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Gander climate strike produces low turnout but plenty of hope

Mary Feltham organized the Fridays for Future climate action strike in Gander on Friday, Sept. 27.
Mary Feltham organized the Fridays for Future climate action strike in Gander on Friday, Sept. 27. - Nicholas Mercer

Mary Feltham arrived in front of Gander’s Municipal Building moments before the scheduled start to Gander’s piece of the global climate strike. 

Esther Memvec Valveras (left) and Crystal Barnes were two of the people who participated in the Gander protest on Friday, Sept. 27.
Esther Memvec Valveras (left) and Crystal Barnes were two of the people who participated in the Gander protest on Friday, Sept. 27.

The 23-year-old carried a bundle of cardboard signs she had made from a box of cat litter and some boxes she got from a local restaurant. On them, she had written various slogans meant to inspire people to save the planet. 

Meticulously, Feltham positioned them on the benches and around the lamp posts in front of the building. She saved two for herself — one with the image of a blue fist raised in solidarity and one that implored the time to act is now. 

Then she waited.  

Feltham would do this alone if she had too. The 16-year-old climate activitst Greta Thurnberg was alone when she first protested and Feltham would follow her lead. 

“Each person who contributes is making a greater impact,” Feltham said. “There are 3,000 strikes going on across the globe, but it did start with one person.” 

There was a similar protest later in the afternoon in Grand Falls-Windsor featuring students from Exploits Valley High School. 

Feltham didn’t know what to expect when she started organizing the Fridays For Future climate protest Thursday evening after unsuccessfully searching for a Gander one. 

She was involved from a distance in Corner Brook’s efforts, one of 3,000 similar protests around the world, but hadn’t seen anything posted locally. 

So, she organized it. 

“People also talk about how we need to change and I wanted to be that person to step to make sure there was a chance to have our voices heard,” said Feltham.  

Slowly people started to show up and suddenly the signs that draped park benches were being raised in front of 100 Elizabeth Street in Gander. 

First, two showed up and then another. Then two more and another until there was over a dozen people there. 

Others were there in spirit as cars honked their support as they passed. 

“There wasn’t a lot of advertisement,” said Feltham. “It is good to see that people were looking for it ... so, it is showing that people care, they want to advocate and let the government know this is something they need to address. 

“It is very encouraging to know we have numbers that want to make a difference.” 

Esther Memvec Valveras and Crystal Barnes were two of the people who participated at the Gander protest. Memvec Valveras is a Grade 10 exchange student from Spain at Riverwood Academy in Wing’s Point and Barnes is her billet. 

Early Friday morning they woke and thought about heading to St. John’s to join in the massive protest there. A couple of Fridays earlier, Memvec Valveras had tried a one-person protest at the local Walmart. 

However, they quickly came to the conclusion that it would defeat the purpose of the protest. When they heard of the Gander strike, they changed plans and joined the group. 

“This makes a difference,” said Barnes. “If everyone could stand together, it would make a difference.” 

While the Gander protest was small in numbers, there was a general sense of hope around the idea of building a global movement to force people’s hands on taking climate action. 

The low turnout didn’t discourage Feltham on this day and it wouldn’t discourage her if she had to do it again. 

“I hope I don’t have to do this again,” said Feltham. “It’d be nice to have action. 

“We need action, we need policy and change.” 

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