“I can’t describe in words how thrilled I was to see Nathan Phillips Square filling up with people, and the marchers’ energy was absolutely incredible!”
In July, Peter de Vries filled out an application form on avaaz.org to help out with a proposed global climate march. A couple of weeks later, he got an email from them saying that he’d be in charge of the Toronto effort. “There was no interview or follow-up process of any kind,” he says. “I just got an e-mail that basically said “Go!”, and then all of this stuff happened.”
The Sept. 21 marches were planned in as many as 161 locations around the world. Avaaz figures about 580,000 marched globally, including its own estimate for 400,000 for New York City (though police estimated the number at closer to 60,000).
“Leading up to the day of the event itself, I had about 600 confirmed attendees on both Facebook and the Avaaz event page, respectively,” de Vries says. In the end, official estimates were that 3,000 showed up.
According to its website, “Avaaz—meaning ‘voice’ in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—launched in 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.”
Representatives of Idle No More, Greenpeace Canada, fairvote.ca, the Green Party, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, as well as rabble.ca co-counder Judy Rebick gave speeches before the march, with Guardian and Vice journalist Stephen Leahy and Keith Brooks, clean economy program director for Environmental Defence, giving the closing addresses.
The organization was ad hoc, but in the end, effective, adding Toronto’s voices to the rest of the world’s on the issue of climate change, with people streaming through the busiest sections of the city, and staging an unplanned but successful occupation of the intersection of Yonge and Dundas. It was also a crash course in march organization for de Vries.
“I was leading the marchers back into the square, and we were chanting ‘Wake Up, Climate Deniers!’ as we came in,” he says. However, after he arrived at the square he realized he had no plan for how to deal with the mass and keep the crowd engaged while the other marchers filtered in. 
“Throughout this time, members of [Toronto drum circle] T.Dot Batu had started performing in the middle of the square, and then Shayne [Spitzig, a march marshal] saved my hide by calling them up onto the stage to perform. They did a great job of entertaining the crowd as the rest of the marchers filed back into the square, and then I called up Stephen Leahy to speak once they had finished.”
The action spearheaded by Avaaz finished with the march, but de Vries says it’s only the beginning for him, and he hopes, for Toronto.
“Our planet’s resources are finite,” he says, “despite what the oil companies and other polluters seem to think, and our government leaders must adopt new policies and practices to ensure that all of our energy is 100 per cent clean and renewable by no later than 2050. For this change to be possible, we need immediate action from all three levels of government: federal, provincial, and municipal as well.”
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Peter de Vries
Photo: Henry Chan