Definitely maybe an activist

I support a number of social justice causes: gender equality, animal rights, BLM, and missing and murdered Indigenous women to name a few. For a living, I work for an organization that campaigns to protect the health of our oceans, our ecosystems and our planet for generations to come. I’m proud that these causes drive social change -- but I’m not an activist.  

An activist is someone who campaigns for change. Although the definition aligns with my work, in mainstream media ‘activists’ are often portrayed as a small, isolated group of dissenters on the outskirts of civil society. But for me, speaking out against the climate crisis is neither alarmist nor fringe. It’s a simple recognition of the serious challenge we face as a species. The struggle for human survival, ecological health, and justice is something we are all a part of-- whether we choose to call ourselves activists or not.

Activism had a negative stigma in my household. My parents raised me to be a model student, citizen and professional. Good citizens were definitely not activists -- they were doctors or lawyers or some other respectable traditional profession. I was Harry Potter living with magic inside a household that was afraid of magic. My parents, like many immigrant families, came to Canada with very little and believed maintaining business-as-usual was critical if we were going to make it in a new country.

Business-as-usual is comfortable. It provides certainty in life.

But we know business as usual is not a viable option if my generation is going to survive the climate crisis.

People all around the world, from concerned mothers to academics, from everyday citizens to political leaders, are rising up to the challenge and embracing renewable alternatives.  I don’t have to search far and wide to find hope-filled local communities transitioning to clean energy alternatives to decrease their carbon footprint. These people are ready to heal their communities -- and we are in the majority.

My parents have started to come around and realize they need to break free from their consumer comforts to avoid the devastation a warming planet has already caused in their home state of Punjab, India. I am from a ‘Jatt Sikh’ family which translates to ‘farmer’. Farming is in my family's DNA, and it is still the main source of bread, butter and pride for us. So when we learnt that over 400 farmers in Punjab committed suicide in 2015 because the record-breaking heat killed their source of income and honor, it deeply shook my family.

The climate crisis can’t be labelled as the fight of activists. It’s everyone’s responsibility. Just like ecosystem diversity enables life to flourish under changing conditions, societal justice movements require the inclusion and participation of diverse voices, including Indigenous and immigrant people. To tackle the climate crisis we need everyone -- from academics and activists, to government and industry stakeholders. Most importantly, we need everyday people like you and me to rise to the challenge and speak out when Canada’s elected officials preach climate leadership while promising new pipelines. It is our responsibility to remind our elected officials to do better for the people they serve.

That is why I am joining the Canadian Youth Delegation at COP 22 in Marrakesh, a group of young social justice professionals, intellectuals, activists and concerned youth who are working to create a just, safe and liveable future for all. As a woman of colour, I’m proud to lend my voice to the climate justice movement. It’s not an act of activism. It’s necessary.