was a contingent of over 700 Buddhists of various denominations who marched and meditated together. I’m sure there were more that just weren’t counted as such. But I wasn’t among them.

Instead, I carpooled from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Fredericton, New Brunswick. I was going to Fredericton to vote for the first time since I became a citizen of Canada in March. I was going to vote in the Provincial elections, and I was going to vote Green. The Green Party was running a candidate who could actually win a Provincial seat. I made the trip because I knew it was a close race and every vote counted. David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, was in a hotly contested race for MLA in Fredericton South, running against incumbent Craig Leonard, the Conservative Minister of Fracking Everything Up.

I had a feeling David was going to win. The Liberal candidate was an unknown, the NDP guy had too much baggage from his previous term as a Liberal MLA, and the Conservatives had been going down in the polls for months. But there was something else that told me that this time things would be different.

I got up Monday morning at my townhouse in Marysville and rode my bike down Bridge St. to the community centre on McGloin St. to vote. Having done that with no qualms, I got back on my bike and rode across the bridge toward the Nashwaak Trail bike path. When I had lived in Fredericton for five years, before taking a job in Halifax, I had done this countless times. But this time, something happened, something new.

There was a crosswalk over Bridge Street. A crosswalk had been painted by the City, connecting one side of the Nashwaak Trail across Bridge St. to the other side, connecting it to the trail that went eight kilometres to downtown Fredericton. I was stunned. I stopped pedalling. For years, I griped about the fact that there was no crosswalk on that part of the trail. I sent emails and letters and photographs to my City Counsellor, the Mayor’s Office, Park and Rec and the Planning Department, demanding that they put a crosswalk across Bridge Street. I told them that it was a dangerous place to cross on the trail, dangerous for kids on bikes and strollers, people in wheelchairs, elderly walkers. The Trail crossed Bridge St. just before the intersection of Crocket and Canada Streets. Cars and trucks would race down Bridge St. and, instead of braking, would bolt through the intersection, trying to beat the light before it turned red. It was just a matter of time before some eight-year old kid on a bike ended up dead.

But this time, there was a crosswalk over Bridge Street. Years ago I had said that when I became a citizen, and I was no longer afraid of being arrested, I was going to get cans of white spray paint and spray a DIY crosswalk on Bridge St. in the middle of the night. That was going to be my protest for the lack of consideration for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians by the City. They listened to my demands, I guess, and they finally did it.

I continued to ride and saw construction workers widening and grading the Nashwaak Trial up to Canada St. Instead of ruts and gravel, it was a smooth, walkable, bikeable trail. Things were getting really different.

I went to the Green Party campaign headquarters on King Street and spent the day working on last minute get-out-the-vote, calling voters, tabulating support, troubleshooting calls from the canvassers in the field. Word on the street was that the Greens had out-organized everybody. In the afternoon, David Coon came into the office, and I shook hands with my good friend. I looked him straight in the eye, and I said, “David, you’re going to win.”

At 6 PM, Campaign Manager Meredith Brewer shouted to me, “find some way to get five more votes for David, now!” I sent out a tweet: “Fredericton: Vote for David Coon & the Greens for climate action; because Greens won’t sell out the climate as a bargaining chip.”

Sure enough, at 12:30 am on Sept. 22, it became official that David Coon and the Greens had beaten the Conservative by over 600 votes, and left the other party candidates in the dust by more than a 1000 votes each. David Coon made history as the second Green Provincial Legislator elected in Canada.

Finally, something new was happening in New Brunswick.

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