#GreenHamOnt: The importance of activism for a greener Hamilton.

Image by John Piercy | flickr.com

Image by John Piercy | flickr.com

With over 3,400 acres of parkland, 137 kilometres of hiking trails, and more than 120 waterfalls, Hamilton has a diverse and unique natural environment.  Hamilton is becoming increasingly known for its fascinating environmental features; however, it wasn't long ago that the city was considered the ‘industrial armpit of Canada’. Kesha Neoma-Quinn is a local artist and activist.

There is a substantial community of environmental activists in Hamilton. I began to feel a part of this when I was 13 years old and my family was involved in the fight to protect the Red Hill Valley. Despite losing the battle, strong connections were forged between people working through that struggle and this establishment of trust between Hamiltonian environmental activists continues to aid contemporary causes.

Hamilton is home to many volunteer groups and organizations heading up various environmental initiatives with which it is easy to get involved; Hamilton 350 demands immediate action on climate change, the Hamilton chapter of Council of Canadians fights for environmental and social justice causes and Environment Hamilton is a not-for-profit and local leader in initiatives such as Eat Local and clean air and water projects. Outstanding members in the environmental community are honoured each year in the Environmentalist of the Year Awards.

Much of my recent involvement in environmental activism has been in covertly organized actions against the Line 9 reversal. I am opposed to expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands. The local fight is against proposals to pump diluted bitumen through the GTA, using 40 year old Line 9, putting Hamilton’s drinking water at risk. In May 2013 a mock oil spill was set up on hwy 6 in Westover where the pipeline crosses under the road. For an entire hour cars were slowly let through and given some friendly info about the issue as well as a yummy muffin. The action went very smoothly. Then in June activists from Hamilton and other surrounding cities shut down an Enbridge construction site at a Line 9 pump station in Westover. This action was dubbed “Swamp Line 9.”  Peaceful activists camped on site for 6 days without incident. Upon being served an injunction, 4 activists chose to lock themselves to the fence of the pump station in protest of being kicked off the land. The following morning, myself and 17 others were arrested. I,  and several others charged with trespassing, built a case to challenge the charges in court. I defended myself well against the prosecution – to the point that they brought several extra witnesses to the following cases – however the Justice of Peace presiding was not sympathetic to our cause, as was clearly voiced by several of his speeches and the way in which he addressed me throughout the trial. Given the heavy charges I received, including a year probation, $500 fine and 25 hours community service, everyone else settled with plea deals. I am happy to report that I was able to help my community in a consistent manner for my court appointed 25 community service hours by working with Environment Hamilton and 350 to build protest props and art to be used in further Line 9 and Climate Change protests. 

These sorts of actions are predominantly grassroots, independently organized actions with support from aforementioned organizations but no official affiliations. Some important challenges in activism of this sort is being able to trust and depend on fellow organizers as well as building, maintaining and strengthening relationships with local indigenous communities to work together on these issues in allyship with each other.

I have also been quite involved in Fossil Free McMaster, part of the international Fossil Free Divestment campaign to have universities, colleges, institutions, individuals and cities take their investments out of the Fossil Fuel industry. I am passionate about this cause as a way to make a statement to the broader public about morally responsible investment, and in doing so remove the social licence of Fossil Fuel Industries to continue to wreak havoc on the environment and climate without limit.

A green lifestyle is very possible in Hamilton, with a thriving farmers market, local and organic food and drink based venues such as Homegrown Hamilton where I have been happily working for many years, an effective and balanced waste disposal system, and bikeability throughout the city. However, in order to effect larger change I believe it is most important to become an activist for these causes. We must fight to protect our future and to protect our source of life; our home, the Earth.