Solar Flares: TrashMob!

A fairly quick update today, as I’m supposed to be spending this evening packing for a 10-day family vacation. Well-earned, if I do say so myself.

This week was partly spent planning for an event at the end of June, and then delegating whatever tasks I couldn’t complete, so I didn’t have to keep planning it while I was on holidays. But I also managed to squeeze in another event on Tuesday, albeit with mixed results.

My thinking went as follows: the March for the Earth had an amazing turnout, and it behooved me to stage another action quickly, so as not to lose momentum. And, I reasoned, whereas the march had been concerned generally with the climate crisis, this next action ought to tackle a specific problem… ideally, one that we’d stand a chance of getting some real legislative action on. Even if was a small thing, it would be encouraging for the activists and youth — to see that our efforts have real, tangible effects.

I settled on single-use plastics, because it’s about as visible as any environmental crisis gets. For all the love Capers claim to have for their island, an awful lot of them seem quite happy to throw trash all over it. And the news has been stuffed with stories about turtles choking on straws, and about the number of microplastics we ingest each year. Of course, I quickly abandoned any thought of aiming low: I created a petition to ban single-use plastics in CBRM. And then I planned my action.

I’m not sure if I stole the idea of a TrashMob whole cloth from somewhere, or if it was just my own amalgam of flashmobs, community trash pick-ups, and “Derelicte” from Zoolander. Either way, it’s pretty basic: we garb our selves in garbage and make a scene on the Sydney Waterfront.

In theory, the optics would be perfect: we’re not breaking any laws, or even being “disrespectful” to public property (as the Mayor grouchily claimed about our chalk messages). In fact, we can clean as we go, so it would be impossible to accuse us of wanting anything but the best for our home.

I may have sabotaged myself on that last point. I chose a date when I knew a cruise ship would be in harbour. And I did that on purpose, not only to have a bigger audience (on cruise ship days, downtown’s population pretty much doubles), but also because Extinction Rebellion’s tactics depend upon disruption of the status quo. If people feel like it’s business as usual, they won’t listen to our message. And for Cape Breton, the key word there is “business”; cruise ships bring in a much-needed source of income for local entrepreneurs (my gf being one).

So I knew I’d be opening myself up to criticism if our action looked like it would disrupt the tourist economy, but I gambled that the universal message, combined with the sheer weird fun of it all, would win approval. And I think it did, for the people we interacted with — locals and visitors alike found us hilarious, but agreed with our cause. The commenters under the CBC article, on the other hand… yeah. Never read the comments.

But the fact that there was an article — and radio, and two TV cameras! — means a win for the good guys. Sadly, our “mob” was more of a gang, or possibly a posse. It appears that, of the 150 concerned citizens who raised signs and chanted slogans, only about 4 of them are willing to dress up funny and hand out flyers, risking awkward conversations. Fair enough.

There were certainly other factors that added to the dwindling. It was a workday; I may not have publicized it as well; I held it two days after World Ocean Day, which meant most of the island’s eco-freaks were exhausted; and of course Ottawa announced their own election promise plastics ban the day before the TrashMob, and why turn up to help with a municipal ban when the feds have it covered?

(I have many good answers to that question, but I’ll spare you.)

ANYWAY… the TrashMob came and went. Poor attendance, but good exposure. Some backlash, but lots of positive facetime. I may do it again, or something like it; probably not, knowing me. But the petition now has over 500 signatures, and I’m working with a City Councillor to draft an actual single-use plastics bill.

So I am resolved not to feel even the least bit discouraged until I actually find out if it’s going to work. Seeing that bill signed into law might still be a longshot… but imagine if it succeeds? That would mean four people make a huge difference, basically by wearing trash.

Win or lose, you’ve gotta love the absurdism of it all.

No links this week, I’m afraid. Expect a mega-list when I’m back from holidays, the week of June 24. Stay strong and shine bright!

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