I was 19 years old when it all started. At the time I was living in Vancouver after taking a break from University to recover from an eating disorder. My recovery was going well, leaving plenty of room in my mind to devote attention to what I really care about—like creatively combatting climate change. And alliteration. Thus, this project was born!
I wanted to demonstrate that the demographic who cares about climate change is not limited to granola chewing, parachute pant wearing, sign-waving, activists. I think the assumption that is is what an evironmentalist "looks like" is limiting other people from embracing the movement and making it their own.
My original idea was was to get together a bunch of professionals and get them to all hold a sign saying, for example, "Orthodontists care about climate change". But gathering a dozen busy working people was difficult. A friend suggested I take to the streets and take portraits. One at a time.
The original idea was to photograph 100 people holding a sign that said: "I am a ___ who cares about climate change." The blank is filled in by the profession of each person.
I started taking photos and posting them almost three years ago. That's a little crazy to write. My first photo, featuring my dad, was posted on my Instagram (instragam.com/wacacc) on October 17th, 2017.
I tried my best to post once a day, every day.
I soon began recording quotes from the subjects and posting them as captions. This was very much inspired by the perspective-shifting work of Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York.
It soon became apparent that I had enough photo-taking momentum to triple my original goal. I chose the target of 350 photos—each photo representing one part per million of carbon dioxide that should be in the atmosphere. In 2018 the average ppm of co2 was 407.4 ppm. That's higher than any point in the last 800,000 years. (https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide)
Around November of 2017, someone suggested that I turn the photos into postcards and mail them to politicians. I don't know who that person was. There's a slim chance it was me. In any case, I thank them.
I fiddled around with who I should send them too. I could send the postcards to every member in the Canadian parliament, but if I wanted to send a postcard once a week in a spam-like rhythm (338 MP's x 52 weeks a year) I'd have to print 17,576 postcards. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH. How is this pro-environment again?
Ultimately I decided to send only BC MP's the postcards. And Justin Trudeau. Blessed be. (43 MP's x 52 = 2236). It made a lot of sense since BC has 12% of the seats. That's the third-highest amount next to Ontario and Quebec. Also, because all the photos I took were in BC, mainly Vancouver, it wouldn't make sense to send the photos of BC constituents across the nation.
The only thing that was holding me back was cost. Postage for 2000 postcards? That's cocobanazas. Then, one crisp winter day, strolling outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, my dear Aunt Paula reminded me that it was our Canadian right to write any MP postage free. I was saved.
The Thing About Postcards...
On Sunday, January 14th, 2018, at precisely 7:37 PM, I sent West End Print an email inquiring about the logistics of printing 42 (I forgot to include Justin Trudeau in the count) copies of 52 postcards. Each of those 52 has a unique front, which is cropped to fit the postcard format (4.1 x 6.1):
And the back, which included quotes, return address, a SICK logo in the place of stamps, link to my instagram and occasionally, sourced environmental facts.
On Sunday, January 14th, 2018, at precisely 7:37 PM, I sent West End Print an email inquiring about the logistics of printing 42 (I forgot to include Justin Trudeau in the count) copies of 52 postcards. Each of those 52 has a unique front (photo) and back (quotes+ occasionally environmental facts).
On Thursday, January 18th, 2018, at precisely 1:49 PM, I got a response from Matt saying he supported the cause, and to do each postcard double-sided would cost $415+Tax.
Huzzah! I could do that.
I asked Matt how I should format them. He said JPEG or PDF was fine.
I then proceeded not to respond to him for seven months.
During those seven months, I took a bunch more photos; and one very motivated day I filmed a video for my Go Fund Me page: Postcards for Climate Justice!
What a thumbnail! Can I say... The more emojis you add the more confident you look. Way to go me.
I'm very proud of myself but also can only envision my little brother cringing and shaking his head when the Backstreet Boys part happens.
My original GoFundMe goal was $600, which I met quickly. I soon realized I needed more money to counteract the Go Fund Me fees, so I bumped it up to $775, which I reached just as quickly. Thanks, everyone.
I got the last of my donations in May, 2018. I still had no templates to send to Matt. Having funding behind you is a wonderful thing. You think:
"Maybe I should stop this. Maybe this whole postcard part will be too much work." But then you think: "Goddamn it. Someone named Megan Bourassa donated to the cause. I don't believe I know this Megan, and she, willingly, donated to the cause. What am I supposed to do about this?! I can't let this Megan down. That would be an atrocity. To take her money and do nothing...why! That would be a crime!"
And so- One day, and then another day, and then another day, I sat down and made the postcard templates. Photos, quotes, facts to back up the quotes, logo and all. And on Monday, October 1st, 2018, at 8:22 PM I some samples off to Matt at West End and soon had them in print.
I had over 350 photos to pull from. I wanted to use images that represented a wide variety of people. Not only that, but I wanted my subjects in the photos to stagger so I didn't send, say, 3 university students in a row. I was hoping it would make the stream of photos more interesting to look at and drive home the point about the diversity of constituents that care about the crisis. Finally, because I took the pictures throughout the year, I thought it would be cool to mail them in order so the portraits fit with each season. With these three input points in mind, I created this organizational spreadsheet:
Up next, am I treating human beings as data points? Read all about it in "The Problems I Faced Section."
On October 14th, I sent my first batch of postcards.
Around November 14th, postcards began to be returned.
Blog post: November 14th, 2018
Yesterday I went to my local Canada Post office to see about a problem that's been plaguing my mailbox: The postcards have been returning with them is a big yellow sticker that says, "Return to sender. Postage Due."
What the dickens?!
From my understanding, it's every Canadians right to write their friendly neighbourhood MP postage free, but apparently here in Canada-land, there are some kinks in the system, not even a Zamboni can gloss over.
As the gentleman at Canada post explained, it's free to write your MP at the House of Commons in Ottawa, but if you want to give any politician a holler at their constituency office back home in BC, you've got to pay up and slap a stamp on the sucker.
So my current task revolves around analyzing this wee .jpg here:
This pixel powered treasure trove tells me when politicians are at the House of Commons (green) and when they're back home in BC (white). The image above is for the year of 2019. Since this project is a year-round affair, I want to send the postcards consistently wherever the MPs are. This means I might have to dole out the dough and purchase some postage. (About $1000 worth)
If anyone has a huge stamp collection, they want to get rid of, let me know!
Finally, a word of advice to all fellow MP writers: to avoid undue returns, make sure to write your address with "MP" on it clearly. Apparently, all Canada Post workers don't have all MPs memorized by name. My bad."
November 14th, 2018 was also the day I posted my last photo on my WACACC Instagram account. I had reached the summit of my picture taking in the summer of 2018, and was cruising through my content till I reached 350 photos. There are still a few photos I have that I believe I've never posted. Here's a bonus never-before-seen photo just for reading this far:
"We are people who live on the earth so we should care for it. That's that."
I found this one... thought provoking enough for me to omit it from my main page. But for my end of project synopsis. I'll throw it in!
Getting Into The Stamp of Things
Shortly after I figured out how to spend postcards year-round, I sent out a press release on November 18th, 2019: "Local Activist Spams Politicians for an Entire Year"
Luckily enough, the Northshore news picked it up! (https://www.nsnews.com/community/climate-change-activist-spamming-politicians-for-a-better-tomorrow-1.23505076)It was put together by Jeremy Shepard and Cindy Goodman. The same team that covered my campaign to put climate change warning labels on gas pumps in 2014.
And it turns out someone did have a huge stamp collection they wanted to get rid of. After reading the article, a 14-year-old boy named Gabriel reached out to me. His grandfather recently passed away and left behind a stamp collection. Gabriel was willing to donate $1000 worth of postage.
It was a miracle. Thank you so much, Gabriel! The stamps were cool and retro. One thing about retro stamps is they don't come sticky. This means that if you're going to send 43 postcards a week, your tongue better be ready to do some manual labour. The stamps ranged in value as well. Some were worth 95 cents, while others were worth as little as 5 cents and most falling in between. To send a postcard in Canada, you need $1 worth of postage. Meaning I had to get smart with my stamp combinations. Some postcards had stamps that took up half the surface area, obstructing my nifty logo. While postcards successfully met the $1 mark with two little stamps placed along the margin.
Armed with the knowledge of when and where to send the postcards and my stamp licking prowess, I successfully sent them off. Luckily the licking was often split up among my friends, my siblings and me. Most often, my friends would be coming over to just hang out, and I would loop them into some work for the cause. Thanks, guys.
Somewhere along the line, I had a conversation with someone about the odious amount of stamp licking required.
"You're really licking all those stamps?" she said, "I just use a sponge to get them wet."
"Oh." I said.
The wet-cloth-in-bowl technique became my go-to the method from getting the 80+ stamps on the 43 postcards each week.
A few months went by, and the postcard returns became rarer and rarer. I slowly began to settle into a schedule. Sticker, stamp, send. Sticker, stamp, send. Sticker, procrastinate on stamping, miss a send deadline, feel bad, stamp ASAP, send. This predictable cadence cleared up a bit of room for other things. Like considering post-secondary.
A Long Bit About Visiting Parliament
While feeling destitute late one night, lying on the couch downstairs and impulsively typing my insecurities into Google, I came across a program called "Performance Creation" at Concordia University in Montreal. It was everything I wanted. Writing, directing, acting, all bundled up into one. I was so excited. I called my friend Taylor and yelled about it for one hour. I then applied and bought my plane ticket for my audition in Montreal on March 16th, 2019.
After I finished my audition, I hopped aboard a train feeling blissed out. Feeling confident and happy, I shared the story of the audition to the lovely lady I was sitting next to. She woke me up when we arrived in Ottawa. I stayed for a few days with my Aunt, Uncle, and sister, who was living with them. I was here to chillax with the fam, but also to take names, deliver postcards and talk about climate change.
Quoting a bit from my March 1st 2019 blog post:
"I sent 11 emails (requesting to meet) to 10 different MPs and one Justin Trudeau. I heard back from 5 of them, and after all, was scheduling and rescheduling was said and done, ended up meeting with three of them.
Nathan Cullen "
I think being in the Confederation Building (The building where the MPs had their offices) was one of the coolest experiences of my life. In the way, a six-year-old might think a trip to Chuck E' Cheese is the coolest experience of their life. To some, it might just be another slimy institution And yet. It was really cool. The elevator was old and cool. And I got a really cool nametag. I felt like I was a guest in someplace, really important. I suppose in a way I was.
From blog post: April 1st 2019:
"I made the observation that the security at the front of the confederation building is probably the nicest security ever. They’re constantly smiling and eager to answer questions. Like there’s a switch in their back that’s flipped to “Make feel at ease.” I think there are a few options for why that is. Maybe I just visited on a specific day where the stars were aligned so that all the really lovely security guards were there. Perhaps one of them is really nice, and their mannerisms have rubbed off on their colleagues. Maybe they’re paid really well. The first idea that came to my mind was that they’ve learned to be so nice because every visitor to the confederation building is extremely nervous because they’re meeting a fancy member of Parliament."
I felt pretty darn nervous as well. Like if staff caught me poking around anywhere I shouldn't be, they'd give me the great Canadian "snow-boot." My name tag even had the room number of the MP I was supposed to be visiting, Richard Cannings.
I remember Mr. Cannings seemed a bit tired. No doubt from the daily strife of shaping Canada's destiny. Also, in my blog, I mentioned he was sick. I explained my project to him, and he explained carbon taxes and cap and trade systems to me. I can only remember the gist of how it all works now, and I hope he remembers the gist of my project.
Then I visited Pam Goldsmith-Jones. Since she is my local MP, her and I go way back.
To go over the rest of the experience, I'm going to re-post an edited version of my blog post. I think it taps into the experience's crux more neatly than I possibly could, more than a year later. (Ps: If you do read one blog post in its entirety, I recommend my April 1st one. It's an iddle biddle hilarious at times.)
"...I arrived at Pam Goldsmith-Jones's office, which smells fantastic. I don't know what it is. Perfume, fragrant air freshener, or a righteous battle against fish farms.
Our meeting was short, but it was delightful. Especially because she had the postcards fanned out to greet me. Oh, and she said she'd give my deliver the postcard for Justin Trudeau."
One thing I asked all the MP's I met was "What's holding Canada back when it comes to taking necessary action on climate change?"
When I look back on the answers I received, I can't remember anything clearly from the first two MP's I met. Which is understandable. Cannings was sick, and Goldsmith-Jones was rushed. All I can recall is a hazed blur of money, Alberta, and change; nothing that seemed to give me the clear answer I was looking for.
I was to meet Nathan Cullen in the Left Wing of Parliament. I had to go through another checkpoint and get another pass. Which I did. At this point, I was dubious Nathan Cullen would still be there. I then traversed the underground tunnels of parliament which are a fantastic experience. It's like a really classy bomb shelter. Coat check included.
With the help of more friendly security guards I found the elevator that leads me to the Left Wing. I was standing outside the House of Commons. Big wooden doors were blocking the way in. Security personnel and media were waiting outside as portraits of prime ministers past (a bunch of noble looking white dudes) looked onwards.
I had to fill out a slip of paper requesting a visit with Mr. Cullen and then gave it to a young female attendant who slipped inside the wooden doors. Behind them, I saw more doors and windows that glanced into the house. After a few minutes, a man came out. I shook his hand assuming he was Mr. Cullen. He explained that he was a member of the party and wanted to know what I wanted to talk to Mr. Cullen about.
"Um. I have a postcard."
He went back inside. A few more minutes later the real-life Nathan Cullen emerged. He listened carefully to what I had to say and asked questions. He told me he was there when the Paris climate agreement was fashioned, but when he asked what Canada's plan was actually to meet the targets, there was none.
This struck me. I've heard over and over again that to tackle climate change humanity will "require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society." That quote is straight from the UN ladies and gentlemen. The keyword here is "unprecedented." If we're not noticing the change daily, it's not happening fast enough. Which makes me wonder, what plan does Canada have to meet these targets?
The following are a few tidbits we agreed to that I've pulled from a summary by the Globe and Mail.
1. Canada has pledged to, by 2030, cut its emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels.
2. The federal government will now have to develop a climate strategy with the provinces while also moving on a North American plan.
3. Countries are urged to save their remaining intact forests and leave fossil fuels in the ground.
From the skimming of articles I've done, it seems that Canada is kind of working on a plan for the country and has reached out to Mexico and the US Yet everything seems wishy-washy. We know the general idea of where we're going, but I'd personally like to see a report that says: You want to cut emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030? Okay- here's exactly what that would look like- Color by numbers to save humanity. A step by step recipe for success.
I could be wrong, I've just been skimming, but it seems that right now Canada's just throwing a couple eggs into a bowl (a price on carbon) and hoping a cake comes out of it.
By the way, Canada's policies are still leading to 4-degree warming. Read all about it here: https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/canada/
Mr. Cullen also recommended I do research on what made other movements work in the past. Besides just protesting. What was the grunt work behind it all? What connections and strategies did people use to make changes?
He brought up the example of lobbying, which he told me is a term which came from the practice of African Americans waiting in lobbies of hotels to try to persuade visiting Politicians to adopt a progressive policy.
He encouraged me to reach out to other young people when I go to University. I know for a fact, change cannot be made alone.
Overall, it was a thought-provoking and empowering meeting. I forgot to take a photo, though. So I drew an artistic impression instead:
Re-reading about my experience, especially with Nathan Cullen tugs at my heart a little bit. I really appreciate the time he took to listen and ask questions. I remember how he very plainly told me that doing this by myself is good, but imagine if there were 10, 20, or 30 of us. It was kind of humbling, as someone who tends to avoid collectivism and default to individualism (the modern-day status quo.) From what I've read and thought about, it seems that turning away from our dominant individualistic culture is what the world will need to overcome the root causes of climate change.
The whole experience was also very affirming. I can do this. I'm interested in it. I want to make a difference. In order to make the biggest difference I can, I'll need to work on myself, specifically my hankering to do things alone, as well as working out in the field.
As it turns out, I did get accepted into my program of choice in Concordia. While I was in Montreal this year the protests and rail blockades involving the Wet 'suwet' en people and Coastal Gaslink were in full swing.
I remember standing on the platform for Lionel-Groulx, waiting with my friend. I was feeling completely overwhelmed about what was happening. I was so mad that I was in school while something so important was taking place.
Since then, I've felt a strong draw to come back home and learn more. Now that I'm back in BC, I've been coordinating with camps on Wet 'suwet' en territory so that I can come up and volunteer sometime soon.
Incredibly, Nathan Cullen has been appointed by the BC government as a liaison working between BC and the Wet 'su'weten hereditary chiefs.
I'm going to shoot him an email. Hopefully, he remembers me.
Edit: I have done so, perhaps he does not remember me. I'll try again.
The Final Steps...
After the parliament hill experience, I hopped on a plane (RIP environment) and flew back to Vancouver. Before attending Concordia, I worked over the summer. Then I flew back to Montreal (RIP environment again) taking the last of my postcards with me.
I had aimed to send my final postcard on October 7th, 2019. After all, the delays and skipped weeks were said and done, I ended up sending it sometime in the third week of October. If it was October 17th, it would've been exactly 2 years after I took my first photo.
I have no specific memory of sending it, and I'm not sure why I didn't post anything.
I can say for certain that I walked along the sidewalk on Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. The old Loyola campus to my right. A cloudy day. Another day. But something kind cool took place.
I mailed the following postcard!
That- was the final piece of my project. Aside from this of course, the summary.
This "postcard project" has been long, arduous, but incredibly rewarding. There aren't enough words to express how meaningful it's been for me to finish something this big, that's tested my weaknesses (commitment, patience, especially when paired with a long and difficult task) Luckily there's four more sections to do some explaining!
That was the story of how I got things done.
Now make way for differences made, challenges faced, lessons learned, thanks given, and what's next!