These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Laura Sullivan’s research leads her to civil disobedience. This 24-year-old British Columbian engineer will break laws this summer to disrupt business as usual.

Laura Sullivan takes part in a “blood spill” that led to a road blockade in downtown Vancouver in 2021. Photo submitted

Tell us about your project.

Beginning Aug. 19, On2Ottawa will use roadblocks and other actions to draw attention to the urgency of the climate crisis. We appreciate that people will be inconvenienced. But in 2021, the U.K.’s former chief scientist Sir David King warned we had only five years to avoid catastrophic outcomes for humanity. Despite the already real catastrophes of the worst forest fire season on record, deathly heat domes and home and food security-wrecking floods, our governments keep permitting new oil and gas exploration.

It is time to do things differently. We have two simple demands: First, Canadians need the federal government to fund, train and co-ordinate 50,000 firefighters. There is no shortage of work for them. Firefighters tell me current resources are insufficient to put out the Donnie Creek wildfire. It will continue to burn all winter.

Second, a Citizens Assembly must make legally binding decisions. Politicians have known for almost twice my lifetime that the burning of oil, gas and coal was making our planet dangerously warm. Emissions rose by 90 per cent. Despite widespread public support for action, our four-year election cycles, combined with the power of the industry lobby, means our current political system cannot deliver its first responsibility: to keep us safe.

Laura Sullivan speaks at an XR Vancouver climate action event in 2021. Photo submitted

Citizens' assemblies have made significant change in short order, bringing the right to abortion to Irish women and serious public support for real action on climate change in France. Randomly and demographically selected Canadians will protect us better than the decision-makers who are so captured by industry.

Laura Sullivan’s research leads her to civil disobedience. This 24-year-old British Columbian engineer will break laws this summer to disrupt business as usual. #YouthClimate Action #On2Ottawa

We chose our name because the public support galvanized by the Onto Ottawa Trek was the foundation for the major post-war social reforms. We designed our plan based on Dr. Erica Chernoweth's research that when three to four per cent of citizens actively engage in seeking just change using non-violent peaceful law-breaking, they often succeed.

What is your plan?

On Aug. 19, @on2ottawa will begin roadblocks and media events like the one we staged in May 2023 painting Victoria's Royal BC Museum's Woolly the Mammoth's tusks pink. This will engage the public. After two to three weeks, we will retreat and train a new wave of activists drawn to us with the publicity and the integrity of our cause. Once 1,000 to 2,000 people join us in being arrested, history shows we have a decent chance of success.

Laura Sullivan chats with security at Nathan Phillips Square on Aug. 8, 2023, after the Toronto sign was painted. She was later arrested and released. Photo courtesy On2Ottawa

Does it concern you that roadblocks may harm people and defacing icons upsets many?

Ambulances will be allowed through. It is not our intention to harm anyone or anything. There will be inconveniences and some will be angry with us. Martin Luther King died as the most hated man in the United States. But history shows that when the cause has broad public support and the tactics are peaceful and sustained over time, even small groups of people can have an enormous impact. The Freedom Riders were just 13 people. We are larger than that and just as determined.

What makes this hard?

People will get out of their cars and rage at us. We will be jailed. We will be subjected to hate. But I remember the suffragettes who died to give me the vote. This is worth any price.

What keeps you going?

This is the only logical step now. Time is up. We have a vision for a new world, not built off extractive, exploitative industry corruption but determined by ordinary citizens. Protection from wildfires, accessibility to clean air and water, and healthy soil are possible. We have to reach for this. And I don't want to die and see my family perish.

For Laura Sullivan, action is the best antidote to anxiety. Photo submitted

Tell us about your background.

My dad is an engineer and my mum is a writer. They taught me to have empathy for everyone but to stand up for what is right.

When I was graduating, I dreamed of working in renewables and leading-edge nuclear energy. I saw some photos of Bernie Sanders as a young man participating in the civil rights movement and I told myself that if I had been in the southern United States in the 1960s, I would have done that, too. I am that kind of person. But then I looked at myself in the mirror and saw that although I knew the science and the urgency and injustice of the climate crisis, I was lying to myself. I cannot have a long, happy career unless we stop burning oil, coal and gas, and I was doing nothing serious about it.

As an engineer, I am trained to see and fix problems. That is what I am doing.

Laura Sullivan and friends disrupt the University of British Columbia's board of governors meeting in December 2019 to push for divestment from fossil fuels. Photo submitted

What would you like to say to other young people?

Action is the best antidote to anxiety. We need to come together to save our lives. Join us.

What about older readers?

This is the moment when you could have the most impact you have ever had on the most significant challenge ever. Join us.

Keep reading

Thank you for standing up for what is right.
We all need to do that as often, and in as many ways, as we possibly can.